I’ve read a few articles lately extolling writing by hand, some of them by otherwise hardened technophiles. For these people I have nothing but admiration If they can live without the delete key, without Ctrl X and Ctrl Z, I take my hat off to them.
I’m also prepared to believe, as is sometimes stated (sorry, Saturday’s Telegraph refuses to cough up the reference) that the physicality of writing can improve the thought process, discourage prolixity and get the writer to the finished product more efficiently than spewing out a heap of words, all of which need to be changed.
But that writer is not me.
I had a go at writing fiction without a typewriter and before we owned a computer. Since the urge to put pen to paper was unaccompanied by any idea of what I wanted to say or how to say it, those first attempts were probably bound to fail. But I think it’s no coincidence that the first short story I ever wrote was on an Amstrad (yes, it was that long ago!)
To explain. Those things I attempted to write by hand were not just unreadable but also illegible – even to me. Each Friday morning (the time I had gifted to myself for my writing journey) I looked at the previous week’s effort and had to start all over again. I was of course, perfectly capable of forming letters in other contexts, but somehow the leap into self-expression (without any corresponding confidence) seemed to rob me of the ability. But by using a keyboard (and despite my abysmal typing) I could transmit my thoughts, however ill-formed, to the screen. And once they were there, winking at me (green on black!) I had made a start. I had created something outside of myself, something that could be revised, developed or discarded. But it was something.
Since then I’ve made some progress in the confidence stakes, but still find the effort of committing pen to paper quite daunting. If I had to draw a picture of how I write a piece of fiction, there would be my head, the keyboard and the screen forming a roughly triangular space. When there’s just me and a sheet of paper, I feel that some vital element is missing. The creative space has ceased to exist.
Weird? We all write in different ways. I heard Barbara Trapido describe how she dictates all her books; others do still write by hand and get someone else to do the typing. Not long ago, I had trouble with RSI and considered using voice recognition. I dare as I could have adapted and know several people who have. But for now at least, my choice is to type.
I will admit to one thing. I’ve always worked on a desktop and for ergonomic reasons use a big screen for writing. But I have a laptop too. I use it mainly for recreational surfing and emailing. But once or twice I have used it for fiction and didn’t dislike working in a smaller physical space. Maybe my triangle is shrinking. Maybe I’m coming back to pen on page.
But that’s a long way off, and by then my handwriting, already shaky with lack of use, will probably have gone to the dogs.