The Choice Not to Write Longhand

watson typing
No, really, I type fast.  I just don’t know what to write at the moment.  Honest!

Speaking of calling it, I’m putting an end to my ongoing test of whether or not I can write a novel longhand.  It just doesn’t seem to be working out the way I’d like.  I’ve tried it with at least three projects over the past couple of years, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s this:

I write longhand much slower than I type.

I haven’t tested my typing speed, but I know it’s at least 70 wpm, if not faster.  [This doesn’t include my frequent misspellings; apparently the word “available” is the hardest one for me to type fast.  Thanks to my Day Job for pointing that out.]  I’ve never written longhand fast, because if I went any quicker it would be illegible shorthand.

I judge the pace of my novels as I write them.  When I get into a writing flow, I connect with the pace of the story.  I connect with the fast action scenes and the deliberately slow dramatic scenes.  I’ve written novels on the PC for almost twenty years now, so I’ve gotten used to this process.  And because I write longhand so much slower, I have trouble adjusting to the flow of the story.  I’ve attempted this multiple times with a handful of projects, and each time it’s lasted maybe a few months before I give up and restart the whole thing on MS Word.

I’ve been thinking maybe this might be one of the reasons why I’ve been having so much trouble with the Apartment Complex story, and why I’ve been having no trouble at all with In My Blue World.  I started noticing it again when restarted Can’t Find My Way Home the other night.  I was frustrated and straining trying to write it in my notebook, but as soon as I restarted it on Word, everything started flowing seamlessly.

So.  Does this mean I’ll give up longhand?  For novel projects, yes.  I’m still using it for my personal journal and other mini-projects, but for now, my novel writing will remain on the PC or on the laptop.

On Longhand: The Very, VERY Rough Draft

parks rec no idea

I’ll be honest, I’m not used to writing this rough of a draft.  I usually start the the first draft straight to MS Word and fix it as I go along — quite often I’ll draft and revise at the same time.  So why am I still slogging away with some of the most randomly disjointed writing I’ve done in quite some time?

Well, one reason is that this is the only time I can afford it at the moment, considering I’m still working on the Lidwells final revision and prep for release.  Another is that while I do have a lot of outtakes from the daily warmup words, there’s a lot of in-between work that I still haven’t quite worked through yet.  This disjointedness is being done on purpose, to dive a little deeper with this story and its characters.  Once I have a better grasp of them, the plot and character evolution gets tighter.

Normally this happens during my initial MS Word draft, quite often around chapter five or so, when I’ve finally figured out who everyone is and what I can do with them.  The rest of this draft then ends up being pretty tight and straightforward with not that much major revision needed.  The downside to this is that I then need to do said major revision to the first four or five chapters.  This can be harder than it sounds, because not only am I creating the opening to a story, I must also make sure that I plant enough seeds of ideas that will show up later in the book.

As I’d mentioned many times earlier, writing longhand is how I wrote the pre-trilogy Bridgetown story The Phoenix Effect.  It wasn’t just about ease of writing anywhere I wanted to, though.  I did a lot of making-it-up-as-I-go for quite a bit before I finally figured out the story.  The final version of that story is quite different in many ways to the original longhand.

This is precisely why I’m still digging through the longhand of the Apartment Complex story.  Once more time opens up for me in the evenings, I’ll be able to do the same exact thing once more: rough draft during the day, and transcription/revision at night.  The longhand is there for me to write down the ideas; the revision is there to make those ideas work, and work better.

On Writing Longhand

Featuring the Pilot Metropolitan pen that A got me for Christmas. I haven’t used a nib pen in ages!

I’ve been writing and editing via my PC for so long that it still feels weird to be writing new things longhand.  The last major project I wrote longhand was The Phoenix Effect; the trilogy was written completely on the computer, using MS Write and MS Word.  I still have the 3″ floppies containing all the early .wri files, come to think of it.  I did do a lot of the world building and the brainstorming longhand, mostly on scrap paper from work (these were the Yankee Candle years), but the new words were all generated downstairs in the Belfry, tapping away on my PC.

Even later incomplete and/or trunked projects like Love Like Blood, Can’t Find My Way Home and Two Thousand and even the earlier versions of Walk in Silence were started or at least primarily written on the computer.  I liked working that way for varying reasons: I could chart my daily word count and my production in general; I could edit while writing when it was clear it was needed; I could open multiple documents for reference use and note taking; and peripherally, I could keep myself amused and entertained with my mp3 collection playing in the background.

Writing on the PC can be a great thing, and I still enjoy it, but over the years I’ve realized its limitations as well.  I have a penchant for distraction, whether it’s multiple games of FreeCell and Solitaire, futzing around with the tags and the arrangement of my mp3 collection, or the continued refreshing of my Twitter feed.  I’ve also been hiding myself in Spare Oom far too long.  And then there’s the fact that I already work from home, so I’m spending most of the day back there already, sitting on my duff for eight hours.  Spare Oom may not be a man cave, but over the years it began to feel like I was using it as a hideaway from the world.  It’s the one room in the apartment that has the best view (see the banner picture over at Walk in Silence), but I don’t look out that window nearly as much as I should.


Starting up my personal journal a few years back was my way of combating all this.  Its original purpose was to divert my kvetching habits from social media to paper and curtail them somewhat, and it worked almost immediately.  I also made it a habit to write its entries away from my desk.  For the last year or so I’ve been writing in it during my midmorning break, sitting on the loveseat across the room where I can glance out the window as well.  Much to my own surprise, I’ve kept it up consistently since then, skipping only weekends and vacations.

Early last year, when it was clear that I’d be wrapping up the trilogy project by year’s end, I started writing the new Mendaihu Universe story.  This was the first new story I’d be starting completely longhand, in a yellow-covered 3-subject spiral notebook I picked up at Target.  This too was kept up consistently until late last year when I put it aside to self-release the trilogy.  Once that project is finally wrapped, I’ll be able to pick it up again.  In the meantime, though, I’ve been starting new projects longhand, such as this latest version of Walk in Silence.  My return to artwork and renewed dedication to weekly poetry have finally torn me away from the PC as well.  In addition to that, I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort to work more often on my laptop out in the living room (where I am currently typing this) if I need to use MS Word.  And yesterday afternoon during the two football playoff games I sat at the dining table, writing a few WiS pages.

I’d commented elsewhere that I don’t plan on turning myself into a Luddite writer; I just feel the need to change up the habits to keep everything fresh.  I can view using the PC as a positive work process rather than a distraction or a slog.  I’m not chained to it, and shouldn’t be.  When I was working on the trilogy back in the early ’00s, working on the PC was something I looked forward to as an evening process, maybe even as ‘going to the office’ for my writing career, and I kept that separate from the rest of my life.  Returning to longhand after so long is sort of a return to that.

I’m curious to see where it takes me next.