Posted in Writing

Why I’m Writing My Books By Hand in Fountain Pen

photo of vintage Parker Lady Pen
My favourite fountain pen – a vintage classic

This post was inspired by my author and editor friend Belinda Pollard, who posted on her Facebook page recently that she’s trying to write by hand rather than direct on to her computer, and asking for other writers’ experiences. Here are my thoughts on the topic.

“You write your books by hand? Are you nuts?”

That’s the typical reaction when friends discover that these days I’ve reverted to old technology to write the first draft of my novels: fountain pen and A4 wide ruled file paper, as we used at school and university.

Technology – Mightier than the Pen?

In this golden age of technology, when we have so many labour-saving alternatives at our disposal, why am I not typing straight onto my computer? After all, I am a very fast touch-typist. (Most useful skill I ever learned! – read my post on that topic here.)

And why, when I have a digital hand-held voice recorder and Dragon Dictate voice recognition software on my PC, am I not sitting back and dictating my stories? Especially as I have rheumatoid arthritis which restricts the mobility in my hands.

Dictation has its attractions, eg it encourages you to write more fluidly in natural speech patterns – especially helpful when your books contain a lot of dialogue, as mine do.

I’ve tried all of these routes – though I’ve yet to have the luxury of dictating to a real person, Barbara Cartland style! (I don’t have the requisite little dog either!) I dictated my second novel, Trick or Murder? in its entirety, (boy, did that speed things up!) The other novels have been a mix of typing and dictation.

Back to the Fountain Pen

But now I’m writing my seventh novel entirely by hand, and I’m loving it, especially since I discovered some interesting justification: that writing by hand connects with the brain in a different and more creative way.

Why fountain pen rather than ballpoint pen, fibre tip or pencil?

Fountain pen is easier on the hand as you don’t have to press hard. Use a good quality ink and pen and it flows effortlessly across the page, which is a pleasant experience aesthetically, and has a calming, meditative effect, no matter what you’re writing.

Sample of handwritten manuscript with pen
The story so far… the current manuscript for Sophie Sayers’ sixth adventure, Murder Your Darlings.

20 Reasons to Write by Hand

If you’d like to read more about the benefits of writing by hand, click this link for a blog post listing 20 reasons, Although it is primarily talking about handwriting at school and college, many of the reasons apply throughout your writing life, as point 5 in their list makes clear:

In 2009, researchers at University of Washington found that elementary aged students who wrote creative stories with a pen on paper far exceeded the performance of their peers. Not only were the writers able to complete their assignments faster than the typers, they also wrote longer compositions with more complete sentences. Perhaps this is why so many novelists prefer to compose their first drafts in longhand form – that is, with pencil and paper – despite having access to a computer of typewriter.

I especially like their final point: that pen and paper aren’t connected to the internet and all of its distractions! Increased productivity is definitely a plus point.

On the Other (Inky) Hand

Of course, there are downsides – not least, if you’re using a fountain pen as I do, inky fingers, and the blue scar on the pine floorboards beneath my desk where I dropped a bottle of ink, having lifted it up by the top, only to discover it wasn’t screwed down tight!

photo of floorboards stained blue with ink
The inky floor beneath my desk

And the manuscript still has to be typed eventually. If you type it up yourself, you can count that as the first round of editing, as you’ll inevitably make a few tweaks and corrections as you go along. As I’m currently short of time, I’m using an author services company, Zedolus.

Over to You

How do you prefer to write whatever you need to write? I’d love to know!

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Have You Seen My Latest Novel?

Secrets at St Bride’s – A School Story for Grown-ups is now available in paperback and ebook. It’s a fun, gentle blend of cosy mystery and romantic comedy set in an eccentric English girls’ boarding school. As the series title suggests – “Staffroom at St Bride’s” – it’s about intrigues among the staff rather than the girls, but it will appeal to anyone who enjoyed reading school stories when they were younger, from Malory Towers to Chalet School to Molesworth! Click here to find out more about it and to read the opening two chapters for free.

Posted in Writing

The Pros and Cons of Writing by Hand

pile of screwed up handwritten manuscripts
With apologies to the trees who laid down their lives in the cause of literature…

Lately I’ve been finding that I am much more productive and the words flow more naturally if I write my work-in-progress novel by hand. This is despite being a really fast touch typist. Part of the reason may be that I associate my computer with work and am more averse to sitting down at my desk to type than curling up in bed or on the sofa with a beautiful notebook and pretty coloured pen.

