Old School Writing Tools

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Paul Whybrow

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This article suggests that writing in longhand or by typewriter is a more stimulating method of creating a story than skating the surface of a soft-touch computer keyboard.

Old-school writing tools will boost your creativity, concentration—and speed

We've previously discussed writing methods in several old threads:

Typing Skills

Typing vs writing longhand

That there may be 'hidden efficiency' in pen, pencil and typewriter ribbon is intriguing. I agree that I remember information better if I've written it down, which is partly why I jot ideas onto scraps of card that are dotted around my laptop's cooling cradle. I've got hundreds of documents stored in scores of folders on my desktop, which I'm sometimes glad to find while looking for something else, for I'd forgotten that I'd already done that bit of research!

I've written a few poems in longhand, but never anything in prose. I love relying on my laptop, which I also use to aid my concentration by playing music as I write. I even defy the common advice of not having an internet connection while I write, for sometimes it's best for me to get a fact right at that moment, rather than doing it in editing, as it will affect what I write next. I'm very focused, checking just that one fact and not wandering off to surf the web.

What about you?

Do you do everything on a computer?

Or by longhand or typewriter, afterwards producing a computer file?

writers2.jpg
 
I use a laptop, iPad, and notebooks (fountain pens and (mostly) Blackwing pencils). I use Scrivener and Evernote on my laptop, Scrivener and Evernote on my iPad, and notebooks to write random scenes and backstories. I don't have much in Scrivener on the iPad because I'm just futzing around with it and it only contains a few backstory notes that I'll transfer. On my laptop is the majority of my research.

I tried writing in my iPad using my Apple pencil but that didn't last long. I only do it now if it's the only thing available and I don't want to lose the thought.

I like having options to write using the tools I feel like using at the time I'm ready to start writing.
 
I don't know if you are as old as I am Paul, or anywhere near it, but when I went to school we had ink pots encased inside the top of our wooden desks and a pen with a nib that most often than not left blots all over the page. By the way anyone remember blotting paper or carbon sheets to make copies with?

The biggest innovation in the late 50s was the fountain pen, I don't think biros were invented yet. Anyway, the fountain pen, I would guess would be considered as a lap-top is today, except in those days few could afford fountain pens.

At the age of 14 I worked in a shoe-shop on Saturdays and saved up enough to buy myself a second-hand Olivetti, for 10 shillings with the "b" and "a" keys that got stuck.

In my twenties I bought a Remington portable and later an electric one and that served me until the 80s when they came out with word processors and the screen was only big enough to see one line at a time. But I thought that was just terrific because you could change the text without rubbing out.

So we come to our personal computers, the slim screen, lap tops, I-phones and what have you and apart from the phone, I love them all because you practically have a full time secretary at your finger-tips. As I'm also a photographer, I use my spare energy to work out programmes for photos and not so much for writing. With writing I like the simple stuff- Word is fine for me.

However, since I had to buy a new pc last February I also installed "Publisher", as I've always been fascinated by that programme. Anyone have any experience with that?

But at the end of the day- or rather at the beginning, I have breakfast outside under a blue blind and on the table beside some books, a diary and my phone there's also a notebook and pencil. I find scribbling by hand will get me out of a rut if I'm stuck, and really as far as an incentive to creativity, it still remains unbeatable.
 
I usually write on my laptop connected to a large monitor. I jot down ideas in the same document as the manuscript I'm working on so that everything is in one file.

I recently took a writing course where we did some longhand writing in class. I found that it did encourage creativity and help the writing flow, but I missed being able to cut and paste and had trouble reading my handwriting. I'll stick with the laptop for now.

I use MS Word because I'm familiar with it from using it at work. I haven't tried any software designed specifically for writers. Does anyone have any recommendations?
 
I think writing long hand will most likely produce the sort of writing suitable for a time when writing longhand was the only choice. We don't live in that time.

I know for myself writing longhand results in more words, not less. I ramble and become preoccupied with refinement and the search for the right words. While I also do this somewhat when I type something, it's different.

Also, everyone types differently. My typing definitely makes a sound, has a feel, a rhythm etc. that I find satisfying.
 
I used to write everything in long hand, but I'm so used to typing and the editing convenience of word processing, that I don't think I'll go back, unless forced by circumstances. I come from the pre-computerised era, but now I find the ideas and writing flow best when I'm tapping at a keyboard.
 
I always plan writing on paper, preferably with a good, sharp pencil or one of my favourite pens. I also generally start a novel on paper, just for the first few pages until I have the voice right. Then I move to Scrivener, where I've hopefully already amassed a bunch of research and fleshed out my character profiles. If I come to difficult places, I go back to pen and paper to nut out the problems, then it's back to Scrivener.

Short stories always start on paper--first draft is written out on scrap paper on a clipboard, often while in the car waiting for a kid at extracurricular activities.

And, @Eva Ulian, I have a stack of carbon paper, saved from the cleaning out of a deceased professor's closet 30 years ago and jealously hoarded for a variety of non-standard uses, knowing I'll never be able to replace it once it's gone.
 
