Pen and paper or laptop?

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

Writing with pen and paper or laptop – which is best?  And can a change of scene help you to be more creative?

The rather awesome J K Rowling wrote swathes of the “Harry Potter” series in cafes in Edinburgh.

Can other writers do this? Should you try it?

Leigh turner writing with pen and paper or laptop

With iPad at the Wolfgangsee.

Writing with pen and paper or laptop

Writing techniques vary.  When I am writing major pieces – such as a novel – I write in longhand, in an A4 pad. Typing straight onto a keyboard is, in theory, quicker. But I find sitting staring at a screen for hours at a time makes my brain melt. Making quick amendments to what you have already written is also clumsier, and slower, on a laptop.

By contrast, on paper I am constantly making amendments.  My writing process is as follows:

(i) write a first draft on an A4 pad ring-bound pad. This is the toughest part. I have usually planned what I am going to write before I start (see also my discussion of whether to plan a novel in advance or not). Sometimes I write in a nice notebook, but I find that having too elegant a notebook inhibits my writing!

(ii) I read through and amend what I wrote last time in a different colour (color for my US friends). This is the first edit, and often happens a day or two after I write the first draft. It is often where I notice myself inserting elegant language, good jokes, or otherwise writing that I’m proud of. Obviously it would be better to do this on the first draft and omit this stage. I sometimes do leave this stage out, but mostly I find it really helps.

(iii) next, I type the material onto my computer. This is a joyous process, as I watch the word-count rise. The typing process itself is a second edit.

(iv) later, I edit the writing again, on-screen. For fiction, I often edit several times, culminating in reading the whole work out loud. Reading out loud is time consuming – it can take 15-20 hours for a novel. But I find it helps me spot typos, recurring words and other glitches that I don’t notice reading silently.

Where to write: at home or somewhere else?

Where should you write?

Carrying around a pen and paper or computer is no problem, right?

But what about the wealth of reference material available at home – reference books, old diaries, old drafts, and so on? What about that cup of coffee you can fetch?

You can tackle some of these issues by good use of the cloud, or Dropbox. But a writing den or nest certainly has its plus points.

Pen and paper or computer: inspire yourself

The counter-argument – apart from the J K Rowling factor that you may not have a comfortable writing den or nest – is that a change of scene may liberate your creative juices. Suddenly your environment is different – sights, sounds, smells, people. Distractions which hold you back in place A are absent in place B, where the smell of Apfelstrudel or fresh coffee gives you a glow of satisfaction and excitement.

I also find that writing courses (see my recommendations at the link) are a great way to turbo-charge your creativity, as well as enormous fun.

My conclusion? A change of scene can do any writer good. Get out there, and create something.

If you are interested in writing technique, try my category:Writing tips – a collection of advice and examplesor mywriting tipstab.

P.S. I hope you have enjoyed this comparison between writing with pen and paper vs writing directly onto a computer.  If you enjoy fresh, original writing, you can follow me on Facebook or sign up for my weekly newsletter (you can unsubscribe anytime you wish).

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