To Type or Not to Type


About a month ago, Sarah and I decided to organize a writing group on our campus. Several students had shyly asked me to read work that they had written outside of class, and several others had indicated that they liked to write, so we set a time and made some posters. We really had no idea what to expect.  On Thursday afternoon at the appointed time, 5 students showed up. Four of them were young men, two of whom are my students, two were students neither Sarah nor I knew, one was an older woman who takes classes often. Then there was Sarah and me and one of our librarians who showed up to bring National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) flyers for everyone. ( This could be plug for NANOWRIMO. It’s a great challenge to write a 50,000 word story in a month!)  It seemed like a lively and interesting group, and I suspect more students will join. What was unusual, however, was that after all the introductions and the organizational stuff, when we decided to do a writing exercise, Sarah and I opened our computers but none of the students did.

After everyone had gone but Sarah and me, we commented on how odd that was. The younger generation is supposed to be more tied to computers than us “older” folks, and yet, here were these kids with notebooks and pens.  It has been so long since I have written anything serious on paper that it hardly feels natural anymore.  I began composing prose on the computer when I was working on my PhD in the 90’s, and by the early 2000’s, I was composing poetry directly on a computer.

I do not miss my notebooks.  I used to treasure them. I had lovely journals. People who knew me often gave me blank books as gifts.  I preferred the unlined ones. Those sweet Moleskeins. I went through a stage where I ordered plain-covered notebooks that had unlined roughish brownish paper. I spend hours creating elaborate covers. Several summers ago, I looked at the two shelves on one of book cases and realized that I had not opened any of the notebooks for years. I knew what was in most of them. They mostly contained the beginning scraps of poems. If someone knew what they were looking for, they could find the evolution of a poem in these notebooks, but I had not looked at them for years.  I decided to toss them all. I did go through them and save a few pages here and there, but about thirty notebooks went into my trash

I know I wrote a blog some months ago about writers’ rituals, and how I don’t have them. What I have developed instead, I think, is a more direct connection to the words. When I see words scrawled in my cursive writing that is, frankly, getting harder and harder to read, I feel that there’s a layer of translation that has to happen before I can get to what the piece will really look like. When I see the words on the screen, they appear like “real text.”

Mark Twain was the first American author to submit a typewritten manuscript to an editor. Now, not only do we submit typewritten manuscripts, but we send them by e-mail.  Change is inevitable. I think I am a better writer because I don’t write in long hand. It feels to me that there is a more direct connection between my thoughts and my words when I see the  typed text,  but see copies of all the hand-written drafts, of, for example, Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “One Art,” I wonder if I am shortchanging both myself and future readers.

4 thoughts on “To Type or Not to Type

  1. I used to write by hand and then transfer it to the computer, making edits as I went. I don’t do that much anymore. I have found that I seem to think better, more coherently, while typing than while handwriting. It makes me a better writer, plus it saves time. This is more important than having handwritten scraps for the sake of posterity.

    There is something appealing to handwritten drafts, but for me, I think it’s about nostalgia more than anything else.

    Nice post, Jane.

  2. I’m going to be honest, it’s hard for me to compose on paper without some motivation. When I write on paper, I scrawl things in colored pens that may never reach a more refined state. What I put on paper is never very clean-cut or polished – it’s not meant to be. It’s just a rag I use to absorb ideas. That’s the interesting thing about your experience in the Creative Writing Group.

    Perhaps, instead of being a place for finished work, you’ve instead created a place where ideas are refined, and the students there are looking for your experience to help them do that without the awkward ‘Oh, God. She’ll think I’m a huge hipster’ moment (having had you read work I’ve made for pleasure before, I know your poker face is excellent).

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