Thursday, January 23, 2014

Could you write without a computer?

When I was in elementary school way back in the 1960's, I didn't struggle at all with math, science, language arts, etc. But I did struggle with "handwriting."

There wasn't a problem with my handwriting technique until, at the beginning of third grade, the introduction of "cursive." Even though my third-grade teacher still stands out as one of my favorites, I hated being forced to make the transition from printing to cursive. 

I simply could not grasp the concept of seeing the purpose in following a bunch of rules in how to communicate via the written word. I liked how my printing of the English language looked, so what's the big deal with relying on it compared to some fancy-pants curvy lettering style? I was earning excellent grades in all of my subjects except "cursive." Mrs. Johnson (not her real name) was such a sweet-heart, though; she even made me stay in from recess to tutor me in this new-fangled way of writing. But it was to no avail; there was no way to please her.

My fourth-grade year was marked with a variety of changes, a major one being an adventurous move from Florida to Kansas. In the back of my mind I am certain I wondered: "Will I have to write in cursive in Kansas?" The answer, unfortunately, was "yes."

Every report card from then on said the same thing: all A's but nothing better than C in "cursive." Even in sixth-grade with my second-favorite teacher, Mr. McAtee (his real name, BTW) things were much the same: straight A's ... and a C in handwriting.

But what about junior high? My two older step-brothers told me that once I made it there, I would never have to worry about writing in cursive again. I didn't believe them. Surely something so essential to my educational upbringing couldn't be tossed away so easily ... could it?

Yes, it could. I was overjoyed to get to junior high where writing in cursive was not required, where I could revert back to my own style of handwriting! But I still could not get a perfect grade card (thanks to the rigors of junior-high physical education classes).

In eighth grade I jumped at the chance to be part of the newspaper staff where I thrived in writing/taking notes that no one but myself could decipher. And, as is par for the course, this was my first opportunity to work with an "editor."

Once in high school, I was able to fake through two high school history classes where the teacher, Mr. Ryan, preferred "essay" tests. I would fill the pages up with illegible ramblings and he would put A's on top of each of them. 

My senior year my counselor suggested that if I was "college-bound," I should take a typing class. Everything has to be typed in college, he said. So there I was, faced with yet another set of "do's and don't's" when it comes to writing. Can you believe that I was admonished for not holding my wrists over the keys in a certain way? That I was castigated for looking at the keys while typing instead of looking at the stuff I was supposed to type up? The horrors of "writing in cursive" returned like a flood! (BTW, this was a manual typewriter, not an electric one!)

But I persevered. I liked how the things I typed looked, more professional, more literary. Once I was able to get my word-per-minute speed up to around 30 (with as few errors as possible), I told my counselor that I wanted to drop the class. 

Those five weeks in that typing class revealed that even though writing in cursive was impossible for me, using a typewriter to communicate my thoughts and feelings was going to be quite possible. And just as my high school counselor told me, college was about typing research papers and essays, not about how "beautiful" my handwriting was.

But what if I had to "write" by hand again? Cursive or otherwise? What if I didn't have a computer to write on ... or even a typewriter? Would I still write?

I often cart along a small spiral notebook in which I jot down story ideas. But could I actually write an entire story or even a 70K+ novel onto a college-ruled spiral? 

To be honest: not on your life!

Now let's see what the wonderful writers who 
frequent The Writers' Cafe think 
about this topic of writing without a computer.

"Computers make it so easy to write. It is easy to make changes and move things around. We can check spelling and reseach on the Internet. It makes writing a story much easier. Some of my first short stories were written by hand and were a real struggle. My hand kept getting tired. I was talking to my wife about that the other day and she agreed that using a computer is so much easier than using a pen. I am not sure that I would continue writing if I had to use a pen or pencil instead of a computer.  I am not talking about jotting down some notes but full time writing."

"I tried writing w/o a computer a while back and it was dreadful. It gives me a profound respect for writers in the past who had no choice and people today who can pull that off. Suffice it to say, I have no idea how people can possibly write without an electronic device of some sort."

"I started out writing on a manual typewriter,  so sure. But it would SUCK to make revisions. As much as I tweak [crap]? Zoiks."

"Olivetti and Smith Corona were my friends long before Macintosh, so yeah, I could write without a computer. And pencils came in handy, too."

"The short answer would be no. But if I had no choice, perhaps I would learn to use a pencil and paper. The inability to easily edit could be a blessing in disguise. Manuscripts can lose their power when over-edited. Often a rough draft has a more sincere tone. I probably could, but it would no longer be fun for me I think. I use a very basic handheld psion computer to write on to keep distraction away, but of course it doesn't work when my tablet is right by my side ready to be googled upon for research. I never would have started writing in a serious way without that psion. I just picked it up and began, and before I knew it I was jotting things down on it every spare minute. Would I have done that in a diary or notebook? I doubt it very much. Now? Well this is my career and I think I would DO ANYTHING to keep writing, but the joy would leach away with the edits and hassles of writing long hand I feel."

