Sunday, August 31, 2008

How do you write?

I'm sure I've discussed this before, but I've had an interesting experience. I have always used a computer for writing, and before I had computers I used a typewriter. I've never handwritten anything, principally because my handwriting is atrocious and I am a much faster typist than I am a hand-writer. I've always said my hand can't keep up with my brain and I lose the thread of what I'm trying to say.

However, for reasons too complex (and boring) to relate, I recently found myself in a position with no computer and I had to hand write a story because it was in my head and it needed to come out. This is the best thing I've ever written, by a long way. It's in a different class. I read it and that's immediately obvious. And I wrote it long hand, which I've always said stifled creativity. But there's a rhythm to this writing which I rarely accomplish, and it's undoubtedly more creative than anything I've done before.

The reason has to be that I just wrote, wrote, wrote. I did around 6000 words in a sitting, which is normally beyond me, because I have a habit, however much I try to stop myself, of going back and tinkering. Here, I didn't, and yet it still reads more polished than anything I've done before.

Worth thinking about. We often have assumptions about ourselves that turn out to be false. I will definitely be trying the long hand technique again.


pierre l said...

This is very interesting (sorry, bad word, apparently spammer always say that the post is "interesting"). I have been reading all your posts for a few months, but don't know how I got here.
I was reading another blog last week. The woman (a long-time published author as far as I remember) was reviewing a high-quality microphone. She has some form of RSI, and uses software (Dragon I think it was) so that she effectively dictates to her word processor, and was saying that the accuracy was much better with the good mike. So you might want to try dictating to your PC.
On the other hand, it could be that your story was very strong and would have been fantastic if you had typed it directly into the PC.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I had the same experience as you, Tom. Now, I tend to write 'difficult' bits by hand. Then transpose.

I read somewhere (that's about as far as my academic knowledge on this one goes!) that the hand-brain connection is closer than hand-keyboard-brain, therefore you get a 'truer' creative result.

You are also less likely to edit as you go - bar a few crossings out- when you work by hand, so is there less self-censoring than when working on screen?

Lovely that it worked so well, whatever the reason.


Jim Murdoch said...

I guess I'm very lucky in that I've been able to work with pretty much anything that comes to hand. Oh, I have favourite pens and all that but if push comes to shove I'll write with a bookie's pen I've picked up off the street on the back on an old receipt. There is something different about working with pen on paper though although I still edit while I work, always have.

Tom Conoboy said...

Hi Pierre, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Voice recognition software is an interesting idea - I'm not sure my thoughts are coherent enough, though...

Van - the 'truer creative connection' is an interesting notion, which I'd have previously have dismissed as nonsense, but now I'm not sure. That the same thing happened to you tends to reinforce the point.

Jim - yep, when the urge comes you just have to write, don't you? And I don't think I'll ever cure myself of my constant editing either.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Idly flicking through a few references via Google:

there is quite a lot of discussion on the subject:

found this lengthy quote (all of the following is lifted from a website, reference at the end. Some fascinating stuff...):

University of Wales professor Daniel Chandler. This article, although highly academic in tone (and I don't mean this as a compliment) and enamored of categorization without reference to empirical data, includes some wonderful quotes from writers about their love of pen or pencil.

Here's a quote-choked paragraph by Chandler that I found fun:

"Many writers have alluded to the importance of handwriting in their thinking and writing. Discoverers see their thinking itself as tactile. Fay Weldon declared: 'I choose to believe that there is some kind of mystic connection between the brain and the actual act of writing in longhand' (Hammond, 1984). And Graham Greene commented that 'Some authors type their works, but I cannot do that. Writing is tied up with the hand, almost with a special nerve' (Hammond, 1984). The anthropologist Jack Goody (1987) wrote that 'Nothing surpasses pen and paper as being "good to think with"'. And Rebecca West reported that she used a pencil 'When anything important has to be written... I think your hand concentrates for you.' She also emphasized the importance of kinaesthetic memory: 'My memory is certainly in my hands. I can remember things only if I have a pencil and I can write with it and I can play with it' (Plimpton, 1985). John Barth favours the fountain pen, commenting that: 'there's something about the muscular movement of putting down script on the paper that gets [the] imagination back in the track where it was' (Plimpton, 1987). William Gass even identifies the literary text with its original written form (treating writing in this respect as akin to drawing or painting): 'It was very important for Rilke to send a copy of the finished poem in his beautiful hand to somebody, because that was the poem, not the printed imitation. Writing by hand, mouthing by mouth: in each case you get a very strong physical sense of the emergence of language - squeezed out like a well-formed stool - what satisfaction! what bliss!' (Plimpton, 1981)."

Tom Conoboy said...

That's a fascinating set of quotes. I particularly like this idea:

Discoverers see their thinking itself as tactile.

I think that's true.

Alex Keegan said...

I have written by hand, then typewriter, then clunky computer, now more modern ones with word-processing software.

I loathe every word I write by hand. It is always total drivelling, snivelling shit.

I have battled that but it' stays shit.

For me the PC relieves me of so many other burdens. I do NOT edit on the go precisely because it's easy to edit later.

I actually find that ideas work better and faster in front of the PC than in front of the paper (never mind that writing hurts the hands and fingers)

But the key is simple. It's NOT the medium, but the mental freedom.

If hand-writing makes you conscious (it does me) then cut off your hands.

If handwriting frees you up and a computer kills creativity, then get a hammer.

But the idea of a nerve connection. What bollocks. The connection could be just as strong from the fingertips while pecking at a typewriter or keyboard.