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New Technology or Old-Fashioned Ways?
by Dawn Copeman

Return to Writing Tools & Technology Issues · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

In June I asked readers if there are still some writing tasks that you prefer to do the old-fashioned manual, pen-and-paper way, or if you have gone all techno-writer? I wondered if you had tried new technology and reverted back to old ways, or if you had you found a technology that really boosts your creativity and productivity.

Only two of those who replied do things entirely using technology. "I do most of my writing on the computer," wrote Vicki Kennedy. "Paper and pen is fine for jotting down notes, but I've found that when it comes time to transfer it to the computer, the story changes so dramatically the pen and paper version was mostly a waste of time. It helps me to see a story in print, rather than scribbled on paper."

Jerry Buerge sympathised with me and my shocking discovery that I could no longer read my writing. He wrote: "I'm sure that most of us would have the same experience. Particularly those who, like me, tend to write pidgin shorthand of notes or ideas that I intend to flesh out when the mood drives me to finish something.

"However, lately I have been trying something else. I've bought a small voice recorder that I have been using to record notes and complete thoughts, which I then use while sitting at my computer, and there, transpose them into initial material for later editing and polishing.

"While I do not claim to be a proficient writer, or even a good one, I do believe this is helping me to improve, as I find that I can generate clearer thoughts when my mind is not distracted with striking the correct keyboard entries, or even the strokes of my pen.

"Perhaps this is something you might care to experiment with and see if this is helpful enough to consider suggesting that others might like to try it too."

I will definitely give that a go, Jerry. Thank you.

Quite a few of you, though, still prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, such as Beth T. Irwin. She wrote: "I am another author who writes entirely by hand, using fountain pen and good paper. I highly recommend Fountain Pen Network - check the Penmanship forum as there are CDs on improving your hand, which will speed and ease your writing as you forget about the tools you are using and concentrate on the flow." Thanks for the tip, Beth, I will be sure to check them out.

Bonnie Perfetti also loves "writing the old-fashioned way with pen and paper, probably because that's what I grew up with and the only techy thing I own is a computer and a very basic cell phone.

"There's just something about sitting down with a fresh, clean sheet of paper and a pen that writes so smoothly it glides across the paper as your thoughts pour out. Yes, it's easier to 'erase' on a computer, but I even like looking at my first drafts with cross-outs and notes written all over it. Call me old-fashioned -- I'm proud of it."

Jeannie Peace is another avid fan of pen and paper. She wrote: "Having a husband who is a techno freak, I decided to give it a try. I sat down in front of my computer and literally stared at the empty blank page. Oh no, my mind is a blank, just like the page! I finally had to close my eyes to shut out the glaring white page and just write. It worked. After that eventful moment, I sat in my comfortable chair with my pen and paper in hand and started writing. What a relief!"

Some of you like the old-fashioned ways for more practical reasons, like Paige Lohr. She emailed: "I can't type very fast. So when I write, I use pen and paper. My pen goes faster than my typing. I type after a few rewrites and I know how I want the story to go; it still takes me two hours to type four pages!"

Most of you, however, prefer to take the best of both options, as Eva Bell does. She wrote: "I am old-fashioned and still use pen and paper to do my writing, until I finish the final draft. Only then do I key it into the computer. This makes me feel more in control of my writing when I reconstruct sentences or substitute words as I write. Besides, it is not so much of a strain on the eyes or the back, as when glued for hours to the computer. And just in case the computer conks out, I still have my hand-written draft for ready reference."

In fact, several of you seem to use this system. Sharnise Streaty e-mailed to say how it makes her writing life easier. She said "I've tried to do the whole writing process on computer and I often got stumped along the way. This would often lead to unfinished projects. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I finally figured out what my problem was. For some reason I can't remember, I didn't have access to my computer. I had an idea that I wanted to explore so I did the only thing I could do -- took a trip back to elementary school days and rediscovered notebook paper. My problem had actually been that on the computer when I tried to outline and organize my stories, I ended up going straight into writing it. Then once the story hit an inevitable wall I had nowhere to go.

"Now, I outline, organize, and do a treatment in a notebook. I think because writing long-hand is so tedious, it forces me to be brief and to the point. I don't want to write pages of tangents, dialogue, or details that have nothing to do with anything (hand cramps are horrible!) It's straight-forward, task focused, and messy. I love it.

