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October 20, 2010


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When my old computer crashed and I had an upcoming deadline to write a new play I kept a journal until I could afford the new laptop. It contained scenes from the play written out with a fountain pen, doodles, images I found inspiring or relevant. It was very, very freeing.

That said. it's totally my worst play, so there you have it.

Guy Yedwab

I have lately become one of those terrible people who writes on a type-writer. No internet distractions. It also leads you to give up on editing, because even the typos are tough to fix. You wind up just typing, knowing you'll fix it when it goes up.

However, type-writers don't really solve the second part -- the linearity of computers. So I would still carry the little note-books as well (or, in my case, a pad of post-it notes). Or, if you like, a white-board.

Don't forget -- if different tools work for different purposes, pick the tool to the moment, and don't shoe-horn yourself into one!


Oh man, I know exactly what you're talking about. I vacillate. Right now, I feel like I can't write unless it's on my laptop. I got a new laptop a few months ago. It has a bigger keyboard. A former teacher of mine got the same laptop. I managed to adjust to it. He couldn't deal with and has basically wasted $1000. It's so weird how these little changes affect our writing. Or rather, our comfort zones are affected and therefore are writing is affected. Sometimes I jot down ideas in notebooks. Often I write stuff down on post-its. (I used to be embarrassed about that until I found out Nabokov wrote novels on index cards.) It's as if writing longhand sends a message to my brain that it's ok for me to mess up, this is really a rough draft. I think it's because we're from the generation that wrote longhand in school. Typing something up represented a sort of committment to the piece:typed=final draft.
Of course, it's ridiculous to think this way because it's so much easier to make changes on an MS Word document than on something handwritten, but nevertheless, something about typing it makes it seem more finite. In order to deal with this, I underline things, change the font, bold them (I have a whole system) to indicate that it's an area I want to revise. Some people in my workshop are irritatd by this, others find it helpful because it guides them and lets them know what, specifically, I'd like feedback on.
Oh, and then there's the whole issue of how the reader wants to look at the piece. I remember in Tina Howe's playwriting class (I think she'd be ok with me mentioning this), Tina always typed out feedback on special stationary. One day I asked her if she could send me a digital copy as well because I felt like if I didn't have a digital copy it wasn't real. She said that was funny because she felt that if she didn't have a hard, physical copy it wasn't real.
I guess it all depends on what you're used to.


I carry a journal/notebook around for when an idea strikes, even if it's just a line or a thought for a character or whatever. I used to write everything via longhand first and then typed it up, which I loved - that process definitely works for me. I find it hard to to do that though with really long works...ie the novel I completed (and shelved), my MFA manuscript, etc - I start out writing long hand but eventually end up doing most of it on the computer.


I picked up something from the late, great John Belluso: I keep composition books around, usually one for each project, or each season, but I never, ever write anything in them, at least not anything play-related. I do all of my writing and re-writing on computer at this point. I don't find it freeing to write something out by longhand and then type it up. It just bugs me. However, on my computer, I'm also the king of stop and starting and having a billion drafts. Some of the documents listed as drafts on my computer are just a title page, or a single line of dialogue. I've become pretty comfortable with thinking of my docs as free-form.

malachy walsh

I write plays long hand. I didn't used to but after a lifetime of writing directly into the computer, I tried the old fashioned way suggested to me by Eduardo Machado and Kelly Stuart.

Writing by hand, with a pen, on paper, slows the process down in a way that allows time for the briefest flicker of reflection. I find it somehow mimics conversational reaction time so that language and ideas flow properly across the page while also having time to develop.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article in which "experts" supported a theory that writing long hand improves not only memory, but also the ideas expressed through the writing.

"Improve" may be too judgmental a word. Long hand writing, certainly, however, has resulted in a difference in my writing.

I do some computer writing, but usually AFTER writing long hand for a while. I also write long hand when stuck. And, in advertising, I always take a pass at every assignment with a long hand writing session.

I've recently started exploring characters in plays who write long hand - in fact, the link below is to a short I produced just last week about a confrontation between characters over this now unusual way of writing.


Karl Miller

Ditto Malachy on the slowing-down effect of handwriting. I think handwriting has another major benefit, by nature: even if you have bad handwriting, you're still using the right-half of your brain to make a graphic representation of what would just be a straight digital (fingers and 1/0's) output on a keyboard. Any creative writing benefits from this added craft to the composition. I find it's the only way to write an honest journal, too. I'm more likely to re-read a journal entry and reflect if it's a tangible document that I've taken the time to slowly compose for my lonely future audience of me. On a computer, it's not journaling so much as a furious discharge of thoughts that vanishes into water.

When I write by hand, I feel like I'm crafting something as it happens instead of transmitting or transcribing something for storage in the abstracted cavern of my hard drive. That's an espeically validating feeling when I switch to the solitary labor of the playwright. One more reminder that "wright" is different from "write."


I usually write typing on the computer, unless it's poetry or lyrics, which I find easier to think out longhand.

I also never learned to hold a pen/cil correctly, so I get hand cramps after writing for too long.

And I do carry around a notebook (usually Moleskine) for jotting down ideas for things and notes for later when I'm at my computer.

Uke Jackson

I find it doesn't matter. The first draft, by hand or computer, is always my "vomit draft" -- everything and anything goes on the page. Then the rewriting goes on . . . and on . . . and on . . . and (You get the idea.)

I've written tons of non-fiction, a fair amount of fiction, and several scripts that were produced. In all that writing, I can't ever remember looking for "freedom". I'm always looking for story.


I vacillate between the two. On the computer, my ideas flow so more fluidly and easily, because I can type so much faster than I write - plus my hand never gets tired. But there comes a point when simply looking at the bright glare of the screen turns my mind into goo, and I have to go back to the pen and paper, where the ideas come more slowly but my mind feels sharper and more alert. It's a trade-off.

Lila Kaplan

Writing by hand is very helpful for getting out a first sektch. My best shitty rough drafts come from timed writing that I do by hand. Being forced to produce something and not revise and having a time limit is a good way for me to go from an idea to works on a page.

I also want to echo something Isaac said about revision. What's great about a handwritten first sketch is that you shape it as you type it up. It makes revision more natural.

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