Hands or Keys: How Do You Write?

When I was eight, I became friends with a boy who went to the same after-school care and happened to live in the same apartment complex. I went over to his house to play almost every day. One day, I got there and he had something new: a typewriter. Well, I’m pretty sure it was an old typewriter, but whatever. We played around with it. I caught my finger between typewriter keys for the first time. Mashed keys until they all got stuck in the middle together. Wound paper into it and started typing nonsense.

That was around the time I started writing. So maybe that’s why I was so hypnotized with the thing. This kid had an enviable Lego collection, but I still remember that typewriter. The unique clacking of the keys. The grinding of the wheel. The ding when you hit the end of the line. The pain when the bottom edges of the keys scraped up my cuticle.

Writing technology hasn’t changed all that much. Sure, we have access to fancy word processors now that have spell check and fancy fonts. I even have Word on my new phone, so once I figure out how to use the whole cloud-storage thing, I can type where ever. But we still have pens and paper, and typewriters are trendy.

So which do we use, as writers?

Just like with everything other bit of writing “advice” I’m going to talk about, aside from the universals I’ve already discussed, this is just about my experience and opinion. If you want to try it, great, go for it. If you think it’s dumb, cool, doesn’t bother me. Some writers will only type on computers, others just hand-write, and others do a mix.

I’m in the “mixed” category here, for several reasons.

There’s something almost primal about writing things out by hand. Like my physical connection to the words is closer when the words are coming from a pen, shaped by the fine movements of my hand, when compared to words typed on a screen. This is especially true for first drafts. I feel closer to the characters, to their words, to the action.

However, as much as I would love to write an entire first draft by hand, I physically can’t. I have problems with inflammation in various tendons (which, yes, is as fun as it sounds.) One of the super-fun manifestations of this is pain in my wrists and elbows when I do fine, repetitive movements over long periods of time.

I also harbor a deep, deep hatred of transcribing handwritten text onto a computer. Scooping-out-my-eyes-with-rusty-spoons kind of hatred.

Typing is wonderfully convenient. And not just because the typing motions don’t set off my angry tendons. It’s faster. Far faster. On an average day, I can bust out 1000 words an hour on a keyboard. I’ve never really timed myself with handwriting (I don’t have the patience to count all those words) but I can promise you, it’s far less than 1000 words an hour.

There are also all the other conveniences, such as being able to go back and delete or add things, and spell check (unless you’re me and stuck with a Word program that’s got a funky spell checker that pretends to work,) and being able to keep thousands of pages all together in a relatively small space. Digital files are also much easier to share, and necessary if you want to submit a manuscript anywhere.

So I compromise. I do a bit of both. I hand-write all my prep work. Character ideas, plot points, test scenes, background scenes, research notes, random questions to ponder, thematic ideas…whatever comes up. It allows me to feel that closer connection to my characters while they’re developing, but it limits the damage to my wrists. And then I type up the drafts on the computer. When I’m done a draft, I usually print it to edit by hand.

Of course, I still want a typewriter. Michael’s has one for $200. Too bad I have a long list of things that I need to spend $200 on first. Oh well.

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