How are people writing these days? By computer? By hand? A bit of both? I bet there are some adventurous types out there banging away on a typewriter just for the heck of it.
I like a bit of both. I’m supposedly a Millennial, but computers weren’t important to my writing process until I was heading into junior high. I’m part of that nebulous, transitional generation that almost – but not quite – grew up with modern home technology. We had a computer in my house, but that’s because my dad worked for Digital (which became Compaq, which became Hewelett-Packard). We didn’t get a family computer until later. I drafted school reports on yellow paper with blue lines and then carefully transcribed each word onto clean white paper with blue lines. White-out was a necessity. And I’m not talking about the new white-out tape. This was the bottled stuff that got everywhere.
That analog childhood stayed with me. Though I type out all my writing now, I keep notebooks handy at all times. Sometimes that blank screen just stays blank. It’s too easy to hit the delete key or get distracted by the red underlines that point out every typo. According to the online typing test I once had to take, I can average 66 words per minute. These nimble fingers can keep up with the speed of my thoughts and narration, but I can’t sustain the momentum without getting distracted. It’s too easy to look back; to pause; to go in and edit even if it’s a first draft.
That’s when I pull out my notebook. The stories in the notebook are not whole. The scenes are disjointed. There are bits and snippets of things that I had to get down on paper when they wouldn’t come to me on screen. I don’t know how many words I can write per minute, but I write fast and messy and it flows. Sometimes the story feels more organic that way. It’s far less organized and I can only focus on what I’m jotting down each second. Each word is present with me because it’s being formed out of my brain and my hand.
I like how visceral the inked words are on a piece of paper. I come away with splotches on the side of my hand because I’m left-handed and my skin runs over the words before they’ve had time to dry. I still have that crazy bump on my middle finger where the pencil likes to sit.
I don’t think I’ll ever let go of the paper and pencil part of writing. Maybe it’s because I’m an artsy-craftsy person, or maybe it’s because I grew up jotting stories onto whatever scraps of paper I could find nearby. Whatever the case, it is an important part of my personal process, and I love a good old fashioned Composition Book.
I’ve been somewhat outspoken on my use of Scrivener (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIhSF5NQL8g)
Picture your manuscript as a file cabinet with each chapter being a single file folder. And also file folders for research, character background, pictures, really whatever you want. It’s very useful to have chapters and scenes cut up into clickable, rearrange-able, segments. There’s a bunch of power-user features too like keywords that can be attached to scenes so you can do something like mark all the times you consciously harp on a specific theme or mention some plot device or whatever, but that’s not the real draw.
So I take the folder where the guts of my Scrivener project lives, and commit it to a version control system called Git that lives online on my Github account. This service mainly exists to keep track of software projects, but it doesn’t *not* let you upload Scrivener projects so…
So on any computer I want, I pull down that Scrivener project off of Github, do my writing, then commit my updates to the project. I can see a timeline of all my changes over time (the usefulness of which depends entirely on how well I annotate my updates) But mainly it allows me to go back to any previous version of a draft and pick what I want out of it so I’m not afraid to delete things.
If it sounds complicated, yeah it sort of is once you start, but it’s turned into a huge time save in the long run.
Oh, interesting. I was trying to figure out if I could use Github to store version control for my writing, but despite taking a web coding class, I still don’t grasp the mechanics of Git. (obviously, I did not end up becoming a developer)
Scrivener is really nice. I used it on an old Windows computer, but everything else I own is Mac based, I stopped using it when that computer conked out.
Git is super useful, but yeah, I’m not sure it would be worth using only for writing. I could tell you that I really only use about three commands on a regular basis, but without knowing what those commands do it might still be pretty confusing.
Here’s a few of my paltry thoughts to provide us with the proverbial “kick in the chest to get it going.”
I do all my outlining by hand on yellow legal pads, but the serious stuff happens on a computer. I grew up with typewriters — and hate them with a passion. I mean, I like how they look and someday may buy an old iron clunker just for aesthetic appeal, but the actual work of writing happens on a computer where things can be edited and rearranged. There’s always been a disconnect between the speed of my thoughts and my slow, imprecise fingers. In my typewriting days, my papers would be stiff like I’d dipped them in starch, because of all the White-Out.
In the last 2 decades of my active work life, I was compelled to use computers at work. At the same time, I wrote less and less. Once I had a PC, the writing diminished to almost none. I now find that disuse and the development of tremors make my writing almost unintelligible to me. I’m a terrible typist, but mistakes are easily remedied. The product is neat and, more importantly, legible.
At this juncture, if I had to write notes like: Honey, the dog crapped in the living room, so his body is in the basement, I would print rather than use cursive. I would neve use the old Underwood we have for anything but ballast. Mistakes on typewriters made me crazy.
As inept as I am, nothing beats typing on the computer. That does not include the keeping of journals, which cries out for a book and pen, and is not meant to be read by anyone else.
A fascinating topic. Writing by hand is torture for me. I dislike writing out anything longer than a name and address. When I was a kid my dad brought home an old office typewriter that his employer had discarded. One of those square jobs that weighed about 30 pounds. The open parts of the letters were filled with paper fiber. I loved that machine. I took a Brother portable to Korea with me, used it for everything – letters, poetry, essays (none of the foregoing survive, mercifully).
While working at a glue factory in Gloucester I convinced the boss to spring a couple grand for one of the original IBM PCs (64K on the motherboard – yes that’s a K – no hard drive, cuneiform user’s manual, yatta yatta) – but it came with IBM’s first PC word processor (DisplayWrite, I think it was called) stripped down from a System 36 app. I never looked back.
Also being left-handed, I carried that ink-smudge like stigmata, but it’s been gone for 30 years now, as has the writer’s cramp, and all the other drawbacks of writing by hand. I figure if I had longhand versions of all the files I have of various versions of various text items, I’d have to rent many storage units. Not even delving into spreadsheets and databases here.
But yeah I’m digital all the way, unrepentant and unreconstructed. If I can’t type it, screw it. The most worrisome effect of my wee strokelet was that it mucked up my left hand’s keying a bit for a while.