Back when I spent a lot of time on the (wonderful) Absolute Write forums, I loved it when someone would mention a writing program like Scrivener or StoryMill. Because comments like these would inevitably follow:
“Pshh…Hemingway didn’t have Scrivener. He got along just fine.”
“All those extra features are so overwhelming! Give me good old Microsoft Word any day.”
“Word processor? Please. I write by hand.”
At which point I’d come in with something like:
“Pen and paper? Ha. I “penned” my first novel with stone and chisel.”
My passive aggressive point being that every writer has his or her own method, so let’s not judge someone for wanting to use a high-tech option. And yes, it was a bit defensive of me, because my love for Scrivener knows no bounds.
But I have a confession: I never write by hand. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I wrote by hand last year (and of course I mean wrote creatively, not signed documents and filled out forms).
And I want to try longhand. Maybe not an entire novel, but just a little something every week. I think writing this way engages the brain a little differently – I’ve even heard some writers claim that their prose is more natural when they write by hand because they use smaller and/or simpler words (or maybe they’re just not constantly clicking open the thesaurus).
Of course, then you have writers like me, with handwriting so godawful it’s practically undecipherable. But what’s really stopping me from writing longhand? The following are the embarrassing but true reasons why:
- It physically hurts. That’s how out of practice I am. When I write solidly for longer than five minutes, my hand actually begins to cramp up. (And I’m a percussionist – you’d think some of those developed muscles would help me out a little bit.)
- I’m so lazy it’s ridiculous. Every time I glance at a notebook, my brain is all “come on, you’re just going to have to type it all into your laptop eventually anyway…just skip this step.”
- Seriously – if my handwriting were a font, it would be called “drunk chicken stepped in paint and did the conga.”
The funny thing is that if I could just get over number 2, I could probably fix numbers 1 and 3 with time and practice. So that’s what I’m going to do.
My personal challenge for 2013 is to write longhand. An entire book? Probably not – but I’m aiming for a scene per week or two. By the end of this year, I don’t want to glance over at the bottom of the bookshelf and see that sad little notebook I bought months ago with so many blank pages. I want notebooks – plural – filled with scribbles and scrawls and drunk chicken scratch. I want to find out for myself whether or not writing longhand changes my prose, or anything about the stories I tell. Heck – I just want to spend less time on my laptop in general.
None of this is to say I’ll give up Scrivener – never! It makes keeping track of separate drafts so ridiculously simple, and it’s very practical for keeping my books organized.
What about you – do you write by hand often? Do you want to? And for the love, if anyone has any tips on how I can improve my first grade teacher nightmare handwriting, I’m all ears.
Michelle Schusterman is an author, musician, screenwriter, and Vogon poet living in Queens. Her middle grade series, I HEART BAND, will be launching in January 2014 with Penguin/Grosset. You can find her on KidLit Network, Twitter, and Tumblr.