Writing Tip: Write in a Different Medium

Today’s quick writing tip is all about the relationship between writing and hand-eye coordination — or something like it. I recently read the fascinating book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, and in one chapter it makes the point that the physical tools we use to write actually change our style of writing. After using a typewriter for a few months, Edgar Allan Poe discovered that his sentences had become more terse and choppy, matching the hard, brief, declarative medium of pounding out words on a typewriter. Similarly, writing on a computer has changed our writing style; it encourages frequent switchbacks, dodging away to check email, returning, stopping and starting. It can discourage long, smooth, narrative flow. We can’t deny that the medium through which we tell stories has the power to change the stories themselves.

So this week, I encourage you to try switching up your usual writing medium. I often find myself turning away from the computer and writing by hand in a notebook when I need to write something seriously and thoughtfully. It enables a certain meditative quiet; it lets me pause, look up and out a window, and begin again; it lets me cross out bad writing, and still see it on the page for comparison; it lets me write slowly, planning my words more carefully. If we can type at the speed of thought, we will have less internal editing, less restraint and craft. So try slowing down a little, and filtering your writing through the limiting factor of a pen. Limits can often be liberating in creative writing. And there won’t be any alarms or beeps, links to check out or annoying twitter posts poking into your notebook!


  1. mary brady says:

    I wrote my first novella, novel & short stories in longhand. I used spiral notebooks by the gross. The only reason I switched to using the computer was because of the labor involved in transcribing my written words into a typed manuscript for eventual publication & fame. And big bucks.

    When writing in longhand, I recommend using PENCILS–if you need to change just a word or two, it is much easier. I also recommend double-spacing your written lines. This leaves room for word/clause insertion in your handwritten lines.

    When I needed to insert a passage in my handwritten stories, I put a reference in the main body such as “A-1.” I wrote out the passage in a separate binder (or binders) with the same reference symbol.

    I like writing by hand–it is the only way I can write poetry.
    I cannot even imagine settling in with my laptop for a session of poem creation. It just does not fit.

    I am going to rush off now & compare my compositions to see if the handwritten output differs much from my computer output. In either medium, I’ll bet I still go on & on & on…

    L&K, MaryB

  2. LeAnne says:

    I loved your post. We forget how much personality can be included in our handwritten notes. Maybe we are losing a little bit of our “voice” in writing when we relegate ourselves to one type of medium?
    I recently found a box of a bunch of handwritten stories in journals. I am currently trying to go through them and “edit” them with my laptop. It is funny that I could tell the type of mood I was in just from the way I was writing in those notebooks…not just the style, but the way I looped my letters or hurried through sentences. I can even remember where I was when I wrote certain passages. I kind of miss that….there are no “doodles” on the side of my writing on my laptop, or coffee stains on the paper because I feel asleep while writing.

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