Longhand or Computer?
by Barbara Renner
Several authors I know prefer to pen their novels the old-fashioned way, with paper and pencil, rather than use a computer. In addition, some famous authors write in longhand instead of using a typewriter or laptop. Joyce Carol Oates, author of Blonde and Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories, writes in longhand from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. every day, and two to three hours in the evening. She also tweets – at age 79. Her infamous tweets have received a lot of attention – you go, girl. Andre Dubus III, author of The Garden of Last Days and House of Sand and Fog, writes his books in longhand using carpenter’s and mechanical pencils. That’s a lot of clicking.
Then there was Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. He wrote while lying down, enjoying cigarettes and coffee while he worked. He wrote the first and second drafts of his novels entirely in pencil, then switched to a typewriter for the third and final drafts. I suppose I’d lie down too if I smoked.
Many excellent reasons can be given for writing in longhand rather than using a computer. It prevents self-editing. (I just spent the last minute-and-a-half revising the first paragraph of this post.) You can take a pad of paper and pencils wherever you go. (I could take my laptop, but my purse isn’t large enough.) You can still read the words if you strike through a sentence. (I can make an entire chunk of text disappear with the delete key.) You can use the margins for notes. (Opening another Word document works for me.) And, a pad of paper doesn’t have a hard drive that can crash.
My Mac and I became best friends when I started writing my picture books. I can search the internet for resources and ideas; I enjoy self-editing as I write; and I can easily move paragraphs and text around with a few keystrokes. Last month, my Mac of seven years began to act up. Internet sites wouldn’t load, my email timed out, and I could prepare dinner and clean up the kitchen in less time than it took the computer to power up. I blamed the new operating system I downloaded last year; I chewed out the internet provider; I cursed Google. I finally called Apple Support. That’s where I discovered that a seven-year old Mac is considered vintage.
A nice young man named Gary guided me through a number of steps to power up the computer. It started out with a simple command/option/escape. When that didn’t work, Gary guided me through five more steps. This eventually lead to holding down more keys than I had fingers, pressing the power button, and holding the phone, all at the same time. I mentally prepared myself for a yoga pose that would guide my big toe to the keyboard. I was on the phone with Gary for more than an hour, waiting for each step to power up the computer. We had a pleasant conversation. I discovered that he lives in Boise, Idaho, and actually fried eggs on the sidewalk when he lived in Phoenix. Then he fled north. When none of the powering up steps worked, he told me I needed to reinstall the operating system. Before loading it, a dialogue box popped up asking me to choose the location for the new install. It was empty. That meant my computer was not recognizing a hard drive. End of call; your vintage computer is toast; thank you very much; nice chatting with you, Gary.
Living in a small resort town for the summer is a challenge at times. I drove to Fargo, North Dakota, the closest “city,” and searched for an Apple store. There are none. I ended up at Best Buy and purchased my new best friend, a Mac laptop with plenty of memory and a fresh new hard drive. That should hold me for another seven years. In the eighth year, I think I’ll stock up on yellow pads of paper, pencils, and a pencil sharpener.
Barbara Renner and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. As “Sun Birds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer heat – and to fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon, and was prompted to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon, because everyone should know about loons. However, books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, so she is writing a new series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara visits elementary schools as a guest author to read her books and share interesting facts about loons and quails. She’s working on other children’s books and a special book about her yellow lab, Larry: Larry’s Words of Wisdom. Learn more about Barbara at RennerWrites.com, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.