Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Writing and Technology (or, check out my new pencil)

by Sam Thomas

Given that you are reading this on-line, you are likely aware of the changes wrought by technology on the publishing industry. E-books are killing the printed book, Amazon is killing B&N, B&N and Amazon are killing the indie book store, and my friend Robert K. Lewis is writing his next novel on an honest-to-God typewriter.

I’ve been thinking a good bit about technology of reading and writing of late, and how technology affects the way we do each one. I have to admit that the Kindle is a real boon to my research. I simply highlight passages as I go, and then print out the list when I’m done. QED. That said, as a recovering historian, my favorite technology is the Book Wheel.  It’s a wee bit out of date in the technological age and is unlikely to fit in most home offices, but it remains awesome.

But over the last few weeks as I’ve started writing the next book about Bridget Hodgson, my butt-kicking, crime-solving midwife, I took one giant step backwards, at least from a technological perspective.

I’ve written the first 15% of the book by hand in a leather-bound notebook from Target.

[By way of explanation: I just spent three weeks chaperoning a student trip to China. This meant lots of time on buses, trains, and planes, where computer power wasn’t always reliable. I also didn’t feel like dragging my laptop up the Great Wall.]

As I wrote, I wondered how the technology I used would affect the process of writing and the book itself. Was this something I wanted to continue after I returned to the United States?

The downside of writing a book by hand is pretty clear: it’s going to take longer. The writing isn’t any faster than typing, so I am simply adding a step. Rather than writing and typing simultaneously, I will have to write it by hand and then type it into the computer.

But I can’t help wondering of the change might be worth it. I find myself more focused: no computer = no email/Facebook, etc. If I wonder about the meaning of a word, rather than getting lost in the Oxford English Dictionary for ten minutes, I make a note to look it up later and keep writing.

Also, since I don’t save my work chapter by chapter, I have stopped thinking in chapter increments. (Does anyone have one big file for their entire novel?) The pace and plot are dictated not by structural demands of the novel – I try to keep my chapters relatively consisted in length – but by the story itself. I feel like the story has added momentum. (Granted I could be wrong, but that’s how it feels at the moment.)

In any event, I’m not sure what I’m going to do as I move forward, but let me open the floor to all of you:
  • Have you ever – as an adult – written anything by hand?
  •  How does technology affect the way you 
  • What should I do? (I’m terrible at making decisions.)


  1. I wrote my first novel by hand, because I wanted to write in coffee shops and I had no laptop. Every night I typed the day's scribbling on a desktop at home. Although it was satisfying to fill page after page and I wrote wherever I wanted (coffee shop, bath, hiking trail, airplane, etc.), I missed the flexibility to Google real-world concepts as needed in the story, neatly change direction mid-sentence, and start new paragraphs when I realized I should've done so eight words ago. I also revised as I typed, which meant the first draft took twice as long as planned. I've since acquired a laptop. Now even my notes are digital.

    My advice: Finish one big project on paper and one big project on the computer and see which way makes your writing experience most pleasant.

  2. Very interesting as now I do mostly type my longer manuscripts on my laptop. I do outline in pencil. I also write poetry and picture books, and I have many spiral notebooks with these rough drafts in pencil.
    But technology is taking over. As convenient as it is, it is as much a distraction as well.

  3. Very interesting, Sam. I think I might give that a try. I write my first few drafts on my laptop, but then I print it out and read it, and cross things out, and write whole scenes and pages longhand, and it does seem to come easier to me when writing it. At the very least, when you type it, you will make changes then I'm sure, and end up with the first computer version being a second draft. Good luck!

  4. I have never written by hand, but I totally am going to try it while traveling next week. Thanks for the inspiration, Sam!

  5. I wrote the first draft of THE PLUM TREE by hand. And, um, yes, I have one big file for my entire novel. One for each of them. LOL

  6. I do some journaling by hand, but as far as actual writing, not so much. I'm going on a cruise in October and I'm seriously considering leaving my laptop at home and doing any writing by hand. It would be nice to be truly disconnected for that time, honestly.