Does Anyone Use a Notebook Anymore?

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An informal poll: how many of you write longhand? I’m not talking about your jotting, your journaling, or your observation-making here, but about your actual drafting of a story. Conversely, how many, like me, write exclusively on a computer?

The reason I ask is because a friend of mine advised me to try writing longhand when I’m stuck on a scene; she said that while it may seem totally anachronistic—like driving a station wagon or listening to a walkman or making your own coffee—the change in process might free up my mind and allow me to solve the problem my story has created. When I bristled at the idea, she advised, “What was good enough for Shakespeare should be good enough for you.” True, I thought, but then, chamber pots were good enough for Shakespeare, too. I’m sure that, given the choice, he’d have used a toilet. You make do with what’s available to you, don’t you?

There are so many benefits to writing on a computer; the primary having to do with revisions. I change my work constantly whenever I re-read it; if I were to do this on anything other than a Word document, the scratch-outs would render the work totally illegible. And, like most of us who had to take keyboarding in grammar school, I type a lot faster than I write. And a lot more neatly. And spelled a lot more accurately. And with the added bonus of the thesaurus feature and the ease of online research. And more easily saved, and in more places (we’ve all heard the story of Hemingway’s lost suitcase full of manuscripts. Don’t you wish he could have just emailed them to himself?)

But then I got worried. I mean, what if I am too dependent on the computer? What if the medium of the laptop throws some sort of a wedge between the communion of brain and hand and pen and paper? What if I couldn’t go back and revise constantly—what option would that leave me except to continue writing forward, however sloppily? Is it better to have a rough, handwritten manuscript that’s finished from beginning to end, or a meticulously crafted fifteen pages in Courier New? Sometimes I think the former is much better, and that means that perhaps if you’re a compulsive reviser like I am, longhand is the best way to achieve that.

And it’s also true that you have less freedom when you write exclusively by computer. What ever happened to the idea of the roving poet, scribbling away in his notebook on the train, next to the fountain, under the stone bridge, beside the sea? Wouldn’t it by nice to have nothing but a paper and pen when you’re writing the afternoon away under a willow tree?

But then, who among us has ever actually written anything under a willow tree? It just all seems so…Elizabethan.