The Keys or the Pen

Photo: Yesterday and Today by Lorenzo Tomada, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photo: Yesterday and Today by Lorenzo Tomada, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


They say that the pen is mightier than the sword, but is it mightier than the keys?

When I first started writing I didn’t have a laptop or a tablet. I had an exercise book, a pen and an hour and half train commute to and from work. It was only after I got home that I would type up my notes and edit as I typed.

My husband used to complain that was married to my job (14-15 hour days with the commute) and had a love affair with my computer. Ah yes, the suffering cry of author spouses everywhere.

The other day I was going through my office when I found my old exercise books. Four years worth of stories written on the train and tram. It was amazing. The notes, the scribble outs, the change of pens. I had the entire history of my story right there. I could see my notes as to when I’d changed a character’s name, I could read beneath the scribbles and see where the story might have gone, I could see where I was thinking about things slowly because my handwriting would be neater; and I could see where the story was simply flowing from the pen, because, well…the handwriting curled itself into a scrawl and wobbled all over the place. I can also see which word(s) I constantly ‘spelled’ incorrectly back ‘than’.

I was taken back to the place and time. I remember writing this particular part at this station. I remember it was raining when I wrote that. I remember that it was freezing on that day, but I couldn’t wear my gloves because I wanted to write.

All through the pen colour, or the crinkled paper, or the crossed out thoughts, or the dried water droplet on the page smearing the ink.

Today, I have all sorts of electronic devices to write with. I also no longer have the train commute. It’s about a 15 – 20 minute drive to work now, so I don’t write on the way. (Cops just don’t seem to understand writing and driving at the same time.)

I still write on the computer when I get home.

I open a story and it is neatly printed on a page, spelling errors are spotted and corrected (sometimes into the wrong word, but hey – that’s technology) and all scribbles and cross outs are non-existent due to the magic of cut-and-paste.

Unless I want to save a copy of the story each time I finish writing for the day, I have no history of the changes, no visual representation of new ideas or the dismissing of old ones. Times New Roman doesn’t scrawl or fall off the line no matter how fast I type.

Hand cramps may be a thing of the past but I think something personal and intimate is lost, in writing the story directly into a computer.

One a trip away a few weeks ago I reverted back to the trusty exercise book and pen because I didn’t want to lug my laptop around and they’ve got all these rules about electronic devices on planes anyway. It was nice. If I was hit with inspiration, I didn’t have to wait for a device to boot up, or find a power socket because it had run out of battery (again). I just opened my book and started writing.

Does this mean I’ll suddenly start writing my stories long hand once more? I don’t know, I’ll have to think about that.

At least if I decide to say yes, I won’t be in bad company. All of the below reportedly write/wrote at least some of their work in longhand.

  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Jordan Mechner
  • Jackie Collins
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Steven King
  • Robert Ludlam

The pen or the keys. Which do you prefer and why?


11 thoughts on “The Keys or the Pen

  1. I prefer typing. It’s cathartic and I can type faster than I can write. Once upon a time I could write almost as fast as someone could talk. Now I type that fast. Even though I prefer keyboards you made so many good points that I almost want to give pens a second chance. I love how you describe the stories handwritten notes tell. It creates a longing in me! Weird but true.

  2. I like both equally and make it a point to handwrite things even if I type them out later. To me there’s something lovely about keeping a beautiful notebook full of things you’ve handwritten, and a piece of paper can show more personality or history than the computer version.

    Besides, handwritten is an excellent reason to search out pretty stationery 🙂

  3. When I’m writing posts for my blog, I definitely prefer typing. I guess because sometimes I get lost in my thoughts. Also because my thoughts seem to waver, constantly beckoning the ‘delete’ button.

    But when I am studying (for school) I stay away from my laptop because it provides a wonderful source of distraction. Moreover, I realise that writing is the best way for you to internalise your learning. I am likely to remember what I’ve written in longhand than what I had typed 5 minutes ago.

    • There is actually some scientific evidence to the truth of what you’ve said.
      I can’t remember exact stats, but people do learn better if they’ve hand written studies directly to the page. The theory is coordinated muscle & visual memory.

  4. I find writing longhand quite visceral, and have bits of paper here and there with notes scrawled on them to remind of a storyline or a particular bit about a character, etc. I’m currently reading about the author Iris Murdoch; she wrote 26 novels and apparently never used a typewriter!

    I use both longhand and computer for writing, it all depends on my thinking processes at the time.

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