Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Confidence Trick

Every time I read about a writer shuffling through a dog-eared, coffee-drizzled pile of foolscap or 'making that leap from the notebook to the screen', I always feel a little inadequate. Maybe this is how it's supposed to be done. Perhaps I'm not the real thing because I can only write on a computer.

I've mentioned before that it took me years to screw up enough confidence to launch into a novel. There are many reasons for this (I can't simply blame Art School mentality), but one of them was definitely disgust at my own handwriting.

In my mid-twenties I started a children's novel. I didn't have a computer then so I wrote by hand. I can't remember much about it, but I do recall that everything about the sight of my scribble cried out 'put me in the bin and go to the pub!'. So after a few pages, I did. Perhaps if I'd used a word processor, I might just have been less prejudiced. Nicely justified and spell-checked in Times New Roman, perhaps I would have been able to concentrate on the story and take it somewhere interesting. Perhaps.

Agents, editors and established writers sometimes complain about this phenomenon -- the way word processing creates the illusion of competence. Mediocrity can dress itself up as literature, right from the off. That'll be a bad sign for me then. But I can't help being grateful for the crutch that got me walking, and gave me the confidence to want to run.


  1. I like a pencil and notebook when I begin my writing day, but once my handwriting gets illegible I transfer to the computer. Many writers only write on the computer and many start with a pen first and I've read that some writers (usually older ones!) only hand write their stories and hire someone to type it for them. I think it's pretty even what writers do, so there's no reason for you to feel inadequate!

    My handwriting is pretty lousy, too. It starts out okay but then I have to write as fast as my thoughts come and can never keep my penmanship nice, lol.

  2. Interesting. I like to write by hand myself and hate the typing part, but I can totally see where you're coming from there. My handwriting's not all that great either.

  3. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I know but it strange that all your nearest and dearest think you have great writing. Having been given a complete inferiority complex about my own writing because of being left handed I really admire yours. Still, the Spell Checker is the thing!

  4. I find it interesting that, coming from an art background, you should have such an int-the-box critical view of your handwriting. So conformist. Perhaps you should have become a GP at that point? :)

    My handwriting is either lovely or indecipherable - depends how fast I write. I think there's room for both pc and ye olde notebook and pen. I had a lecturer (bear in mind I was only at uni a few years ago - not millenia - and she said it was ridiculously impractical and unproductive to even consider writing longhand first, then typing up! Just shows. If it works for you - keep at it! Better you got to writing later than never.

  5. I have always loved the exchange between Midnite (an incompetent bushranger) and Khat(a Siamese cat) in Randolph Stow's novel "Midnite"
    "What is a typewriter?" asked Midnite.
    "It is a machine for writing books," said Khat, "A hundred years from now people will be preposterously lazy."
    I wonder what they would make of computers!

  6. Thanks Laura, thanks Angie. It's always interesting to hear how others work.

    Thanks Penny (may I call you Penny, Mum?), but I'm afraid you are confusing my handwriting with my writing, which are two different things:)

    Rachel, if only I'd had the good sense (and responsible parental guidance) to pursue a career as a GP! Or a lawyer, or better still, a merchant banker. Ah, well. maybe next time...

    Seriously though, I agree with your lecturer that typing out handwritten text is very wasteful. Then again, it does allow another chance for revision.

    You play on the swing, I'll play on the roundabout.

    Cat, thanks for that little taste of Midnite! I don't know the book at all, but I'll certainly look out for it now.

  7. I think it's a case of whatever works for you. I like to write in longhand because I work quite slowly and it seems to stimulate my imagination better for a first draft. It also gives me an immense sense of achievement to type up that biroed scrawl, make a few tweaks and declare it a second draft :-)

    My handwriting is awful. But as long as I can read it, that's good enough.

  8. Thanks, Nick. You know, I can hardly imagine working like that, but as you say, whatever works for you.

  9. I only ever write on computer. In fact at work I always use a computer too - so much so that I'm starting to think I've lost the ability to write by hand!

  10. Kate, at least your fingers won't atrophy:)

  11. Initially most of the writing I do (as you know I'm not a writer) is blog posting, and by nature of course, that's on the computer.

    However, I have been studying with the Open University since October and my first draft of all of my assignments so far have been handwritten. I do then write them up on the computer (they have to be submitted as such) and alter them as I go along. But my handwriting is also horrendous and I struggle to read it myself at times.

    I have thought of going back to those lined handwriting copybooks I had at school (if they still print them!) and trying to relearn, but haven't done so as of yet.

  12. I've always thought the exact opposite, maybe because I'm not writing my stories via computer that I'm not a "real" writer. I've always love handwriting but the computer does let you get things out quickly and therefore, write more. I haven't completely switched to digital but it definitely comes in handy when short on time.

  13. Ian, you can still get them! We bought some for our children, but there's no age restriction on them:)

    Hannah, you're lucky to love handwriting. A notebook can go places where even a netbook is a gadget too many.


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