Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Writing Fiction Longhand
Shakespeare did it, and so did Dickens. Tolstoy, too, for that matter. In fact, up until about a century ago, everybody did it. Everybody who wrote, anyway.
I’m talking about writing in longhand, with a pen and paper. Before the age of the computer, before typewriters came into wide use, everyone wrote in that fashion. Over the years, a number of people have believed (and still believe) that doing it that way, putting actual pen to actual paper, makes someone a better writer.
Unless you were William Faulkner. He used a pencil, rather than a pen. A soft pencil on a cheap, ruled drugstore-style pad. He said it was important to him to be able to actually feel the words as he was writing them.
And then there was Hemingway, who wrote on a typewriter, but what would you expect? He used to be a journalist.
If They Can, So Can I
Being a recovering journalist myself, and being of the computer age, I’ve written all of my first three books on a computer. I do the outlining and plotting longhand, using a fountain pen and good paper, but when it comes time to do the book, I sit in front of the computer and let the fingers fly over the keyboard.
Until this time. As I was finishing my third book, NotDeath, But Love, I decided to try something different. I’d write the first chapter of the fourth book (title still undetermined) in longhand with a fountain pen, or pens, just to see how it would feel to do that, and to see if I could detect any difference resulting therefrom in my writing style.
In anticipation of the experience, I visited Silberman Brown Stationers in Seattle during our recent trip there. It’s an elegant stationery store, located at street level of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel downtown. When I said I was looking for a pad of high-quality paper for writing with a fountain pen, the knowledgeable clerk steered me to Clairefontaine Triomphe, a French luxury brand. I bought one pad lined and one unlined.
Feel the Glide
I used the ruled paper, of course, and now that I’ve finished the first draft of the first chapter, I wish I could give a more definitive answer to the question of what difference it made to write fiction longhand. I’m really not sure.
The experience was certainly different, inasmuch as he words weren’t coming out as if shot through a fire hose. I’m a fast typist and tend to really get on a roll when I write, and doing it by hand definitely slowed down the proceedings.
One consequence of this, which may or may not be a good thing, is that it gave me more time to think about (and have doubts about) the quality of my writing. When I finished the chapter, I felt less confident about the quality of it than I had of the first chapter of the two preceding books.
Then I showed the manuscript to Linda, who said she was drawn in by the story elements and that it seemed faster-paced than my other books. I wonder if writing it out is enough work that you steer clear of excessive verbiage and perhaps do more editing as you’re writing. I don’t know. I’m going back to the computer for Chapter 2, but think I’ll try doing the first chapter of the next book in longhand as well to see if I gain any further understanding of the process. I need all the understanding I can get.