The Washington Post features a charming study by Joseph J. Ellis (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Founding Fathers, the Revolutionary Generation, pictured). It is called The Writing Life, and sub-titled "Why the pen is mightier than the laptop."
I know several authors who swear by the pen. They write their manuscripts in longhand, and Mr. Ellis, it seems, is of the same mind. People, he says, call him old-fashioned, even anachronistic, and strongly recommend that he dump his beloved pens in favor of a laptop.
The spirit is willing, or so he says, but habit prevails. It begins with taking notes in writing as he goes through his research material -- something which no research assistant can do, as there is not a research assistant alive who can pick out the little gems from the mass of manuscript -- the little golden nuggets that are going to breathe vigor into the final book.
That is usual enough. I know from my own experience that there are not many people a historian can trust to find exactly the apt little tidbits needed. But Joseph Ellis then settles down to write the first draft of his manuscript by hand.
The "symmetry between the muscular movement of my hand and the flow of ideas in my head," he says, would be "destroyed by a keyboard," which, poetically he adds, "becomes an alien intruder in the dialogue within myself."
H'm. Does he finish up with scratched-out scribbles, pages torn and pasted in a different order? He doesn't say, but that would be the inevitable state of anything I tried to write by hand. And I would be forced to use a pencil. With an eraser on the end.
So I have to confess it: from the very first word of the very first draft, I am wedded to the computer. The keyboard functions as a smooth conduit between what passes as my brain and the unfolding story, and more often than not as I consult my own research notes my awkward writing baffles me and makes me angry. I abbreviate at whim, and half the time I can't decipher the result. I know without a shade of doubt that if I tried to write the draft, everything would be in the wrong order, and I wouldn't be able to cut and paste to set things right and make the damn thing flow. The keyboard is so much easier.
But then, I was taught to type properly, at the right age, which I believe is a huge advantage. I can touch type, which I notice very few people can do. It always amazes me that in this computer-driven age children and teenagers are not taught to type. Surely it should be a skill as basic as learning to write by hand?