Pen and paper or stone tablet?

Is there a good method to writing (aside from avoiding writer’s block)? This article in Swedish broadsheet Dagens Nyheter (DN) looks at the question from the analogue versus digital point of view, with inputs from professional writers.

One of the arguments presented by Romanian author Mircea Cărtărescu is that the writing process will be reflected in your text. As such, he elects to write only academic and political articles on the computer; and poetry, novels and essays by hand. The staccato of typing will supposedly make your text straightforward and to-the-point, while the slow, deliberate nature of pen and paper lends a more artful tone to the writing.

Whilst I am convinced by the snippets I have read of Cărtărescu’s work, and feel beguiled by this pragmatic-yet-romantic description of writing as an artform, I cannot decide whether this is widely applicable. Yes, I am aware that these are one author’s opinions – a highly regarded author, no less – but the scientist in me is utterly tempted to “try this theory out”.

What I am writing here is certainly fast-paced – I am writing as I think (today), but I have read marvellous pieces of prose that were typed from first draft. On another hand, part of this may be down to traditional images: I have a hard time imagining a poem arriving in a mind’s eye to be rattled out on a keyboard – a small notepad and a fountain pen seems to fit that bill better; and academic writing on paper? Aside from layouts, my personal experiences would advise otherwise. However, I do find that thought-processes are much better off written out, nay, scribbled out, preferably on the back of the traditional envelope with a coffee/tea/wine(for the adventurous) ring on top.

The choice of writing means could be angled to benefit the writer as well. English novelist Niven Govinden expressed to The Guardian  that a “blank computer screen makes me want to throw up”, while a blank sheet of paper carries far less damnation. As far as I am concerned, this is not only true, but may apply ten-fold when writing an academic paper.

The editing process can be a junction where analogue and digital come together. Typing up hand written words offers a clearer view of the text, offering a better chance at finding clauses needing an edit. Though this may simply imply that a fresh copy is needed: previewing a blog-post as it should appear on the page offers up more mistakes to correct than re-reading messy HTML.

As today’s post has been presented think-tank style, I would particularly like to know what you think: what is your means of writing? Does blogging work when drafted through a word processor? Or should I try writing everything out first? And by all means, go read the articles – fascinating fare.


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