When I was a teenager, back in the mid-to-late 60s, I had the ambition of becoming a novelist. In preparation for my first novel—never written—I wrote a lot of short stories. I wrote them by hand, working on a draft for quite some time before committing it to the typewriter. With computers, writing by hand has largely become a thing of the past. But I’m convinced that word processors have had a negative effect on the general quality of writing. Writing on a computer is great for certain things—anything that deals with reams of information, or, say, a blog. But quality work suffers. I can’t imagine writing poetry on a computer.
Up to this point, for my book I’ve been working almost entirely on the computer. And I’m sure I’ll finish this draft on the computer. What I’m mostly doing isbuilding the structural details of the narrative and doing a lot of Internet research. (It’s been useful for things like: I can remember something I did around the time the album Stage Fright by the Band was released. Through the Internet I was able to find the release date.) But for my last draft, I intend to write by hand. I believe it helps to develop a voice that’s more true, and it encourages finer attention to detail. I recently spent a week on an uninhabited island, and in order to test my belief, I left the computer behind and wrote by hand. It was better. (And my eyes were less tired at the end of the day!) It’s not hard to imagine why. What’s true is always found by stripping away unnecessary complications. (Truth is complex, but it isn’t complicated.) And staring into a screen full of buzzing electrons does nothing to encourage clarity of mind. I think that working at a computer makes me speedy and less reflective.
It will take some getting used to. Writing by hand was definitely harder work. Harder work, but better work. At the end of each day, I’ll enter what I’ve written into the computer and undoubtedly make some corrections then. But I want my primary tools to be my mind, the pen, and the paper.