In the early stages of my career as a proofreader, I provided the final edits for a self-help book on effective communication. Interestingly, there was a section which talked about the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and which sides you activate while handwriting and typing. According to this book, you use the left, analytical half of your brain when typing, and the right, creative half when writing by hand.
Now, I am no expert on Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which is the principle on which the above claim is founded, but I did give it a try. In fact, I gave it several tries. On freelance writing jobs, I would write the required stories by hand on my commute into the city for my day job. It was easier to write on a pad of paper than to pull out my laptop in the cramped confines of Toronto’s GO Train cars at rush hour.
My lifestyle has changed dramatically from those days, and I’ve gone back to typing the first drafts of my historical romance novels by hand. It wasn’t a conscious choice of one method over the other, I simply drifted back to it since I was on my computer most of the time anyway.
Lately I’ve found my time is being monopolized by a novelist career which has (to my profound surprise) exploded. I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook. I’m accepting freelance article writing jobs, and I’m managing a blog. That’s on top of guest posts and my work as a book reviewer with Coffee Time Romance and More. I’m being pulled every which way, and unfortunately being at the computer does not mean I’m working on my next novel. In fact, when I do have time to write my novel, I’m so sick of my computer that I can’t face another ten minutes in front of it.
Back to Basics
Yesterday I made a decision. I was going to go back to handwriting my first drafts. I went out to the store, bought myself an inexpensive pad of lined paper, and got to work. And when I say I got to work, I mean that I scratched out a paragraph or two at a time over the course of the entire day.
What I found was that, by the end of the day, I’d written 1,600 words! Really, five minutes here and there to jot bits down resulted in 1,600 words. Admittedly, that’s not a mind-blowing figure, but it’s 1,600 more words than I would otherwise have written. And today, in between getting this blog post done, and setting up my HootSuite schedule for the next week and polishing off an article that’s due Monday, I’ve managed to get down another eight paragraphs. I don’t know how many words that is, I’ll figure it out when I sit down to retype them tomorrow morning. But again, it’s more than I would have written if I were drafting on my computer.
An Unexpected Surprise
In addition to the convenience of having an open notebook lying around, there is another advantage to handwriting your manuscript versus typing. It does take longer to write each sentence, I know. And by the end of two pages, your hand is going to hurt if you’re not used to it. But think about what this extra time does for your brain. Since it takes longer to write each word out, your brain has longer to think of the next word. And the next sentence. And how those sentences are going to pull together to make a paragraph. By handwriting your first draft, you’re giving yourself time to really develop it, to think about how it’s all going to pan out. And when you sit down to do your first revision, you’ll likely find as I have that you have so much more to work with and expand on.
If you find that writing your first draft is not your favourite thing to do, and if you can’t seem to find the time to sit and hammer away at your computer, then try keeping a notebook and a pen handy. Scribble out a paragraph or two every time you see that empty notebook. You might be surprised at how quickly and how easily those paragraphs pile up.