Thursday, 28 April 2011

Writing A Novel Longhand

People are often surprised to find there are any professional writers still working in longhand, at least at novel length. There's me and Neil Ayres - anyone else? Let me know if you're aware of any others, or if you are still a devotee to the pen and page.

For me, the words come out differently if I write them down rather than type them. It adds another stage of deliberation to the process that I just can't manage on the screen. And it also provides a first draft that has to be looked over extremely carefully, as I strain to translate my scribblings from the page to the screen. So by the time it hits the screen it's a second draft, and beginning to look like a novel (she said hopefully).

My written first draft uses only the right hand side of the page - the left side is given over to notes, scribbles, character and plot points. These might be about what needs to happen at that moment in the story, or it might be about changes I need to make to earlier moments, or where the story is going next. And there's always a lot of crossing out and doodling.

For those who are interested in the working methods of writers, I've included a picture of one page of my WIP. I already know that this page is now obsolete. The story doesn't use this section any more. Please forgive my handwriting. See the notes on the left and the actual writing on the right? There's lot of space to write cryptic messages that my future self probably won't understand, but hey, it seemed important at the time.

And, for those who can read my writing: yes, that is the word 'tomato'. There was a tomato in my WIP. But now it's been s-quashed. Heh.


girlakimbo said...

I write longhand too, and still have a pressure lump on my ring finger to prove it.

I don't think I'm as organised about it as you are though, one novel length peice of work is likely to end up in loads of chunks linked by numbers or symbols and spread throughout a couple of badly put together notebooks.

Very enamoured with your one page on one off method.

Tim Stretton said...

I can see how writing longhand makes the mind work differently. I suspect it also makes you prioritise quality over quantity.

Sometimes I'll do initial sketching out in longhand (or more usually not), but for actual narrative, I'm a slave to the keyboard.

Claire McComisky said...

Thank you for this post. I was beginning to think I was mad. I have tried changing from longhand to writing straight to my computer but have seen a remarkable difference in my writing (not for the better). I haven't wanted to admit to reverting back to longhand until reading this post.

Claire McComisky said...
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Coolkayaker1 said...

When I google "longhand novel", your post is near the top, Aliya. I am going to try my 'hand"--hee hee--at longhand writing. I've hit a roadblock with the Mac, and it's labyrinth of "save as" and "file" commands, nevermind the lugging it to the library every few days.

Many famous writers, such as JK Rowling (at least in her early days) and John Irving (Cider House Rules, Garp, etc.) write longhand. Many have hired typists to enter the longhand into the computer. Heck, some--like the late Sidney Sheldon--transcribed their novels. Yes, they literally dictate them.

Barbara Cartwright, romance queen, used to have a courtroom stenographer write down her novels. Barbara sat on a couch and stroked her cat and dreamed up the novel. No joke! Talk about a "panters" rather than a "plotter!

Longhand is slower, but more thoughtful. Longhand can be input with Dragon Naturally Speaking v.11, and even if it gets one in 20 words written incomprehensibly, we are going back and editing the entire thing again, right? If you've not tried it, at about $60, it's much better than prior versions, and one can read into a desktop $20 microphone and save boatloads of keyboard time. That is one tip I might suggest to you, my fellow free-hand writer.

John Irving writes his first drafts in fancy $35 Boorum and Pease bound journals. For the rest of us, stenographer's pads--the kind with spiral bound at the top and flippable for a flat lay on the desk--works wonders.

Many, from my online search this morning, espouse freehand writing as a remedy for computer snags and viruses. But, don't forget, although computers get the sniffles with a virus and might lose our hard work in one massive "ka-choo", paper is not forever.

Just ask my neighbor down the way whose house is now cinders after their cat, Jinxy, kicked over a tea candle.

Thanks, Aliya. Great post!

Aliya Whiteley said...

Thanks - glad you enjoyed the post! I have to agree that working in longhand undoubtedly changes the pace of the novel, for me.

Vikash Kumar said...
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