PLAY 001: Longhand Jam in the Woods

The woods at dusk, the light just streaming through the trees, lighting up the evening mist.

I had a conversation with James last night (well, by the time you’re reading this, it will have been many days ago, but let’s just agree that “recently” James and I spoke) about writing by hand.

James has already written on this topic on Adventures in Storytelling in his article, No, You’re Analog! A Writer’s Strategy. If you haven’t read it yet, you should—there’s some great stuff in there—but as part of it he looks at the reasons why, as a writer, he prefers writing first drafts by hand.

In the comments, I added my own thoughts on why I don’t write by hand (despite loving the sensation of analogue). My main argument is that my hand can’t keep up with my thoughts when I write longhand. I need the “speed” of a keyboard to keep my thoughts flowing freely (and clearly). James rebutted with a question, “If we were to time the difference in speed between longhand and keyboarding, would we actually find a difference?” He’s confident the answer would be negligible.

During our conversation “last night”—which was the exact conversation we had in the comments all over again—I realized it’s a good question; not only one we should ask, but an experiment to be done.

A homemade wooden sign that simply says, "Camping" with an arrow pointing up.In a couple weeks, I’ll be going on a week long camping trip. It will be my first such trip since getting into writing diligently every morning. Whether I’m at home, away at a conference, staying at a friends, I’ve done my best to write, at least a little, every morning after waking up. In the woods of Algonquin, however, I won’t be able to find an outlet for my laptop (and I’m certainly not hauling a giant battery in my pack. Although…no, no, that would be ridiculous). So I’m left with the good old fashioned method James chooses first: pen, paper, and longhand grit.

On this naturific expedition, I’m going to pack said pad of paper and a few pens, and when I crawl out of my sleeping bag each morning I will find a space to sit and I will write, by hand, that morning’s sections. Then, when I get home—after typing up said sections—I will compare my average word count (by keyboard) with the word count of my written pages.

It’s not a perfect experiment (any scientists reading this are probably screaming, “the scientific method!” at me right now), but…well, wait. Why can’t it be a better experiment?

The Scientific Method in big bold colours!

To start off, I need a purpose: is there any difference between longhand writing and typing? Hypothesis: Luke is faster at writing while typing than while writing by hand. Materials: pen, paper, forest. Method: I’m going to canoe by butt into the woods with a paper and pen and for a week, write by hand each morning until I choose to stop (just as I do at home while writing at my computer). During the experience—after completing my daily writing—I’ll document how I feel about it, too, and come back and share. (Still not a perfect experiment, I’ll wager, but that’s okay.)

Before I sign off and go in search of an adequate pad of paper around the house, there are a few further points I want to add to my hypothesis (the, “why I think I write slower by hand” bits). I’ll write them down now, reflect on them during and after the process, and update y’all when I get back.

1) My hand can’t keep up with my thoughts.

Obviously, this is the main question being asked here, but I felt it warranted a second pass. While writing, I’ll attempt to stay cognizant of these moments, and track how often they occur.

2) My hand gets sore while writing.

The longer I write, the more sore it gets. When my hand gets sore, I tend to condense sentences, not because I feel it’s beautiful, concise prose, but because it means there’s less for me to write. Again, I’ll do what I can to track how often this happens.

3) I have absolutely atrocious penmanship.

I’m right-handed, but hold my pen like I’m a lefty. My chicken scratch is somewhere between doctor and preschooler, and the faster I get going, the worse it gets. It gets so bad I can’t even read what I wrote. I won’t worry about this one so much—until I get home, and am trying to type my pages up. (That one will be real easy to track, and will come with some delightful pictures. “Can you divine what word Luke wrote? Let us know in the comments!”)

4) The woods are not my home.

Number four isn’t a point about my longhand writing, so much it is an acknowledgement that I’ll be in the woods when I do it, and that is likely to have an affect upon me, different than if I were longhand writing in the hectic, noisy, fast-paced city life I usually am.

I’ve talked ad nauseum about why I started Adventures in Storytelling (if you’ve forgotten, it’s about doing and community), but a lesser known goal—which is really “the community” “doing” together—is for us to partake in experiments and exercises like this one; try new things together. Ideally, many of us would agree to writing longhand, or in James’ case by keyboard, for a week and reflect on what happens. To test our pre-conceived (or developed) notions until they make a new (or old) kind of sense. I want to Play, folks, capital “P”.

I have some other ideas I’ve written down, and when the community gets a bit bigger, I’d like to try them (yeah, I’m definitely hinting that if you were thinking about joining the community, now’s a great time…). Stay tuned for my Longhand Reflection in a few weeks, and if you’re one of those people on the verge of jumping in our lake, I have an experiment you can test:

Purpose: “Can I join the Adventures in Storytelling community?”
Hypothesis: Yes, yes you can.

If you have any suggestions on how to improve my experiment, please let me know in the comments below; I’m always open to new ideas. If you’d like to Play along yourself, let me know that, too. The more the merrier!

1 thought on “PLAY 001: Longhand Jam in the Woods”

  1. Something to consider when we look at Luke’s results: writing with a pen and paper isn’t something that even I just picked up. No matter hope romantically I portrayed it in my own article, it did take a bit of practice to re-familiarise myself with the basic operation of a pen on paper. It wasn’t quite like riding a bike – I was sort of foggy on the details, and it took a bit of self-discipline and training to get used to the feel of writing analogue. When I argue that it’s probably just as fast as writing with a keyboard, I don’t expect the results to match when you quit electronics cold turkey. You gotta ease into it.


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