Everyone makes mistakes—even writers—but that's OK because each mistake is a great learning opportunity. The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them early in the process. Note: The mistakes in this series aren't focused on grammar rules, though we offer help in that area as well.
Rather, we're looking at bigger picture mistakes and mishaps, including the error of using too much exposition, neglecting research, or researching too much. This week's writing mistake writers make is drafting solely on a computer.
Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Drafting Solely on a Computer
A lot of my early work (and we’re talking elementary school age, here) was written by hand. My family had a single computer, but I didn’t really know how to use it, and it was really reserved for my parents anyway.
By the time I was in high school, I had my own (heavy, clunky) laptop. And about a million jump drives where I obsessively kept a record of my works-in-progress. I would print out every draft, make revision notes with a pen, and then revise the work in Word.
Years later in my MFA, I had Google Docs on my phone, my computer was small enough that I could throw it in my bag without a problem, and my dorm had its own computer lab if I didn’t want to waste my own printer’s ink.
Right after graduation was when the blank page became intimidating. Without the threat of deadlines and grades, I wasn’t totally motivated to write—not to mention that two years of intense writing left me feeling uninspired, a well that had run dry. I’m still haunted by the hours I spent just sitting, staring blankly at the cursor blinking, blinking, blinking back at me. It became something to avoid.
How did I break this curse? I stopped drafting on the computer.
Mistake Fix: Explore Your Options!
As a last-ditch effort, I bought this weird little notebook (a perfect square with lined pages that weren’t too thick or too thin, with a spiral spine so I could tuck the pages away easily when they were filled), and I started writing by hand. At the time, I was a school photographer—you know, the people who come for one day to photograph every person in the building?—and while we didn’t have a ton of downtime, I was able to snatch ten minutes here and there throughout the often 12-hour workdays.
After a week, I was surprised by the sheer amount of words I’d been able to put on the page. And typing those words up at the end of the week made my work smoother and cleaner in the Word document because I tweaked a little here and there while I typed. And it didn’t occur to me until just this moment that in doing this, I fell back on the way that I learned to write stories in the first place—in a notebook, by hand.
While hand-writing is certainly an option you can explore, I’ve worked with a lot of authors for whom dictating unlocked their story. There are a ton of programs from Temi to Evernote to Nuance Dragon that allow you to speak directly into your phone, tablet, or computer, and it will translate what you’re saying into a written document, ready for you to dive in and revise. While this may be useful for writers with dyslexia, it’s also just useful for people for whom speaking comes more naturally than typing, especially if you want to give your story a very voice-y narrator who feels like they’re speaking directly to the reader.
When nothing else is working, don’t be afraid to switch up the way you do things. Something that worked for you for many years, be it a typewriter or a computer or dictation, may give you some trouble. That’s OK. We’re all changing and evolving as people and as writers; lean into that change and figure out what works for the writer you are now.