Writing vs Typing

January 13, 2009 in On Writing by pacejmiller

I feel bad after those long pieces about the Pacers and Prince Harry which don’t really have anything to do with writing.  Other than the fact that I wrote it.  Or typed it.

That brings me to the writing topic of the day: which is betterwriting with pen on paper or typing on a computer?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 15 years or are well over the age of 60, chances are you know how to use a computer and know how to use a keyboard (this reminds me of an old partner at my law firm who used to dictate 2-word emails (eg, Yes.  Regards)  on his dictaphone and then get his secretary to type them up).  These days, just about everyone uses computers regularly, either at work or at home.  We can’t live without them.

But when it comes to creative writing, and in that I mean novels and short stories (and even poetry), is it still preferable to use the good old pen and paper?

The Pros and Cons

typing1The main benefit of using a keyboard over a pen is that the overwhelming majority of people type faster than they write.  If you’re in a hurry or just want to get the bloody thing done, typing instead of writing saves you a lot of time.  Further, the documents are saved in soft copy format.  While there is the risk of losing your work on unreliable hard drives and USB sticks, this is balanced out by the fact you can easily make extra copies, email them to yourself or other people.  If you are careful about your work by constantly saving and making multiple back-up copies, it’s a lot safer than storing your masterpiece on loose sheets of crumpling yellow paper.  It’s also more environmentally friendly (unless you have access to free printing, which would inevitably lead to abuse).

Most importantly, even if you prefer to write on paper, you’ll have to type up your work eventually anyway (or get someone to do it for you).  Hand written stuff just won’t cut it in the professional world these days.

However, writing is a creative process.  When I undertook a creative writing course, we were strongly encouraged to write our work by hand first before typing it up and posting them online.  This, they said, is one of the keys to getting your writing flowing from your imagination.  As you tend to write crap in your first draft anyway, why not write creative crap and then fix it when you type it up?

writingI must say this is true to some extent.  I kind of liken it to reading on a monitor compared to reading on paper.  I always find it easier to do it on the latter.

Morever, if you’re not a good typist, you’ll tend to make typos.  Some people can ignore them, but some can’t.  If you belong in the second category, you’ll find yourself stopping a lot to fix them (which kills the imagination) or getting frustrated by all the clumsy mistakes.  You tend to make less such errors when writing (I hope).

My verdict?

That being said, I’m working on my novel right now by directly typing it on the computer.  The speed difference is just too much to ignore, and it’s less strenuous on the wrist.  Another determinative factor is the fact that my mind sometimes moves too fast for my pen.  My typing speed has more of a chance at keeping up, so I have less risk of that all-important action sequence or piece of dialogue escaping through the back of my mind.

When it’s all said and done, whether you type or write is an individual choice.  But you should at least try both and decide for yourself which makes you a more effective writer.  As someone who is very used to working on a computer, the effect on the imagination between the two is less obvious with me.  However, I might go back to writing by hand if I experience writer’s block.  The only thing I need to overcome is my terrible habit of reading back on what I just wrote and trying to fix it, because it’s right there in front of me.  Nothing is worse than editing while writing.  I’ll come back to this rule when I get around to discussing the fundamentals of good writing.  I promise I’ll do it soon.