Writing at the Speed of Thought

I write. A lot. Sometimes I have to wonder why I don't actually call myself a professional writer and have done with it, seeing that almost everything I do for a living is tied into somehow stringing words together. And, as you've probably guessed by now, I spend a lot of my time navigating both digital and analog methods of doing things (as opposed to "getting things done," which lends a different perspective on matters), and I've formed some pretty strong opinions on the various ways of laying down these words into some sort of vaguely coherent and semi-articulate flow, and occasionally with some actual purpose in mind.

David Douthitt recently pointed me at a posting on LifeHack.org by Michael Leddy called Advice for students: Writing by hand, which in turn referenced a piece called The Surprising Process of Writing on Inside Higher Ed. Leddy has three points in favour of writing by hand: simplifying the organisation of ideas; reinforcing the notion of writing a draft, as opposed to a finished piece; and minimising distraction in order to focus on the task at hand -- writing. I've beaten these poor horses to within an inch of their lives in the pages of this site, but upon reading his article, another point occurs to me. It has to do with slowing down one's thoughts.

Now, I can type about 80 words a minute. That's not a skill I've forced myself to learn; that comes after using a typewriter or keyboard for many hours of daily typing over a span of more than two decades. I'm also a fairly rapid thinker (note: speed denotes quantity, not quality). This combination is both a blessing and a curse. It means that no ideas get lost in the time that it takes to spew them forth, but it also means that I produce an inordinate amount of sub-par and rambling material (or "crap", as I affectionately call it).

Lately, I've been comparing the first drafts I've done on computer and the ones I've done in my handy-dandy notebook. The ones soiling my Moleskines and my W*Mart Specials consistently show more focus, are more vivid, demonstrate tighter writing, and tend to say far more in fewer words. An examination of my mental process shows why: my handwriting is so slow (comparatively) that I think about each sentence as I'm writing it. Instead of flinging a mess of digital spaghetti at the wall, I'm instead focussing on the idea at hand and weaving careful strands of thought. If I keep an index card lying nearby for quickly jotting down "triggers" (keywords to stimulate thoughts), I find that none of the fast-and-furious ideas slip away.

You see? If I had written that last paragraph on a computer, it would have taken me at least three times the space.

Yes, at least for me, handwriting is far more time-consuming than typing, but since the output is of a consistently better quality, the effort seems well worth it. Now, if I can only remember the old editor's maxim about penalising myself for each word, my final drafts should demonstrate a remarkable improvement as well. But let's keep it to one major mindshift at a time....

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Straddling both worlds

Every year I go through the ritual of which is better for me: handwritting my journals or typing them online via blogs?

And every year I come to the same conclusion, why not both? I've learned how handwritting my ideas and to do lists make it stick better in the mystery that is my brain. That is why you'll never see me with a Blackberry or Palm Pilot to keep things organized. I love my trusty Hipster, it ain't going anywhere. LOL! Plus, not to sound al smug, but I love how my handwritting looks. I've been complimented many times by how lovely and legible it is. The only downside is my writing is slow and tedious to this impatient woman. And my hand cramps up.

Yet, I'm also quite the gadget gal and a zippy typist at that (80 wpm like yourself). Typing in my blogs is quick, effecient and gets my thoughts out of my head to keep it uncluttered. The downside being it doesn't feel "real". No paper to smell, no ink to smudge. Just weightless font floating through the net only to be peered upon by the occasional passerby.


So to appease my writing self, I just deal with both. And swap often so as not to get bored too quickly. ;-)

Blackberries.make a jam worth celebrating...

I tried a Clie for 6 months and the mobile e-mail filled a need I never knew existed. Lol. Two events signed the PDA's death warrant however; an unexpected flat battery and a comment from a dental nurse. Apparently the Filofax makes me witty and urbane, whereas a 'Palm' makes me sad(*). :(

(*)Sad is slang for boring in the UK.

When I write something of

When I write something of any length, I like to spread all (or at least several) of the pages out on the table in front of me. I find my writing is more coherent when I can easily reference what I've already written. When I write in a word processor, I find my thoughts aren't as well formed nor do the transitions flow as well.

I also find typing my draft into the computer is useful step in the editing process -- there is a better chance that I do any editing at all because of this step.

Handwriting is good for some...

Handwriting just does not work for me when writing fiction. While I adore writing with my fountain pens and on scrumptious paper, I usually have to confine such writing to notes and journaling. I cannot keep up with the images that flow when writing fiction. If I do attempt to handwrite (and sometimes I'm in a situation where that's all that's available to me) I end up losing some of it because I'm concentrating on getting it all down and, inevitably, I'm too slow and parts I haven't gotten to drift away. It's very frustrating.

That's just me, though. I do know some writers who write their fiction in longhand, I'm just not one of them.

In wikked haste is not productivity!

I dub this phenomenon D*I*Y's Razor as Doug's observations on the subject are so incisive...

Or if you hear the drumming of hooves look for the horse not a zebra... ;)

It's as different a medium as..

water colors to pastels. Just because it's a form of communication doesn't mean it's the same process. I'm learning this difference a lot lately. Reading Writing Down the Bones & the Artists Way, getting into this ritual that is writing, new found knowns are opening up.

Paper: gain of linear thought, no backing out of a thought (no backspace), surf your moment in clarity or die out into a new thought, momentum of the pen--sometimes my thoughts I feel have physical velocity within my hand..very need connectivity

Electronic: gain of iterative development, speed of logical processing

A table of pros and cons could be built but the more I practice writing on paper in regularity the more I feel myself opening to a part of myself that was there all along just talking in a different voice. I think with practice you can give electronic form a similar voice as paper born thoughts but it takes learning the paper first. Like when good calculators came out in school. You have to learn how to do it the long way before you can learn how to take the shortcut. In the end it's all about the conveyance of ideas into a form that is digestable by an audience of some form even if its just yourself.

I'm really digging the art of communication.