Of course, this adds an extra step into the writing process. I then have to type  each handwritten chapter into the computer afterwards. On the plus side, I do a few extra edits as I do that, so the first typescript becomes the second draft.

Enter the Dragon

I can speed up that process by dictating the manuscript via my Dragon voice recognition software, which then types the words on the screen for me. I definitely recommend this process, but at the moment post-cold hoarseness is limiting the amount of time I can comfortably dictate. But at least I’ve stopped coughing now, which always confused my Dragon. You think with its fire-breathing heritage, a Dragon ought to be more sympathetic to throat problems.

Productivity Plus

Two further plus points:

  • I’m fast eroding my stockpile of notebooks (couldn’t fit any more in my notebook drawer)
  • I’ve just worked out that since Christmas I’ve been averaging more than 2,000 words a day

Go, me! And now I’m off to plant some more trees…. *

Useful Links

*And about those trees – the paper I use is always from sustainable sources, purposely farmed for this use. I’m sure none of it comes from ripping up rainforests. To my mind, complaining about responsible use of paper is like protesting about the destruction of wheatfields to make bread. And I am VERY mean about my use of paper – if I don’t use both sides, I tear a sheet into pieces and use the clean side for notes. Then all the waste is used as firestarters for my woodburner. While trying not to think of burning books. Just saying. 
Posted in Writing

Why I Used To Feel Sorry For Tolstoy (And Why I’m Over It Now)

portrait of Leo Tolstoy
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Sorry for Tolstoy?” I hear you cry. Why should a little-known writer with zero published novels to her name pity the author of one of the world’s longest and greatest works of fiction?

Find our why I used to feel sorry for Tolstoy (and Dickens and Eliot and Hardy) – and why I’m over it now – by reading my guest post on the lovely Jessica Bell’s blog, alluring entitled The Alliterative Allomorph (yes, I had to look that last one up in the dictionary too).

Click here to hop straight over to it now…

While you’re there, you may find yourself getting drawn into more of Jessica’s wonderful and wide-ranging blog too. You have been warned…

For more posts about writing, try these for size:

The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

Writing on the Run

Flash Fiction for Summer Lightning

Memoirs

Posted in Writing

The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

English: Engraving of printer using the early ...
There has to be an easier way. (Image via Wikipedia)

I arrive home to find my husband agitated, clutching an empty envelope.

“I need you to print a letter for me, urgently.”

I remind him I’m due at the hairdresser’s in ten minutes.

“But I have to get it in the post today. It’s a legal document. It must be postmarked with today’s date.”

His printer, it emerges, has packed up again. But producing his letter on my machine will not be as simple as he assumes, because I’ve just acquired a new computer. First I must  install the printer software. Which means finding the disk.

The edge is taken off his urgency by the revelation that he doesn’t have a stamp to put on the envelope.

The hairdresser calls. I have my priorities.

“I’ll do it when I come back,” I promise.

On my return, to my surprise I find the software disk in the first place I look for it and slip it into the disk drive, but even so, the installation is not the work of moments. A series of tedious prompts pop up on the screen as the disk drive chugs away. After a few false starts and the  emission of copious blank pages (I realise afterwards that I’ve been pressing “photocopy” instead of “print document” and  have inadvertently copied lots of nothing), the computer tells me to reboot.

By now I’m beginning to glaze over. The motto of a former colleague, the late, laconic Bristolian IT manager John Hamilton,  is echoing in my brain: “Lack of planning on  your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”. (I don’t suppose there are many IT guys these days who can get away with calling all their female clients “Flower”.)

I’m gazing unseeingly at the screen when the printer finally spits out two copies of Gordon’s letter, accompanied by much whirring and clunking. “This document contains 69 words,” the monitor informs me, a propos of nothing. All that fuss and effort for just 69 words!  It hardly seems worth the bother.

I scoop up the two sheets of paper and ferry them downstairs to my husband who is busy on the sofa watching telly with his feet up.

Madeline Breckinridge, full-length portrait, s...
Image via Wikipedia

“You know,” I say slowly, “there is another way your could have dealt with this. You could have written the letter out by hand.”

There is a beat.

“I didn’t think of that,” he confesses.

 Note to self for future reference: for all our technological advances, in this digital age, the pen is still mightier than the computer. Long live the pen.