Jump to content

Moving Beyond the Quill and Scroll

Recommended Posts

As a lifelong devotee of writing draft manuscripts with a pen on a ruled tablet, then correcting by hand, before (nowadays) entering a more polished draft into my word processing program, I was struck by coming across these comments by famed novelist Ian McEwan.  How many of you, if any, still write anything by hand?  Or do you start everything out on your keyboards?  I had thought my way was the more intimate and trustworthy way to relate to my wordsmithing, but Mr. McEwan has a persuasive argument that I think I would do well to consider:

When asked how his writing process has changed with the onset of technology, McEwan answered: "In the seventies I used to work in the bedroom of my flat at a little table. I worked in longhand with a fountain pen. I'd type out a draft, mark up the typescript, type it out again. Once I paid a professional to type a final draft, but I felt I was missing things I would have changed if I had done it myself. In the mid-eighties I was a grateful convert to computers. Word processing is more intimate, more like thinking itself. In retrospect, the typewriter seems a gross mechanical obstruction. I like the provisional nature of unprinted material held in the computer's memory - like an unspoken thought. I like the way sentences or passages can be endlessly reworked, and the way this faithful machine remembers all your little jottings and messages to yourself. Until, of course, it sulks and crashes."  (McEwan's comments are from The Writers’ Almanac for 6/21/17)

Link to comment

I've never written a story that wasn't created using a word processing program.  I doubt I ever would have.  To me, having this tool is integral to the process.  It's so easy to move things around, to try things and then discard them when they don't work, even to do silly things like changing from first person to third.  The word processor is part of the creative process for me.


Link to comment

I'm on board with the thoughts above, and write significant amounts of stuff on a computer as part of my work.

I would say, however, that I still like to print out the current draft on paper and review it that way.  It seems like both issues and ideas present themselves in that format that the computer screen does not reveal.


Link to comment

I'm too young to have used a typewriter. There's an office in Walnut Creek that has an old Remington typewriter in the window.

I'm not too young to (have been forced to) use a pencil to write and rewrite stories — but that was in my creative writing class in eighth grade in middle school, and it made writing a chore. Since then, never again. We brought our own laptops or tablets to my creative writing class in high school (the school had a loaner program if a student couldn't afford to buy they own).

Like Cole, the computer is like an extension of my brain, and I can write faster using a keyboard then I was ever able to match writing by hand. Some might say that slower pace using a pencil (or pen) is an advantage; the slower pace allows changes to be made on the fly. I say, good for you, not good for me. A computer makes editing easy. I try to not be tempted to edit along the way; sometimes that's difficult. But it's easy to avoid and then, later, go back and make changes. And I can save pre-edit and post-edit copies.

Like Cole wrote, using a computer makes experimentation possible and easy to do. It makes modifications easy to do. Add a character? Change the protagonist's name from Clyde to James? Easier than with a pencil or pen. Rewrite a large part of the story, then decide you don't like that? Easy to do by saving the story under a new name and make all of the changes to that copy.

For me, the result is the computer makes writing fun instead of a chore.

Colin  :icon_geek:


Link to comment

I, too, have come to enjoy those wonderful advantages of word processing, now that I have taught myself how to use all the features.  But, like my initial hand-made drafts, the last step for me is as Rutabaga says, to print it out and do my final edits manually.  The formatted and printed page can reveal many a slip between hand and keyboard (and also shows how dumb-ass automatic spelling correction is).

Correcting the printout also gives me the opportunity to read my final versions aloud, to catch errors in rhythm and pace and awkward construction.  If something leaves me tongue-tied and bewildered as to who is saying what to whom, then I can safely bet the next reader will be just as confused and something needs fixing.

Link to comment

I often edit from a printout of my document when I'm near the final draft.

The other thing I do is use Natural Reader (version 14) with the voice of Josh, a young-sounding teen because his voice handles story text better than any of the others I've tried. The weirdest thing it does is read out text section breaks like ~~~<>~~~ as "tilde tilde tilde less-than greater-than tilde tilde tilde" which gets really, really old after a while. So, until I post my story I'm using ********** as my temporary section break in my Word documents, which Josh reads as "group of asterisks." Anyway, listening to the story being read lets me discover typos and other kinds of errors I'd missed reading on the computer and from the printed document.

Colin  :icon_geek:


Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...