Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Taking the Longhand Road, by Linda Hope Lee

     I wrote my first six novels in longhand, on college-ruled notebook paper, with a mechanical pencil. Yes, it had to be mechanical, with 0.7 lead. Then I transcribed the novels onto my computer, revising and editing as I went along.
     For the twenty-or-so books that followed, I gave up the paper and pencil and composed directly on the computer.
     Then last year, I got the urge to go back to pencil and paper. Could I write a novel that way again? Did I really want to?
     I decided I did. I bought several college-ruled spiral notebooks and took out my pencils. I wrote straight through the story, without stopping to revise. At the beginning of each session, I reviewed only what was necessary to pick up where I'd left off. I filled three notebooks. And yes, it took way longer than it would have with the computer.
     But I'd forgotten how relaxing writing in longhand is for me, compared to sitting with my hands poised over the keyboard. I'd forgotten how much I like the act of writing, of establishing a rhythmic flow of letters onto the paper.
     My research on the subject of handwriting vs. typing turned up a study that showed the brain works differently in each process, and that students who take handwritten notes learn better than those using a keyboard. I don't know how this translates into creativity, but there are more writers than I would have guessed still composing in longhand. Among the notable are Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson and Amy Tan.
     Will I write another book in longhand? At this point, I don't know. I'm still revising and shaping the current one. I'll wait until the project is done and then decide.
     What about you? Do any of you take the longhand road?


27 comments:

  1. Hi Linda, I did write all of my first novels in longhand. Then my mom went to community college to learn how to use a computer and she typed them for me. (This was in the eighties). I read an article where famous authors were polled about whether they wrote in longhand or computer. It was about 50-50. The conclusion was that those who wrote longhand had less revisions. Might be because you have more time to think it through. That was my conclusion anyway. Let us know how you liked going back to longhand. Did it make a difference?

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    1. Hi, Sandra, How great to have your mom help you! Interesting about less revisions in longhand. For me, there seem to be more. But then I'm a pantser not a plotter and I always seem to have lots of revisions.

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  2. I wrote for years in longhand (Bic clear-barrel pens, college-rule, yellow paper) and thought I'd never be able to work straight to computer. Like nearly everyone else, I could and did. I still miss longhand, but I can't find the yellow paper notebooks anymore, so I haven't had the urge to try it in a long time. Your post makes me think just maybe...

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    1. Hi, Liz, I think it's so interesting that "longhanders" have certain pens/pencils and type of paper that they use--kind of like a ritual.

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  3. Linda, what a neat post. I wrote my first manuscripts (if you can call them that) in longhand as a teenager. I write lots of notes and phrases longhand and I believe there's something to that about the brain working differently with each method....I feel like I pay more attention to my 'words' and grammar with a computer. With a notebook and a pencil it's more of a free-for-all--if that makes sense? Lol. Can't wait to read this book that you so literally 'wrote'!

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    1. Hi, Carol, Yes, I think your comment does make sense. Maybe it's because the brain somehow feels more creative directly connected to the pen or pencil and paper.

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  4. I wrote my early books in longhand. I worked full time on a computer and hated the thought of coming home and working on another one. My husband loved computers and he in-put those books for me which is why he is the Denny part of Roz Denny Fox. Then computers improved and I decided it would be easier to make changes by typing them direct, which I've done ever since. I'd like to know, Linda, if you think this book turns out better by going the longhand route.

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    1. Hi, Roz, What a lovely tribute to your husband and how great that he helped you with your books. And I can certainly understand why after using a computer at work you'd want a break when you came home.

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  5. Good morning, Linda! I wrote my first book longhand on steno pads between customers one very wet, lonely winter while managing a bookstore. (Retail in the northwest in January and February is abysmal.) I paid a friend a hundred dollars to type it for me. (1982) I was so thrilled to get an electric typewriter, then my computer! (The computer allowed me to write an extra book a year because I didn't have to retype after I revised.)
    I still do plotting on a yellow pad, but I'm very comfortable with my computer now. I don't seem to notice a facility or a difficulty either way - it's all just hard!

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    1. Hi, Muriel, Living in the Northwest myself, I have a pretty good idea of what your job in the bookstore in our rainy weather was like. And you're so right about writing being hard. As an artist, I can say that it's much easier for me to draw or paint a picture than it is to write even one chapter of a book!

