Sunday, January 17, 2016

Craft of Writing: Longhand vs typed

When I was younger, I did just about all of my writing longhand. One reason was because I didn't have much access to a computer. The other was because notebooks and journals are far more portable than those clunky monsters that we had in the 1990s and double aughts. I still do a considerable amount of longhand writing on a regular basis. I type a great deal now. It is not because I have lost my taste for longhand.

With a laptop computer being a lot lighter and more portable than they used to be, I am finding that my writing is increasingly being done from the digital format. Honestly, I think about 75% of my writing is done on the computer. I have come to the conclusion that if I am looking to produce a large quantity of writing, typing really is my best option. I type far faster than I write.

Still, longhand has a great deal of emotional appeal for me (and I'm sure for other writers). There is a romance to longhand writing that can not be denied. It is a far more intimate and personal format to produce written work. If you don't believe me, look at the difference between a handwritten letter and a typed one. That handwritten letter has subtle changes to the pen strokes and the pressure applied to the page as the author moves through their feelings regarding the subject matter. Items that are of emphasis are subtly made more so through the fact that the author will press harder into the paper and their script shifts in spacing and height. You can't accomplish this with typing unless you start playing around with fonts.

I find longhand to be something that I have a great deal of affection for. I have discovered that my writing in longhand tends to be more emotional and more visceral than my typed texts. I also have discovered that longhand allows me to adjust my work more quickly. I don't claim to understand how this works. It may just be a difference that I feel and it really is not there. Still, I do the majority of my drafting out ideas and concepts through longhand. I even get picky about what tools I use for what type of writing I am doing. It varies by subject and focus. There is a reason why I have a large collection of varied pens and pencils.

I don't have the same degree of flexibility in typewritten work. Still, I can sit down over the course of an afternoon and produce up to five thousand words in the same length of time that it would take me to write closer to one thousand longhand. I find that typewritten work is easier to edit. I also find that typewritten work is a lot less effort to get ready for publication. Longhand requires the entire body of work to be reproduced before you can really do anything with it. And at least one additional round of editing because of potential mistakes made in the process of transferring the work from your notebook to that text document.

Some day, I will write a full novel out via longhand. I know that filling up a 300 page journal is not going to equate to a 300 page typewritten text. The project that I am looking at right now, actually, is going to wind up in multiple notebooks as I work up the rough draft. I haven't decided if this handwritten project is going to go to publication. It really is something that I'm doing for the sake of my sanity. Still, as I sit down to work, I have days where I question if I should just be typing everything up. Then I get caught up in my writing and I find myself feeling a stronger connection with what I'm working on than I do with just about everything I have ever typed.

Longhand has its strengths. I am opposed to the idea of cursive no longer being taught in schools because so much communication is done through typing. One reason is because cursive is what will allow you to read historical documents. As someone who prefers going to primary sources as often as I can when I am doing research, I use my skills for reading and deciphering longhand a lot. I also find that longhand has a wonderful aesthetic quality that not even the prettiest type fonts can reproduce.

At the same time, typewritten work is very much a product of our era. And it will most likely be the primary mode of written communication in the future (as it is progressively becoming in our era). I would be a fool to dismiss it or its power. Skillful manipulation of type fonts and page format produces a different kind of aesthetic quality than what you get from longhand. It is a difference that is rather stark in comparison.

It is like comparing the work of the Dutch Masters to Pablo Picasso. They have both done portraiture and made impressive contributions to the body of work that is the visual arts. And just as these two different schools of art bring different ways to manipulate and present an image, so too does longhand and type. I am firmly of the opinion that there is an element to writing that is visual. Some people have declared me a bit weird for the fact that I find great satisfaction in just looking at well crafted sentences. I appreciate them on the level of seeing how the clean lines and the elegant combinations of glyphs can communicate a truly deep thing. I, however, may be something of an outlier on this front. This random aside done, I wish to close by saying that longhand and typewritten work both serve the same purposes, which is to communicate information. In the end, no matter how it looks visually on the page or how the author emotionally feels about the format they are using, they serve the same function and should be appreciated on that basis. The rest of it is just window dressing to the real craft of communication.

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