Just Free Your Hands, and the Rest Will Follow

How do you write?

Long-hand with a pen and paper? Typing on your laptop? Or via a voice-activation program?

As you may know, I should write exclusively via voice-activation, but I don’t. For me, there are varying levels of pain with the different modes of writing. Typing on the keyboard at my previous 80-words-a-minute is out of the question. I can usually handle pen and paper for maybe a page or two, “hunting and pecking” with a pen gripped in my fist for a little longer. I can generally scribble in the margins for big-picture edits without too much problem, and I can dictate by microphone for as long as my throat can handle. (And yes, there is such a thing as RSI of the throat muscles!)

Why do I switch between modes when it is healthiest for me to write by “voice”? Because being a writer involves wearing many hats, and certain modes seem better suited for certain functions. For example, my voice-activation program, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, is least effective when I am editing. Dragon works best when I speak in complete sentences, as it uses context to help figure out what I said. Can’t use complete sentences in revising, unfortunately. It’s all about “select this” and “delete that” and “insert here.” Now don’t get me wrong – I love Dragon, I couldn’t be a writer without Dragon – but I kinda want to throw my computer out the window when it misunderstands me for the gazillionth time. So I am willing to endure a little pain when I am editing, since it boosts my writing productivity, not to mention my mental health.

On the other hand, when I am drafting, Dragon is a godsend. Not only does it allow me to produce a large quantity of words, but it also encourages me to let go of my internal editor and let the imaginative storyteller take over. A study referenced in Livia Blackburne’s blog observes that long-hand writers may be more systematic than computer writers, perhaps because it is more difficult to make changes on paper. http://blog.liviablackburne.com/2011/01/typing-vs-longhand-does-it-affect-your.html. I think the flip side is also true: computer writers may be less constrained than paper writers. When you are writing on a computer, there is the sense that you can always revise, giving you the freedom to write that crappy first draft. This feeling is essential for silencing the internal editor.

I would venture to say that writing by voice is even less constraining than typing. What, after all, feels more casual than kicking back on a recliner and speaking into a headset? You might as well be chatting with your best friend.

Loni-Mermaid’s month-long Healthy Writing challenge kicked off yesterday. Awesomeness that she is, she set up five 1K1H (one thousand words in one hour) challenges in the first day. I was only able to participate in three of them, but I came up with 4,235 first-draft words. In three hours. When the time came, I just plugged in my microphone and let the words fly. And frankly, I’m not sure I would have been able to do that with my former 80-words-a-minute typing hands.

A large part of me feels that writing is writing, no matter what the mode. But for those of you who have never tried voice-activation, why not? I think we would all agree that something feels different about each mode of writing, whether or not it’s true. Sometimes, a simple change – whether it be scenery or time of writing – is all we need to revitalize our words. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to add this new way of writing to your repertoire. It may actually be the tool that will break you out of your next writer’s slump.

Do you have a preferred method of writing? What is it? What do you like about it? How does it feel different from other forms of writing?

VANWAES, L., & SCHELLENS, P. (2003). Writing profiles: the effect of the writing mode on pausing and revision patterns of experienced writers Journal of Pragmatics, 35 (6), 829-853 DOI: 10.1016/S0378-2166(02)00121-2

10 thoughts on “Just Free Your Hands, and the Rest Will Follow

  1. Interesting post, P-Mermaid! I typically type it out. But, sometimes I do like to hold a pen and write it out on paper. I actually kind of feel like more of a writer that way. I also find that when I go back to my computer to type out my notes, I’ll add even more. Plus, by the time I get home at night, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer for any more time. 😉

    1. If you really want to feel like a writer, go to coffee shops with your pen and paper! (Maybe you already do — I can totally picture you doing this). This was how I wrote my first “novel” — and I use the term loosely — over a decade ago.

  2. I too am more of a paper/pen and typist. Never thought to use my voice to record my book but then I’ve always been a writer more than a speaker. (I don’t know how I’ll ever do my book in audio version?)

    Thanks for the added promo. I’ll try to go easier (only four 1K1H’s a day). 🙂 But you are doing a great job, my mermaid sis!

    1. Loni, I’ve never been a speaker, either. But when you are by yourself in a room with the door closed, it feels a lot more like writing than speaking.
      Thanks for the inspiration, my friend!

  3. I tend to be a computer girl when writing. It takes too long to get the words down when I write something out long hand and I sometimes lose my train of thought. I like the freedom of the computer for it’s editing ease. After reading your post I am tempted to give voice a try. I can definitely see advantages to this style of writing. Somehow I think it might be weird for writing love scenes though. 🙂

    1. Love scenes, ha!
      I really hope you try it out, Dana. I really think you will be surprised, and I am always here to provide any pointers. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve been using Dragon for a looooong time. There are other programs as well, but I’ve never tried them.

  4. I think I will have to echo Dana Mermaid. I like the speed with which I can get my thoughts out with typing as opposed to pen writing. Which makes me think that recording it by voice would be even quicker! I would love to try that for a first draft. And then after that, I do love printing it out and doing pen/pencil editing on my 3 inch thick stack of paperbook! Thank you so much for making this suggestion!

    1. No problem, Carlene! I echo what I said to Dana — if you have any questions in trying out voice activation, just ask!

  5. Excellent post, Pin! I used my Dragon Dictate almost exclusively when my wrist was freshly broken. As it got better, I moved back to typing. The dictation learning curve for first draft work was hard for me, though. I’m so used to backing up and re-typing and correcting as I go along… it doesn’t translate easily. I was *really* good at muttering “scratch that… scratch that… scratch that…” into the headset.
    On the other hand, I got good work done. I’d go back in a heartbeat if I were injured again. And, in the end, I can’t really tell the difference between what was dictated and what was typed.

    1. Susan, the most frustrating thing for me is when I say “scratch that” and Dragon doesn’t understand it! I don’t know how long ago you used Dragon Dictate, but the program has made tremendous strides in the last decade. Also, the more you use it, the more “trained” it gets to your voice. Not to say there aren’t those frustrating times, but there is a lot of good, as well.

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