Despite the inefficiencies of it, there is something inherently beautiful about drawing the nib of a fountain pen across a piece of paper, to tell a story.
Those who are vaguely familiar with who I am will know that I am a writer. Those a little more familiar with me, may know that I have an intense fondness for fountain pens. It started in Year 7 when I first used one, and never really went away. Day to day I use a black and silver Waterman Hemisphere pen, with black ink. The crowning glory of my pens is a brushed steel and gold Autograph pen, which I keep filled with red ink from a bottle on my desk. The lid is adorned with the words “LOVE ASHLEIGH X”.
So naturally, this article in the Guardian on writing longhand vs word processing grabbed my interest the other day without much trying. In it, Lee Rourke says:
“In longhand, the hand moves freely across the page in a way no amount of computer jiggery-pokery can muster. I think the economy of writing longhand is to do with its pace.”
I think I agree with this, somewhat. When I was sixteen, I wrote an entire novel (about vampires in the Spanish Civil War) in three blue notebooks, when ostensibly I probably should have been paying attention to the history lessons that I was sat in at the time. There was something simple and beautiful about being able to open the notebook, put the nib to the page, and weave a story across it.
I don’t handwrite all, or even most, of my writings. The vast majority start out as a blank word document, onto which I vomit ideas which I reformulate as I go. But I still keep a notebook, which I love to use for first drafts of stories which have been niggling at my imagination for a while, and about which I’m still not quite sure- something which Jennifer Williams and I seem to have in common.
I posted a link to the article on Facebook, and triggered an interesting discussion. Sci-fi writer Gareth L. Powell expressed how he always writes on a computer, explaining:
“I can’t write fast enough with a pen. I type at the same speed I think, therefore typing suits me.”
I think he has a good point. What is leisurely and calm when working through something uncertain can be downright frustrating when the idea of what you are trying to write is clear in your mind, and ready to flow out of your fingers. My (unbelievably talented) Ashleigh also types everything, and the speed at which she can knock out high quality first-drafts is frankly astounding.
Another interesting element of the writing process is editing. For myself, I cannot edit on a screen. I don’t know why, but I can’t spot the errors, the typos, the sentences which just don’t work. When I print the draft out, those same problems jump out and slap me, and I can go through a piece with my red pen, stripping out unneeded sentences and rewriting poorly-phrased ones.
Gareth, on the other hand, does his editing on a screen as well. Maybe I just need to play with my screen settings, but I just can’t do it. I’ll give myself a migraine trying. I much prefer the organic process of me, a draft and a red pen (I’m presuming that the red ink is a leftover fixation from school).
One thing that I’ve taken up lately is using my Kindle to edit. The screen has the same effect on me as paper, and the text-to-speech function is brilliant for finding the bits which don’t sound quite right- since I don’t trust myself to read it aloud and read what’s actually there, rather than what should be there.
Every writer has their own way, and technology is an integral part of my own. It doesn’t dominate absolutely, but I can see if I ever break through and become very serious in my writing (an appalling phrase, but to my shame I can’t think of a better one) that it may become even more important. But for just now, I won’t be laying down my fountain pen(s).