Pen or Keyboard? Which is Best?

Do you type or write your rough drafts? Back in Shakespeare’s time, pen and paper was the only option. Steinbeck typed on a manual typewriter. Today most writers compose their works on computers, but not all. Some of our most famous authors scratch out their originals in notebooks or on yellow pads, transferring them to the computer in later drafts. Read about it in this article.

Some people say we are more creative when we write by hand, that the direct brain-hand connection has a power we lose when typing on a keyboard. I know that when I write by hand, it’s slower, I waste fewer words, and I feel free to scribble notes all over the page. I like not having a blinking cursor waiting for me to type something profound. I like being able to take my notebook out under a tree to write without having to deal with glare on a screen.

But I grew up with a callus on my left middle finger from resting pens and pencils against it. For me digital writing means using my fingers. When an idea hits me, I still reach for paper. I have not yet mastered the mechanics of jotting notes on my phone. I write most of my poetry and songs by hand.

But when I get serious about writing prose, handwriting is too slow. I spent many years as a journalist. I learned to think at the keyboard at about a hundred words a minute. My handwriting is so dreadful I have trouble reading what I write by hand. Plus, I can save my words on the computer as I write. I can email them to other people, save them on a cloud, and revise without retyping the whole dang thing. What I write only in my notebook is gone if I lose that notebook.

If you’ve grown up with smart phones, iPads and laptops in your hands, typing your thoughts probably feels as natural as writing by hand, maybe more so.

Sometimes, when I’m driving or hiking, I record my thoughts into miniature voice recorders. I have written entire songs and essays that way. I hate transcribing, but there’s a freedom in speaking my words out loud that I don’t feel when I’m writing them in a notebook and can’t get to my computer.

So which method is best? Whatever helps you get the writing done. Ultimately your words will have to wind up on a computer so you can send them out into the world, but how they start is up to you.

Consider: Nobody ever got carpal tunnel syndrome writing by hand. And it only takes one hand. You can use the other for eating, drinking or petting the dog.

But: There’s no save button on a pad of paper, and you can’t ask a pencil to look up that word you can’t spell.

I can’t tell you which is better, handwriting or typing on your electronic device. But if you always do it one way, try doing it the other. Turn your computer off and sit down with a pen and notebook. Or set your notebook aside and try composing directly on the screen. The simple act of changing methods may set a torrent of words free.

Here are a couple more articles you might find interesting:

I’d love to hear your thoughts about writing on paper vs. screen.

Now go write–in whatever way feels good to you.

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