I always plan writing on paper, preferably with a good, sharp pencil or one of my favourite pens. I also generally start a novel on paper, just for the first few pages until I have the voice right. Then I move to Scrivener, where I've hopefully already amassed a bunch of research and fleshed out my character profiles. If I come to difficult places, I go back to pen and paper to nut out the problems, then it's back to Scrivener.

Short stories always start on paper--first draft is written out on scrap paper on a clipboard, often while in the car waiting for a kid at extracurricular activities.

And, @Eva Ulian, I have a stack of carbon paper, saved from the cleaning out of a deceased professor's closet 30 years ago and jealously hoarded for a variety of non-standard uses, knowing I'll never be able to replace it once it's gone.
Ha ha, I too have a stack of carbon paper for the same reason, which as probably in your case, I've never used again. Also, I find it such a coincidence I work in the same way, more or less, like you do.
 
@Rob Reid try the free 30 days of Scrivener. If you don't like it, no harm, no foul. I haven't met a writer yet who doesn't like it.

Can't write, so only Surface and Ipad for me. @DRFerron I didn't know you could use Scrivener on the ipad! That's life changing! Is it an app?
 
I don't know if you are as old as I am Paul, or anywhere near it, but when I went to school we had ink pots encased inside the top of our wooden desks and a pen with a nib that most often than not left blots all over the page. By the way anyone remember blotting paper or carbon sheets to make copies with?

The biggest innovation in the late 50s was the fountain pen, I don't think biros were invented yet. Anyway, the fountain pen, I would guess would be considered as a lap-top is today, except in those days few could afford fountain pens.

At the age of 14 I worked in a shoe-shop on Saturdays and saved up enough to buy myself a second-hand Olivetti, for 10 shillings with the "b" and "a" keys that got stuck.

In my twenties I bought a Remington portable and later an electric one and that served me until the 80s when they came out with word processors and the screen was only big enough to see one line at a time. But I thought that was just terrific because you could change the text without rubbing out.

So we come to our personal computers, the slim screen, lap tops, I-phones and what have you and apart from the phone, I love them all because you practically have a full time secretary at your finger-tips. As I'm also a photographer, I use my spare energy to work out programmes for photos and not so much for writing. With writing I like the simple stuff- Word is fine for me.

However, since I had to buy a new pc last February I also installed "Publisher", as I've always been fascinated by that programme. Anyone have any experience with that?

But at the end of the day- or rather at the beginning, I have breakfast outside under a blue blind and on the table beside some books, a diary and my phone there's also a notebook and pencil. I find scribbling by hand will get me out of a rut if I'm stuck, and really as far as an incentive to creativity, it still remains unbeatable.

I'm 65, by some miracle, or maybe the devil looks after his own...I recall the Department of Education experimenting with children's writing in the mid-1960s, when we were given chunky pencils, then ballpoint pens that leaked, followed by felt-tips for a week—our essays taken away to be examined by experts. I vividly recall the ballpoint pens, which were bright blue plastic and stored in a bright orange plastic block, kept for safety in the stock cupboard and handed out each morning, as if they were the most precious thing in the world.

We all sat at wooden desks, with tops that lifted up to access exercise books and ancient graffiti from pupils from the early 20th-century. It sounds Victorian, but for a while, we also used ink pens that had to dipped into the ink well to replenish their nibs. The child with the steadiest hands went around as ink monitor, carrying a clear glass demijohn holding a couple of pints of blue ink, which was carefully poured into the white porcelain inkwell, while the pupil sat frozen, afraid of being splashed!


Blotting paper was essential, and even came in pale pastel shades if plain white bored you. My Mum taught me to tear off bits of blotting paper to put in salt cellars to keep the salt dry and flowing. These days, I use grains of rice.

Who remembers the old-fashioned spirit duplicators? Pre-dating Xerox machines and photocopiers, they used smelly purple pigment that was heady to breathe and which made your hands pong, if the copies weren't dry when you picked them up.
 
I'm 65, by some miracle, or maybe the devil looks after his own...I recall the Department of Education experimenting with children's writing in the mid-1960s, when we were given chunky pencils, then ballpoint pens that leaked, followed by felt-tips for a week—our essays taken away to be examined by experts. I vividly recall the ballpoint pens, which were bright blue plastic and stored in a bright orange plastic block, kept for safety in the stock cupboard and handed out each morning, as if they were the most precious thing in the world.

We all sat at wooden desks, with tops that lifted up to access exercise books and ancient graffiti from pupils from the early 20th-century. It sounds Victorian, but for a while, we also used ink pens that had to dipped into the ink well to replenish their nibs. The child with the steadiest hands went around as ink monitor, carrying a clear glass demijohn holding a couple of pints of blue ink, which was carefully poured into the white porcelain inkwell, while the pupil sat frozen, afraid of being splashed!


Blotting paper was essential, and even came in pale pastel shades if plain white bored you. My Mum taught me to tear off bits of blotting paper to put in salt cellars to keep the salt dry and flowing. These days, I use grains of rice.