"When Gordon Dickson got his first word-processor, he said it was like getting 7-league boots. Yeah, I *could* write without a computer,but it's so much easier with one."

"Wrote my first stories on a typewriter when I was a kid. Saved my money and bought a word processor in high school, a magnavox video writer. I loved that thing! My hand writing is horrid, so while I suppose it is possible that I could write by hand, no one, including myself, would ever be able to read it."

"Writing by hand is incredibly painful for me, and has been since I was a child. In college, I was diagnosed with a type of arthritis that resides in the hands. I used to dictate stories to friends to write down, but I avoided writing by hand in every way possible. When computers became accessible and the internet was available, I discovered a whole new freedom when it came to expressing myself, because I wasn't limited by handwriting anymore. I know Kevin J. Anderson dictates many of his stories and a typist types them, so that would be a possibility, but I don't think I'd be a writer if I couldn't use a computer."

"I wrote my first book by hand on a big pad and actually got more done than I do now with the constant siren call of the internet (yes, I know I can turn it off but that just doesn't happen). On the other hand I love the clean copy that the computer gives me as opposed to the constant crossings out and arrows etc that litter my hand written stuff. Also I don't have to type it in before publication if it's all done straight to the screen."

"I could, but I wouldn't like it. I don't even journal by hand any more. I do it on the computer. I get a much more free flow of my words that way."

"I don't think so. I used to when I was little, but I've been working with computers all of my adult life, so long projects with a pen and paper seem foreign to me now. It's like my creativity is short circuited somehow, I can't even outline by hand. Now, if I lived in a world without computers, I suppose it wouldn't be like that, but then we also wouldn't have the ability to self publish, so why even bother?"

"Words come easier to me with a pencil in hand. Somehow it makes it easier to shut off my internal editor and just write. So my system is to scribble a few messy pages in a notebook, then type it up, rearranging the words and sentences as I go. The typed version is like a second draft. Around 20% gets changed as I'm typing. My hand cramps when I write for more than an hour or two, which is why I only do a few pages at a time. For awhile I thought I could save time by cutting out the middle man and going straight to the keyboard. No pencil and notebook. But I found it took me longer to get my thoughts together while staring at that blank screen. And what I wrote still needed to be redrafted, so I wasn't really saving time at all. I gave up and allowed myself to go back to longhand scribbling. I've even ordered myself a handy little book stand for my desk to make the typing process quicker (my stupid notebook kept falling over as I copied). My handwritten stuff is incredibly messy and filled with scribbles and arrows - another reason I have to pause often and type it up while it's fresh in my memory. Otherwise, I won't be able to make out my own handwriting."

"I have a lot of pain in my hands that makes my hand-writing too atrocious to stand, even to my own eyes. So if I were forced to hand-write my novels, then no. I could use a typewriter, though I wouldn't want to. I work better with words on a screen. I usually have three pages side-by-side as I work. I write the words, move them, play with them until the flow is just right. I can just *spot* where something else is needed when it is up in front of me. And it's so easy to pop up a page or two and insert a little something, change a name/word/action. At the bottom of the document, I make notes that pop into my head but will need to be worked in later. The computer makes it really easy on a writer. That's for sure."

"I actually DO write on a pad and paper. I use the internet for research, but the actual first draft is always done on paper. The reason for this is that my goal with the first draft is to just "get it down." The problem with writing on a computer is that it is too easy stop and edit...and stop and edit...and stop and edit...and stop and edit. Writing on paper forces me to just keep moving forward. I can't easily just go back and rewrite the same scene again and again. Once I have it down on paper, it goes in a file for two month. Then I come back to it and type it into a file, at which time I do any needed rewrites. I can't properly edit my work if I am too close to it. The wait give me distance to look at what I wrote objectively and think about what needs to be fixed. And I still have tons of books that I reference for my actual research. Sometimes it is easier to pick up a book and find info that to go online, because it is too easy to get distracted online."

"Yeah, I wrote about 25 novels/novellas as a teen, all longhand. But typing them up took so long aggravated my back problems, so now I just write on the computer. I do miss the contemplation time, though. While my hand was scribbling, I had time to really figure out what I wanted to say. I had a massive callus on my third finger from the pencil."

"I used to love fountain pens and paper and I still do ... but like antiques. I couldn't possibly work without a computer. My significant other wrote his thesis before word processors and he had to retype everything 10 times before getting to the final draft. What a pain and so much time wasted. Don't you think this is one of the major reasons while today's author are more prolific ... makes you wonder how many more stories Victor Hugo or Jules Vernes would have told us with a wp."

"On a typewriter, yes. Pen and paper, no. My poor arthritic fingers would scream in protest after a short time. I do jot down notes when I think of something, but more and more I just turn on the voice recorder on my IPhone and talk. I would go mad without my computer. For more reasons than just writing."

"I got my first word processor in 1982 when I was 16. The answer is a very big no. My hands cramp within minutes of printing and I can't even write cursive anymore. I can remember the lower case letters, but I tried to write something cursive a few years ago and realized I no longer even remembered how to properly form the capitals."

