Would Writing Longhand Help?


Photo by Jeffrey Abrahams

GORDON MENNENGA — I think fiction was better when it was physically harder to write. Margaret Atwood wrote about her favorite pen. I have my students write a piece in longhand, then type it, and we talk about the differences; they said they thought harder about word choices writing longhand.


ALLAN GURGANUSHugh Kenner wrote a great book about the typewriter and the impact its invention had on literature, The Mechanic Muse. Kenner swears that Eliot’s Wasteland could not have been written without the advent of the typewriter.

I don’t think we yet know what impact computers will have on writing. But I do feel glad I came into writing when I did, first learning to type. When I was in the Navy, they taught me to touch type, 70 words a minute. I still can’t type as fast as I think, of course. But I’m getting there, if only because my speed of thought must slow as I get older.

I think slowing down may be a good thing for a writer, especially in short stories. In a novel, there’s lots of “forward spillage” that’s narratively necessary and enriching. But maybe for a shorter form it’s good to build a work one perfect sentence at a time, slow it down that way.

JOE HALDEMANI have a screened porch, a so-called “Florida room,” behind my house in Florida. I work there for a few hours in the morning dark, starting around 4 or 4:30. The room has no electricity, so I work by the light of several oil lamps.

I write in longhand, fountain pen, in bound blank books. I don’t like pencils or erasers. If I change something in ink by crossing it out, the original is still visible. Sometimes I was right the first time.

I write slowly, and my first draft is very close to the final version. I’ll typically write between 300 and 500 words by the time it starts to get light. Then I quit for breakfast, and later in the morning (after email and diary) I type the day’s work into the computer, changing a word here and there.

Sometimes I continue writing on the computer, beyond the handwritten text. If it’s less than a paragraph, I just write it into the bound book. If it’s a couple of paragraphs or more, I print it out and paste it into the book.

3 responses to “Would Writing Longhand Help?”

  1. PeeVee

    The computer is a new tool for me to use when trying to be creative with words. I feel it/I can type as fast as the thoughts come, but I believe the main course to follow is to read those words as someone reading them for a first time making sure the thoughts are complete.

  2. Cheryl

    Probably very few of us are willing to permanently forego technology, but pens don’t crash, and there’s something to be said for a process that slows us down enough to avoid the vomitus that can splatter the digital page when dictatorial fingers commandeer the keyboard. Eew. See? Our point entirely.

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