The Pen vs. the Keyboard

In July, I dove once more into the waters of novel writing with Camp NaNoWriMo. I knew before the month began that I would spend part of my writing time actually camping and didn’t feel like taking the risk that my laptop might be dropped in a river, bug-infested (by the actual creepy-crawly kind), or run out of power at a critical story point with miles to the nearest outlet. So, I decided I would buy myself a five-subject notebook and a bunch of pens and hand-write. This was not, perhaps, as well thought-out a decision as it should have been. I quickly learned there are several drawbacks to writing by hand.

The first, largeIMG_1214st, and most persistently annoying was simple. I had to count my words: every single one of them. I knew this going in, of course, but what I failed to anticipate was just how long it would take. I closed almost every writing session with at least 20-30 minutes of counting. It was surprisingly easy to lose count, and I frequently had to go back and start over, even after I began breaking it down to 100 words at a time. Counting became so daunting that there were a few sessions I didn’t do it. This was a huge mistake, because then I had to catch up with counting before I could start the next session. With much love to all my math-loving friends, counting is not exactly a creativity-inspiring activity (at least not for me). When I must count, I’m more than happy to have Word or Scrivener do it for me.

Aside from the counting thing, hand-writing is slower. Getting in a couple thousand words in an evening was almost impossible. Part of this may have had to do with the challenging subject matter, but when words are flowing well, typing is definitely faster.  I made my Camp NaNo word count goal, but only barely and with only 15 minutes to spare before the deadline.

On the other hand, I love the tactile, organic feel of pen against paper.  I feel more a part of my story without the electronic go-between of my laptop. My characters are closer and I am more directly involved in the story. Having a notebook full of written pages also gave me a more tangible sense of accomplishment. I could see how far I’d come (and how far I had to go). Even ink-stained hands felt like hard-won battle scars, which I had earned through my efforts.

IMG_1131The notebook and pen are also more flexible and reliably portable (provided you bring more than one pen). Typing pretty much requires sitting at a table, or least using my lap desk. With a notebook and pen, I can write almost anywhere: curled up in a chair or on the sofa, lying on my bed, in a porch swing, by a lake, or even at a table.

The final advantage of hand-writing, is that when I do finally type my project into my computer (as eventually I must for ease of editing, sharing, and perhaps one day submitting), it will automatically provide a first round of edits.

At this point I haven’t yet decided whether the pen or the keyboard will be my instrument of choice. There are definitely benefits and drawbacks to either method. From a practical standpoint, I know that for future NaNoWriMo efforts (or other word-count based projects), I will definitely be typing. From an enjoyment perspective, on the other hand, I much prefer the experience of hand-writing. I leave it to time to determine which will prevail in the end.

To my fellow authors out there, how do you prefer to do your writing? Is your computer or the latest technology your best friend, or do you prefer the time honored tradition of the pen?




2 thoughts on “The Pen vs. the Keyboard

  1. When I start brainstorming I usually start out with a simple pen and notepad for the simple reason of portability. The computer I type on is a bit too bulky to lug around so a pen and notepad gives me a chance to write my idea down before I forget it no matter where I am. I do most of my major writing and editing on my computer, but I always have at least one notepad handy just in case.

    • I suspect I will come down on the side of doing most of my writing on my laptop as well, mostly for convenience and access to tools like spellcheck, dictionary, and thesaurus. Eventually I will may even make an attempt to catch up with the times and get a tablet for the portability and note-taking. I’ll always feel a little nostalgic for the good old paper & pen, though.

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