"Then when I sit at the computer my brain automatically switches to 'write story' mode. I love having a notebook next to me that I can flip through for reminders and forgotten details.

"Not only does it give my eyes a break from the screen, but when I touch the paper, it's like I can feel the story beneath my fingers. Thus, both the old and new ways work best for me overall."

Heather Hutcheson also uses both systems for her writing, but for different reasons. She wrote: "Depending upon what I want to write, whether it is to get ideas out on paper, vent my thoughts and feelings, or organize my thinking, I use good old-fashioned pen and paper.

"For more formal writing, rough drafts, and getting down business ideas, I use my computer. Both ways work for me. The computer is great for keeping the writing organized, while with pen and paper I can feel what I have to say coming out of my hand."

"I write exclusively on my laptop," e-mailed Sandra Relford. "I like the convenience of having the thesaurus/dictionary site open and I find the composition flow is smoother for me."

She is not a complete technology fan though. She continues: "I keep pen and paper handy so that as I get ideas, no matter where I am, I can jot them down and then transfer them to my tickler file that I keep at the end of the project that I am working on in my computer."

Perle Champion finds that combining the two methods makes for easier editing. She wrote: "You have found out my secret about writing long hand. I love it, much prefer it to typing my thoughts, and it does give you time to think. I've always written first by hand; my favorite spiral pad goes with me everywhere. One of the benefits I find is when I transcribe a piece (I label in the margins: poem, essay, etc. as I write) I edit as I type, so it amounts to a painless 2nd draft.

"The pad (spiral pad not Ipad) is so convenient. The requirement for all my purses is that they can comfortably hold my 5x8 pad. I write at coffee shop, at the happy hour bar, at lunch, early morning at a shady table at the pepper place farmers market sipping iced coffee and eavesdropping/people-watching."

James E. Porter Sr. has also found a way to make the most of old-fashioned ways and new technology. He wrote: "I cannot, not WILL not, use plotting software. If I want to move the gun further down the river next to the dock, the clickety-click necessary to do this can be taxing.

"On a sheet of legal-size, I draw an arrow and say, 'move it here.' I scratch out the gun up-river, and I am done. Similarly, I would rather plot or do my story lines on paper. I used to look for special buys of old dot matrix paper so I could write and tear and move around to my heart's content. However, that paper has disappeared around here. And end-rolls at the local newspaper have become kind of expensive. So now I do all my storytelling on legal size or Big Chief tablets, it is much easier for me.

"Then, there is the question of retreating from one level of technology to another level of technology. Whether it is better to lug a laptop around, risking third degree burns on my thighs or scorching the picnic tabletops or starting a fire in coach at 35,000 feet but only risking all of that for only seven or so hours or writing time, or to shift to a Neo (about a third of the price of Mr. Gates' or Mr. Dell's finest) with about 700 hours of writing time on three AA batteries, has become a point of reality check for me. Because the question of whether or not I really want to write, or whether I want to say that I'm going to write, but actually I want to watch DVD's, is the real issue. So, to keep away from the temptation to turn on 'Battle LA', (so I can hone my screenwriting skills, naturally), I carry a Neo. I can use it anywhere. Now, the reality is, I do have to take along the laptop, so I can transfer from the Neo to my Word files on the laptop. But I can keep the laptop in my luggage or at the house or motel."

That seems a sensible compromise between the two methods to me. I also wanted to know, however, if any of you had reverted back to old-fashioned ways after trying out technology, and Sue Fagalde Lick has. She wrote: "I have reverted to my old file-card system of keeping track of submissions. I still have a running list in a spreadsheet on the computer so I can get the overall picture, but the real information is in my file boxes.

"I use different color cards for articles, essays, fiction, and poetry. Yellow is for markets. I never found a digital tracker that gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted in the little spaces. I hate having to turn on the computer to find out what happened to a particular piece, and by writing each submission on the market and article/essay/poem cards, I develop a complete list of what has been where. Also, I can pull the cards out to remind me to do something about that particular piece or market they refer to. It's old-fashioned, but it works for me."

Find Out More...

Old School Tech for Today's Writers - Dawn Copeman

Old-School Tools For Today's Writers - Tiffany Jansen

Copyright © 2011 by Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).


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