The Ups of Longhand

I’ll mention now that I know the title sounds rather like a fantasy location of family-line, but what I refer to is the fact that for a lot of what I write, I write it in longhand in notebooks before I type it up and make line-edits as I go.

Yes, it takes a while. I like to think that I’m being thorough.

But why? (You may ask) What advantages are there to spending hours looking from notebook to screen, trying to decipher the squiggles of electric handwriting? Certainly, it has taken me longer to come to have completed Word document manuscripts, but I would vouch that it is a method that, for me, works well. notebook_AlexB

To start with, I’m not going to agree that it has taken me longer to finish a story simply because I have been writing it in a notebook and copying out. The reason it generally does take longer is that I allow myself to do something else; I have the draft and information written down, so I know I don’t need to jump onto the next available computer to type type type. At the next free opportunity when I am not concentrating on a different piece of work, I can come back to the notebook and resume what I know. Unfortunately…those opportunities aren’t so common.

I’ll use my NaNo Novel as an example: I may not have completed NaNo, but I did not have permanent and recurrent access to a computer that month (or any month regardless), so getting the first draft out of my brain by hand came as an extremely useful tool, especially when I was hit by inspiration during lessons. The reason I copied out most nights what I had written during the day was so I could keep a track of it – after all, I was looking to see the wordcount at some stages. And then, after November was over, I could continue.

That brings me to the second point of argument against writing in a notebook,Monochrome though whether this happens to me purely because I have written using notebooks, I don’t know. That forgetting of stories. Not the plots, but the existence of the stories themselves. Often, when I have been writing in my notebook, I have used the space to write several different things at once – whatever popped into my mind – and to copy them out in bulk at, say, a weekend. And it’s true: I don’t always follow one train of thought at the same time.

Do I forget to continue stories because they are in a notebook? I’d say no. The reason I forget – or more often, abandon – a story is because I have chosen to put it second priority to another. It may just so happen that this process involves leaving the handwriting in the notebook until I am done (which does, inevitably, leave a bit of a blank space in my mind), and occasionally not returning. I do so try to keep up with an idea if I really like it, though.

WTCB...InProgressBesides, I’m a little overwhelmed by a blank Word document, but the use of a notebook, with its lined order and occasional colour, is more comforting at times.

Lastly, there is that argument of not keeping track of what one has done, that is: both in wordcount sense and plot sense. I’m sure there are many different ways longhand writers deal with this potential problem, but I myself combat it by writing in black ink (this helps the writing not to fade over time) and by using bookmarks if I decide to jump around when I am writing (that is: to write the end first, which I have done before). For my more important stories or those which I would very much like to finish, I break into different notebooks – or I write from the back, something which has become a habit from my beginning writer days when the only ‘notebooks’ I had were the reverse sides of my school rough books!

A Thousand WordsI like what I do because of the creativity. Using a notebook enables me to more easily jot down points in the margins and sides, to underline and colour freely the moment I get an idea and without having to wait until I reach a computer.

Just to prove that my method works: I recently finished copying out my novel, ‘Of Moscow Mysteries’, which I wrote last summer and finished the longhand draft a while ago. Moreover, the story is 70,000 words, which I take as proof that nothing is lost in the use of longhand for novel writing.

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6 thoughts on “The Ups of Longhand

  1. I stopped using my notebook and only worked on the computer, which just isn’t the same in the end. This year I’m going back to the notebook. I think I have better ideas and don’t get as distracted by writing perfectly. I like taking the breaks to doodle while my mind works something out. Good luck in the new year.

    • Yes, I think there is something quite natural about working in a notebook; sometimes staring at a computer for too long does to sap out the strength of writing.
      Thank you for commenting, and good luck to yourself.

  2. I used to write my novels in notebooks. In fact the very first iteration of SHADE was in a notebook. However… (and this is a big however) for me I realized a lot of hang up I was getting when thinking notebook vs. Word doc is I felt like I couldn’t write or at least not as creatively digitally as I could with physical pen and paper. But because it does take so long and hence make editing sometimes more difficult, I decided conquering the digital universe in writing was something I had to do.

    I’ll admit, at first it seemed impossible to be as creative as I was on paper, but I realized it was because I’d trained myself to do my creative work on paper and not computer. So at first, I had to supplement writing down ideas on paper and writing story on screen. It took some getting used to, but now I think I’m just as adept on screen as off.

    My point in sharing all this is someday we’ll be authors with publishing deadlines, and anything we can do to help speed up the process is well worth the effort. I wouldn’t say give up notebooks completely. I still use them frequently to brainstorm thoughts. Plus I like to see where my trains of thought were going at the time. I also leave “track changes” on in Word for the same reason, and I save versions of the story so I can go back to an older version if necessary. But if you always do it old school you may find you can’t do it any other way, and that’s no bueno.

    Up to you of course, that’s my two cents. 😀

    • That’s true. It takes time. You’re right about deadlines and I guess I should up my pace more (that is, without the madnesses of distraction and procrastination). Some days, I do well; other days I fail completely. I’ll also admit that I’m not sure what the ‘track changes’ is. If it’s a Word 07 or higher usage-thing then I won’t have seen it, otherwise I’d have just ignored it! I mean, yeah, I have about four different versions of the same story, but mostly that’s for style, rather than plot changes. I think the only two major plot changes I’ve made are to add in a scene, chop a chapter in half and change part of it, and the rewrite(s) of first chapter. Hmm.

      Thanks for the comment. I really liked that you have such an opinion on the whole notebooks vs. computers subject.

  3. Looks like you can do it with most version of Word, at least this link I found had directions for Word 2000 and earlier versions. http://www.shaunakelly.com/word/sharing/howtrackchangesworks.html

    But track changes lets you see what you’ve done to your story, kind of like writing in a notebook and scratching things out. I usually kick it on while editing (I’d leave it off if you’re doing a fresh new draft, then turn it on when you go back through). But I also save versions in addition to that. I have gone back to earlier additions when I know I’ve already written a scene that I’m re-implementing and see how I approached it before. Sometimes it gives me ideas. Anyways, apparently the link says all versions of Word can turn on track changes with CTRL+SHIFT+E You’ll have to let me know if it works for you.

    • *Clicks ctrl + shift + e* Ooh, that did something. *types* It’ll take some getting used to, but there it is.
      Hey, thanks for pointing that out to me! I don’t know how useful I’m gonna find it, but it’s good to know that I’ve got that to hand now!

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