By Hand

Writing by hand is, for some, a lost art. It’s so much faster for most people to type their stories or blog entries, rather than scrawl a pen across the paper. Of course, I say “scrawl” because that’s what it looks like when I do it.

(A page of my handwriting, mid-story.)

My handwriting is atrocious, mostly because I think so fast that when I’m writing by hand the pen can’t keep up with what’s going on in my head. When I transcribe the story, every 20 or so words I have to stop and figure out what I meant, or infer it from context. My notes at work are the same way; I’m constantly impressed by other people who take notes during meetings and their notes are actually legible. Now, don’t get me wrong: I can write neatly. But it takes a lot of concentration, and when I’m writing a story, I don’t have that.

I’ve written several stories by hand over the past few years, usually because I’m writing them during some down time at the office and I’m certainly not going to type them while on the corporate VPN. That’s just silly. The story that goes with the image above — I’m going to post some of it tomorrow — took about one business day to write, between meetings and other tasks. It can be hard to stop writing when you have something else to do, something that you’re required to do, but if you stop in the middle of a scene at least you can pick back up more easily. (This applies to typed stories too.)

Of course, there are downsides to writing by hand. There’s a callous on my middle finger from where I hold my pen that gets thicker and harder every time I write a story by hand. And the way that I write finds me bent over my notebook, so my upper back usually hurts for about a day. The writing is so messy that sometimes, if I have a slow day and write all day, I’ll give myself a headache from trying to decipher it as I go, to determine if I need to cross out a word and rewrite it more clearly. This happened during the writing of “Flip the Switch”, one of my favorite stories in Butt Stuff; I had a very slow day at work, and I dashed through the story (which was a long one), and by the end of the day I was so dizzy that I had to leave work late while I waited for my head to stop spinning.

But there are upsides to writing by hand as well. You have something to show for all your work — a chunk of pages in a notebook that you can look at, page through, and say, “I did this!” Somehow it’s more substantive than just running a word count in a word processor. And you don’t self-edit as much, unless you’re absolutely sure that the scene needs to be changed — editing is better done in the second draft, which you get when you transcribe your work into a word processor. Plus, you can go back and make quick notes in the margins, which I find to be a lot more difficult when I type a story — I tend to leave myself [notes in square brackets], and then I have to go find what I want to edit; when I’m hand-writing I just page back and leave a note right then.

I don’t write by hand often, but when I do, I almost always come up with something I’m proud of. Give it a shot. You never know what will happen.

2 thoughts on “By Hand

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