Learning from NaNo, Round 2: Longhand vs Typing

During my sojourn into NaNoWriMo this month, I found myself not merely torn between writing longhand and typing, but actively doing both, and needing in some cases to choose between one and the other. This gave me an active chance to compare the two in a way that no other work had really allowed.

The bulk of my work was done in longhand for the simple reason that I was in situations where a computer would make no sense whatsoever; for hours upon hours of my writing time, I didn’t even have access to a computer. As was made very obvious to me during my write-ins, it was slower than typing (leading to a rather interesting reaction when the librarian hosting my second write-in suggested a contest of word count as a way to determine who got the books she was giving away), but it wasn’t without its advantages. It practically guaranteed that I would have a chance to edit as I transcribed my work from the written version to the computer: I think I averaged somewhere between a fifteen and twenty-five percent word increase during transcription. And it kept me (relatively) free of distractions, or at least of time-wasters: it was just me, and my desk, and that notebook that needed to be filled.

Everything, on the other hand, needed to be typed eventually. And yes, typing was faster, and I didn’t get into the same minor panic over how many blank pages were left in my notebook that I did during later portions of my longhand work. On the other hand, work on the computer presented its own challenges. Though it wasn’t as much of a problem when I was transcribing as when I was doing the initial writing, I found myself being prone to easy distraction, probably dating back from when I was in college and getting used to being in constant AIM contact with my friends: I couldn’t just type. I needed to be half-distracted: in IM conversation with someone, watching Alina Pete Livestream her commission art (my wordcount spiked during the pencil phases), analyzing music I hadn’t sorted before for soundtrack potential (needless to say, this wasn’t particularly good for my speed), basically anything that would get me to forget that time was passing quickly and I had writer’s block. Typing had one other advantage, in the form of Written? Kitten!, a combination of motivator and wordcounter that both provides and accurate wordcount and dishes up a new randomly chosen kitten picture for every interval of a preset number of words. (And now? I use it to draft my blog posts.)

My conclusion? I really can’t give one. If I’m on a tight deadline, the computer wins hands-down, but in most other cases I’ll probably at least keep the bulk of my work in longhand, for its portability and for my own ability to sequester myself and actually get something done… thereby ensure that most of my work isn’t done at home.

1 comment

  1. Michael says:

    Except for Nano, I always write by hand. I used not to, but having experimented with the method for “Sailor Dora”, I could never go back. For me it has three main advantages: the free opportunity for revision, as you mentioned; the pleasure of having a physical copy; and the fact that it’s slower. I count that as an advantage because I’m thinking more about each sentence before it goes down, so not only is the prose much better than when I type initially (sometimes there are even whole passages that I don’t change afterwards) but the chapters have less of a tendency to veer off in unwanted directions that need careful steering back on course in revision.

    When typing, I found that the best way for me to avoid distractions was to compete in “word wars” — periods of (usually) 15 minutes in which I’d do nothing else but type. They’re more fun when you have someone to war against, but even when not, you can try to get above a set target such as 900 words, and then, if you manage to break the target regularly, increase it. Then reward yourself with whatever distractions you like, until the next word war starts. On average this gets a lot more done than trying to write continuously but being distracted as much as is necessary to stop it getting boring, or at least it does for me.

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