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  6. I do! I do! I first started with longhand and then went to typewriter/computer because I thought one had to do it that way. But I found writing on a computer seemed to stump my creativity. My brain seemed to think once it was typed it was DONE.

    Writing longhand actually FREES my brain knowing it can be/will be changed. My brain feels loose.

    Plus, I can write while at work since all I need is the spiral (wide-ruled for me) and my pencil. While computer-writing could only be done at night after work.

    Longhand makes me free!

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    1. Hi, Marcie. Yes, I think longhand does free the brain in the way you are describing. I felt I'd recaptured something I'd lost when changing over to the computer for the initial composing.

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  7. I outline in longhand...sometimes, and do a few free association things, but other than that, I do everything by computer in Scrivener. Let's face it...I wouldn't be able to read my scribbly writing if I wrote a book in longhand. lol

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  8. Hi, Patricia. Sounds like you have a good system that combines both longhand and typing. I haven't checked out Scrivener yet. Lots of writers seem to like it.

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  9. I do the longhand method every time I write in my journal. I also have another notebook handy for when I'm away from my computer. I'm so glad I no longer have to deal with a typewriters.

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    1. Hello, mrsekholm. Yes, journal writing. I have several of those for different purposes. For example, one is a Trip Journal, and all are in longhand. And no, I wouldn't want to go back to a typewriter, either.

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  10. If I had to write longhand, I would never make it out of chapter one. LOL. I wrote my first novel on an electric typewriter my parents got me for college. If I made a mistake, I had this neat thing that you simply swiped over the misspelling and then you typed again.

    In education, we know there's actually brain functions that go on with longhand, especialy cursive. The act of joining letters together sublimially had to do with forming relationships and trust. Which is why I'm so irritated that many schools no longer are teaching it.

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    1. Hi, Pamela. Thanks for the interesting info about joining letters together. I used to teach fourth grade, which included teaching cursive. Maybe that's one reason I like it so much. Can't understand why they stopped teaching it.

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  11. Linda, I still work a lot with pen/paper. My first manuscript was written in a notebook. It took me so long to type it into the computer that I try to type that first draft now. However, quite often, I brain freeze in front of a computer screen and have to go write on paper. Once I have things flowing, I go type it up and keep typing. With revisions, I have to print the manuscript and go at it with colored ink, sticky notes, sheets of paper slipped in with added scenes written with pen etc... It does slow me down, but it really does tap into a different part of the brain and sometimes I just can't think at the computer. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up with computers in school. I got my first typewriter/word processor in college and even that was a learning curve! My brain developed with pen and paper.

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    1. Hi, Rula. It sounds as though you have a good system for combining longhand and typing. I'm think that maybe that will be the way for me to go, too.

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  12. What an interesting post. I've never written a book longhand, but I have a serious affection for all things office supply. Back-to-school time is a celebration for me because I love fresh notebooks and new pens. I make notes before I start writing in those notebooks so they're easy to justify. Unfortunately, the more I type, the worse my handwriting gets!

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    1. Hi, Cheryl. I'm with you on the office supply stuff. In fact, when I was about ten or so, my friends and I used to "play office." I love going to Staples or Office Max and seeing what's new in notebooks and pens and such.

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  13. I write lots of notes in longhand but I can't imagine writing the entire book that way! I can't even imagine what it must have been like to type the entire thing on a typewriter. I can't imagine how much paper I would waste! Copy and paste is definitely my friend. :)

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    1. Hi, Amy. Yes, I think you really have to love the process to undertake an entire book in longhand. And copy and paste can sure save time--and paper!

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  14. I am so in awe of your ability to write a book in longhand. I use a computer to write the actual novel although I usually do my outlines in pen.
    I know a high school student who writes her books in longhand. For a writing project, she is able to have her word count validated in order to participate, but she keeps meticulous notebooks filled with lines she draws herself with two thirds of the page devoted to her manuscript and the other third with notes on revision and where she is in her outline.
    You both have my regard for respecting your writing style and following it.

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  15. Hi, Tanya. Thanks for sharing the interesting story about the student. I like her idea of using part of each page for notes. I'm going to keep that in mind for the next longhand-written book--should there be one!

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  16. Oh wow. I used to write snippets of my stories on napkins, receipts, scraps of paper when I wasn't able to be at my computer. There is something about having the pen in your hand and seeing the words form. Great post!

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