The pen always has and always will be mightier than the computer. For that original work. That real poem. That authentic novel. That meaningful non fiction. Don't let a machine sway you or distract you. Seduce you to a way of more leisure. There are too many ghosts in the machine. Stick to a pen and have nothing else between the blood in your fingers and the paper on the desk. And - yes - overlook the fact I wrote this on a keyboard.
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A man's hand writing. Photograph: Acestock/Alamy
Why creative writing is better with a pen
Not only is longhand a much more portable way to write, it's also much more individual
by Lee Rourke
In a wonderful article published on the New York Review of Books blog the poet Charles Simic proclaimed "writing with a pen or pencil on a piece of paper is becoming an infrequent activity". Simcic was praising the use of notebooks of course, and, stationery fetishism aside, it got me thinking about authors who write their novels and poems longhand into notebooks rather than directly onto the screen. There must be some. I mean, I can't be the only one? Actually, it turns out there are quite a few. A while back I was having a Twitter conversation with the novelists Jon McGregor and Alex Preston about this very topic. Alex had decided to write his next novel with pen and notebook and Jon McGregor and myself couldn't urge him to do it enough.
Everything I've ever written was composed in notebooks first. I have hundreds of them filled with my scribbles tucked away in boxes. I also buy them obsessively, so I probably have just as many empty notebooks lying around the house ready and waiting to be filled. I find that writing longhand I can enter a zone of comfort I find hard to achieve when sitting in front of a screen – I find typing annoying, if I'm honest, not the mechanics of it, but the sound. The constant tap-tap-tap-tap on the keyboard reminds me of all the offices I've worked in. The sound bores into me, it fills me with an anxiety I could do without. I feel like I'm signing off invoices rather than writing my next novel. Writing longhand is a whole different feeling. For a start, I can take my notepads and pens everywhere I go; which means I can write anywhere I want, when I want. This is good for me as my writing comes to me in fits rather than prolonged spells. Only when my work is finished in longhand do I transfer it to a computer, editing as I type up. I find this part of my writing process the least enjoyable.
"Pen and paper is always to hand," agrees Jon McGregor. "An idea or phrase can be grabbed and worked at while it's fresh. Writing on the page stays on the page, with its scribbles and rewrites and long arrows suggesting a sentence or paragraph be moved, and can be looked over and reconsidered. Writing on the screen is far more ephemeral – a sentence deleted can't be reconsidered. Also, you know, the internet."
He's right, of course. There are far too many distractions when writing directly onto the screen. The internet being the main culprit. But if that's not all, the computer screen itself is enough to put some writers off completely.
"A blank computer screen makes me want to throw up," explains Niven Govinden. "It's not conducive to good writing. The physicality of longhand pleases me. I can revise as I work in a way that doesn't happen on a laptop. There's a greater sense of space when using a pen. A lined notebook is less judgmental. But most importantly, I write in a more economical way. I think harder about one good sentence following another, which for me is all that matters."