"I first began using a typewriter when I was about 8, so I could go back to it, but why ever would I want to. Changing anything would be a constant chore and re-writes or scene moving...ugh. Please pass the White-Out. My cursive looks like the enigma code and I never use it. My printing best resembles early Sumerian and though I use it for shopping lists you can find me in the supermarket staring at a little piece of paper trying to figure out what I wrote the day before. I'd be toast without a computer. Some authors find it soothing to write by hand on paper. I'd be crying."

"I do most of my writing long hand in notebooks before getting to the computer. There is something so off-putting about a blank computer screen for me, not so much a blank page. My first ever 'published' writing was done on an old-fashioned manual typewriter, where the S key was stuck in subscript the whole time, but the newspaper I was sending articles to accepted them despite that. Of course, the subscript S didn't appear in the newspaper though."

"My first computer was a Commodore; it had to be hooked up to the TV for the monitor and didn't have a hard drive.  Programs had to be loaded from a floppy disk. It had a word processor that was build into the Rom so I could do limited word processing on it. It had to be saved on a floppy disk. Printing was incredibly slow and was expensive, especially for colors. This was before the Internet; some people had sites you could dial into and download things or chat with other people. Of course, modems had to be bought extra. I remember this one site that the guy had. He bragged that he had a 10 mg hard drive that you could download things from.  It was only available for a few hours each day. My son and I downloaded a nude picture that took about half a hour.  In those days, you couldn't see the picture ahead of time so you got what you got. Now things are much different; I have newer desktop computers running Windows 7 and a laptop running Windows 7.  We have high speed Internet and download whatever we want. It is hard to realize how much computers have changed.  Now I mainly use my computer to write on. My wife uses hers to e-mail her friends and to play games. We use the laptop as a backup computer and to reconcile the checkbook. It is amazing how much we depend on our computers when once we didn't even have a computer. Now my son does his job over a computer from home since he is a computer tech. I write up my novels on my computer and send them to Amazon and Draft2Digital for publishing. My computers were bought with money that I earned writing.  So life has gotten better with computers."

"I wrote in speckled composition notebooks from childhood until my 20s. Then I typed on a Smith Corona until I discovered the Internet in 1995. I find writing on the computer so much easier."

"I used a notebook per story for the longest time, then a friend borrowed me a typewriter, which was a manual.  I was eventually able to get an electric typewriter of my own and for years wrote on that, maybe going through three typewriters... the last being a very nice one with a correction ribbon, but an error had to be realized within one or two sentences or out of luck.  I spent a lot of time retyping entire manuscripts.  My first computer was an IBM PS1, not internet-capable, so while I was able to enjoy all the editing and print-out benefits, I still ended up retyping entire manuscripts onto the Dell once I owned one. It's been a long journey, but all I learned about the craft during those times has been invaluable. All the references were in books and The Writer for years and years. I still use a paper notebook for the first several chapters until the story really begins to formulate, and then turn to Google Docs where I store everything in case of a computer malfunction. So, I do still compose by hand to a great extent.  So, yes, I would still write without a computer."

"Sure. I spent most of my life writing by hand. I have several old manuscripts written entirely by hand. I trained myself to write cursive clearly when I was in college and had to take notes fast in class. I always hated typing back in the day of the typewriter, and still dislike it, but I use the keyboard now because it's so easy to make revisions and corrections. However, I can always achieve smoother, better writing if I rough it out in a handwritten form first. I guess it depends on how you trained yourself to work when you were young."

"I can't seem to go more than a few hours without jumping on a computer. A friend of mine writes all of his books, by hand, in his car, while chain smoking. He later types out the books on his PC."

"I wrote my first book on a portable electric typewriter (didn't have a PC of my own at the time). I think I did one more draft that way and then scraped up the $$ for a PC of my own. I do remember that getting the whole thing into the PC was a major chore and something I vowed never to do again. That said, I was an avid fan of Albert Payson Terhune in my teens and remember reading an autobiography where he said he wrote by hand until writer's cramp was so bad he couldn't hold a pen or pencil. At first he tied a pencil between his fingers and kept going, then he learned to type. When typing became too painful, he learned to dictate. It stuck in my mind all these years as an example of the lengths people will go to when they're determined to do something."

"I was just reading Lawrence Block yesterday about rewriting, and remembering how difficult it is when you have to type everything over again! I have done it. I'm sure I could do it.  But I am so glad we don't have to anymore."

"I could write as long as I had pencil and paper -- good luck in reading any of it. I used to buy spiral notebooks and write stories in them turned around because I am a wicked, wicked southpaw. I still buy little notebooks to write down notes.  My printing is neat, and my cursive can be read by some people. I print my notes because I have a deal with a friend of mine that she gets my notes when I die (this water tastes funny). Ever since I got my first typewriter, I haven't really hand written rough drafts. When I got my first PC back in the mid 90's, I have not looked back. I don't think I could be as productive as I am now... well, relatively speaking when it comes to productive."

"Of course I could. The question is: would I?"

No comments:

Post a Comment