Pen or Computer

I recently came across an article on Pick The Brain called Pen or Computer: Which is Better for Writers? which made me think about which was my preferred tool. Both I would say.

The dangers inherent in both match the ease they each offer. The pen affords a more fluent thought process, I find, but the computer gives it solidity, sobriety, from messy handwriting to the appearance of book form. Initially I start a piece writing in the ragged form, often taking myself to another place, a cafe, a train journey, to write as a stream of consciousness. A tricky conversation between my protagonists is best achieved with pen or pencil on paper in play script form; in this case they are luckier than those of us in real life who are unable to take back those discourteous words we wish we’d never said. And I suppose that is my purpose; the raw quality that is closest to reality. Back at the computer, translated into strict print, it takes on the form, the flow and melody of the whole narrative. The pen and paper were a way in.

When I started scribbling poems, my initial preferred genre, I was aware of the need to keep all the drafts along the way. Essential to be able to go back and see where it started, how each alteration, possible improvement, affected the whole. When we look at the drafts for many of our past poets, Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, the hand of Ezra Pound on Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ for instance, we are fascinated to learn the way in which the poem developed. The changes made; substitution of words, the reordering, the line length cut, manipulated to create that memorable poem.

And it has to be said that redrafting, redrafting and redrafting, is the most essential part of writing. ‘Prose is like hair; it shines with combing.’ Gustave Flaubert

The benefit of moving text has to be awarded to the computer. How often is a first paragraph in the wrong place, or unnecessary? The flexibility of being able to trial passages of text in different places in the narrative, or erased, is an invaluable facility.

At the same time this is a snag; it is so easy to cut, to copy, to paste, to erase, to revise without keeping originals with the computer. When writing poetry I’ve evolved a system of saving drafts, numbered in the order of completion, stored on my hard drive. Novels, short stories are a different matter. As I write in chapter lengths before printing off for the first draft, I keep those hard copies with comments and revisions written in the margins before correcting on screen. Ink on paper in this case I find easier to read, back and forth, sometimes out loud. And there you have it, another variant on pen, paper, electronic devise.

All the advantages of both are at our fingertips, literally. A pen and paper almost always to hand, and at the same time with today’s technological advances, our phones contain note-taking facilities, and the iPad, or other tablet form, acts as a portable computer. There is no excuse for the blank page.






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