Who remembers the old-fashioned spirit duplicators? Pre-dating Xerox machines and photocopiers, they used smelly purple pigment that was heady to breathe and which made your hands pong, if the copies weren't dry when you picked them up.
Hum... I enjoyed all that Paul, brought back memories. And yes, I do remember the spirit duplicators, which I've conveniently forgotten all about as I thought they were horrible creatures. You're as old as my baby brother who is six years younger- Oh my, doesn't time fly... But I don't feel at all old in the least, do you? ;)
 
Nope, I don't feel old, though I dislike becoming a cliche spouting oaf, saying things like "Of course, I've got the odd ache and pain."

I used to try to understand the world, now I let the world try to understand me.

Weirdly, I'm the longest-lived male in my family for four generations, my father and his father and his father dying in the fifties, but, my great-great grandfather was reputedly 106 when he died! He was found to have two birth certificates, one stating he was 102, the other 106. He was a tough old boy, having crewed tea clippers and been a boxing booth fighter at fairs...his hands were huge and scarred. At the age of 90, he married a 45-year-old barmaid, giving her three children. She left him, tired of his virility, calling him a "Randy old goat."

There's hope for me yet!;)
 
Nope, I don't feel old, though I dislike becoming a cliche spouting oaf, saying things like "Of course, I've got the odd ache and pain."

I used to try to understand the world, now I let the world try to understand me.

Weirdly, I'm the longest-lived male in my family for four generations, my father and his father and his father dying in the fifties, but, my great-great grandfather was reputedly 106 when he died! He was found to have two birth certificates, one stating he was 102, the other 106. He was a tough old boy, having crewed tea clippers and been a boxing booth fighter at fairs...his hands were huge and scarred. At the age of 90, he married a 45-year-old barmaid, giving her three children. She left him, tired of his virility, calling him a "Randy old goat."

There's hope for me yet!;)
Ha ha... that great-great grandfather of yours is certainly material for a mini family saga. Maybe you've inherited some of his DNA.
 
@Rob Reid try the free 30 days of Scrivener. If you don't like it, no harm, no foul. I haven't met a writer yet who doesn't like it.

Can't write, so only Surface and Ipad for me. @DRFerron I didn't know you could use Scrivener on the ipad! That's life changing! Is it an app?

It's an app that syncs with a file on dropbox so you can work on the same Scrivener project no matter where you are. For a while Scrivener was syncing between all its versions. But recently the Scrivener for Mac upgraded to 3. Now it doesn't sync with the Windows version which is 2. Although, I have a Beta 3 for Windows. I haven't checked to make sure it works yet.
 
@Amber is correct. I haven't tried syncing because Scrivener on my laptop has so much in it, I don't want to mess it up (even though I maintain multiple backups). I'll try doing a test sync with a dummy project one of these days.
 
I only use a pen and paper when something pops into my head and I am nowhere near my laptop.
I hate it when that happens just as I am going to sleep!!

At the time I didn't like the transition from dip pens to fountain pens. The nibs from dip pens could be converted into darts which stuck in peoples legs when shot from a homemade blowpipe, usually a roll of paper. I was a horrible kid!!
 
That talk of ink wells... when I first learned cursive script, we were taught to write in italics, with proper scratchy-nib fountain or cartridge pens and blotting paper. It was a painstaking process and enforced with regular scoldings.

When I changed schools, I remember the teachers ooh-ing and ah-ing over my calligraphy. It didn't last long: once I realised I was allowed to wield a ballpoint, I became more carefree, more careless and my handwriting went quickly downhill.

I was all the happier for it.
 
First draft in a notebook then, as I'm the worst typist in the world, I talk it in with voice recognition software. It means I can tell my story at my own pace (the speed of machine-gun fire when I get really excited by a concept) not that dictated by my untrained fingers. Love my Dragon.
 
As I've mentioned on Litopia in other threads (sometimes to the aghast surprise of other writers) I do pretty much all my first draft writing longhand with a pencil in A4 narrow lined, spiral-bound notepads.
The reasons are as follows:
1. I can't type fast enough to keep up with my thought processes when I'm in "full flow."
2. The act of typing, given that I'm not a fast touch-typist, gets in the way of those same story thought processes.
3. The temptation to go back and edit any typos immediately you see them, again, interrupts the ideas flow.
4. Longhand writing is, for me, a free flowing almost automatic process that needs very little conscious effort.
5. When I come later to type it all into the computer, I get the opportunity to do an on-the-fly line edit as I go, even to the extent of missing out whole sentences or paragraphs if on second thoughts I decide they don't fit.
6. If the idea fades away or I feel it's not going anywhere, I can just bin the notebook (or alternatively just leave it to collect dust on the shelf) and no-one is any the wiser.
7. It suits the way I write and my lifestyle.
But I fully understand other writers' views that writing longhand first drafts is unnecessary and time consuming (not to mention paper consuming).

Ironically, at school (and to some extent even now) I had the worst handwriting in the world. Because of this I got poor marks for English and hated any school work that involved writing long essays.
 
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