A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Handwriting and the creative process

There is an interesting essay in yesterday's Wall Street Journal: The Powers That Flow From a Pen, in which writer Paul Theroux explains why writing with pen and paper is an essential part of his creative process. His advice to a woman who sought his comments on her typewritten novel is telling. He only got through the first 50 pages:
In the pages I read of the woman's novel I did not discern any close attention to a word or phrase. "How can I make it better?" she asked. I had the answer. I advised her to put her computer away and to get a pen and a good pad of paper, and then to sit down and copy the 50 pages in her own handwriting—slowly, studying each word.
This advice is unquestionably based on his own creative process. He notes, "The speed at which I write with a pen seems to be the speed at which my imagination finds the best forms of words." Granted, not everyone's mind works the same way, but there is something to be said about the theory that reliance on computers can result in users focusing more on the process than on the content.

Sometimes my mind is racing with so many ideas that I feel I must use a computer to capture them all. When I do, capturing the ideas and expressing them becomes a single step, but not necessarily for the better. Perhaps it would be better for me to brainstorm my ideas on paper, then make the attempt to express them in words a distinct second step. I have a feeling it will be much easier to keep these tasks separated, and to do a better job on the second, by using pen and paper.

It's a short essay, so I won't post any more of it here. Just go read the whole thing. It makes me think there might be hope for me to write something worthwhile.


1 comment:

  1. This is why I write out drafts of all my writing projects in longhand. I just think better when I use pen and paper. It's not that I don't appreciate the role computers have played in my creative life; when I get stuck in a rut, I usually start typing what I've written and then I can move forward by continuing to type (does that even make sense?). It's just on the whole, I can't think as well on the computer.