No matter how you decide to write out your work, there’s always going to be pros and cons to everything you do. I’ve been writing for over 10 years and have had my fair share of experimentation with what approaches work best for me. That’s why I wanted to share my experiences and show how writing with any medium has worked for myself and others. In this article, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the three major ways of writing that writers use and aspects of each that may or may not be favorable to an individual.
Let’s dive right in!
Introduction to Writing Variances
I’m sure you’ve asked yourself at one point or another, “Should I type this up? Write it down? Dictate it?” As many writers know, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing. Throughout the past decade, I’ve dabbled with these three different ways of writing and found pros and cons for each, as well as tools that can help/hinder the process. I’ve been using my current setup (which I’ll get into later) for over three years now, and likely won’t change it anytime soon unless it stops working for me.
To get an overall view of the subject, we’ll start with the basics of writing by hand, move up to dictation, and end with typing.
Writing by Hand
One of the simplest forms of writing is just taking any utensil (pen, pencil, charcoal, marker, etc.), and writing down your thoughts, stories, ideas, or what have you onto a surface. Hopefully the surface is transportable, durable, and lightweight (please don’t write your story on a bathroom stall – it generally will get mixed reviews and ultimately be removed). Let’s talk about the good and the bad in regards to writing by hand.
Pros of Writing by Hand
If you’re not a fast typer, it might be easier to let the words flow more naturally with pen or pencil on paper. Before I really buckled down and got better at typing, I could write down more words in an hour than I could type. Forcing myself to use a keyboard slowed down my production, but ultimately gave me a better tool for future use: a higher wpm than the average person. In high school, I could write up to 200 letters per minute (but my handwriting was horrible and only legible by myself), and probably typed at around 40wpm. Now, I haven’t handwritten any substantial piece in years, but my typing is hitting 90wpm easy. If your strength is greater with handwriting than it is with typing, you might want to write your first drafts down on paper.
It’s also easier to format poems on paper. Many times an artist will take artistic liberty with their poems in terms of word placement. This might be easier to visualize on paper before it’s set on a document. Back when I tried my hand at poetry, I found that typing out creative poems with large gaps and spaces was tedious and took too much time to get my spaces and tabs just right.
A great example
Is the fact
That it took me
Well over five minutes
To get just this
To look right to me.
As you can see from the example above, I had to format my ‘poem’ by using the tab and space bar on my keyboard. I didn’t like the placement of the words as I was typing them, and had to keep going back to add or remove them to make it look right. By handwriting the poem, I could have positioned my words much easier.
You can write almost anywhere if you’ve got a notebook and writing utensil. For those who prefer typing, it requires a laptop or Bluetooth keyboard; both of which are generally much larger and heavier than a standard notebook. You also don’t have to worry as much about weather or your writing environment when writing by hand. I can fondly recall my years at school when I would bring a small notebook and pen to the beach to write. While my friends enjoyed splashing around in the waves, I jotted down ideas and stories. After they came back to the towels, I could just hand them my notebook to show them what I’d written, confident that the hard cover would protect that pages from both sand and a bit of water. Had I wanted to type out my ideas at that time, I would have likely been too afraid of getting grains of sand in the cracks and crevices of my laptop, as well as water damage to my electronics.
Cons of Writing by Hand
If you’re planning on publishing your work, whether through a company or by yourself, you’ll have to type it up sooner or later, or pay/ask nicely for someone else to decipher your writing. I found it to be the most tedious thing to try and convert my writing to a document. Taking that extra step meant I was spending precious time that could have been better used writing. If you’ve got the patience and the time, handwriting is definitely an option, though not everyone will enjoy the ‘double writing’ that comes with making their work available online or in print.
Writing by hand also brings forth a distinctive drop of speed of production. If you combine the above con of having to transfer your work to a digital platform, as well as include the fact that you likely type faster and more legibly than you can write, you’ll realize that writing by hand takes a much larger amount of time than typing or dictation. As a writer who’s mind is always racing with information that I want to put on the page, I often found myself getting frustrated with the limitation of my speed of writing down a legible word.
Ever lost your notebook? If so, then you’ve lost your work forever (unless it’s miraculously returned or salvaged). One of the major drawbacks of keeping your writing only on paper is that once it’s gone, it’s gone. There is no backup unless you take pictures, scan, or type up your work. This was one of the greatest drawbacks I found, and after trying to pick up an in-progress novel from a few years back, I found that the notebooks that I kept all the important notes in from that novel (and even wrote key chapters in) was long gone. It was heartbreaking to know that the work I put into the story would never be finished, and even if I chose to try my hand at it again, it wouldn’t be the same. If you’re going to keep your written work in a notebook, folder, binder, etc., then make sure it’s somewhere secure and safe.
Tools Needed for Writing by Hand
So you’ve decided to try writing by hand? Maybe you’ve tried the other techniques and found putting your thoughts on paper is the best for you, or you’d just like to give it a whirl to see it if could be. Either way, you’re going to need some basic tools to get the job done! Here’s a list of what I recommend in no particular order.
- A sturdy notebook; lined, graphed, or blank.
- For this, I use a $1 pack of three notebooks at my local dollar store (known as a ¥100 store). The notebooks have 30 sheets, and can fit about seven outlines for my series.
- A plethora of pens.
- I prefer black, blue, and red fine tipped pens. I’m partial to Pilot G-2 05’s in particular!
- A nice, easy to use mechanical pencil.
- I prefer ones with comfortable grip so that my fingers don’t hurt after long writing sessions.
- A dependable eraser.
- While I’ve always been a fan of the small rectangular variety, I also like the pencil-shaped erasers that provide a more precise erasure of work.
- Sticky notes.
- Sometimes I just want to make a note for something that I’ve thought of that will come later in the story. Say I’m writing the first chapter, and I realize I want a later chapter to have some key element or information. I’ll write it on the note, keep it in the notebook, then when I get to said chapter I’ll have it ready to go.
- Whiteout; liquid, tape, or otherwise.
- I’ve become quite partially to the tape variety of whiteout, as it’s easier to use and doesn’t take time to dry. If I have a concrete idea that I’m writing with pen, I still might have to go back and revise it later.
- A clipboard (optional).
- I find that if my notebooks are very thin and I’m trying to write something down on a bus, train, plane, or while sitting outside on the grass, I need a hard surface. Clipboards come in handy for such things, though they only provide about one page worth of hard surface.
Maybe your handwriting is so bad that you can’t even recognize half the words you write down. Maybe your typing skills are still of the ‘peck and find’ status. That’s perfectly fine. So long as you have a story to tell, there’s always someone who’s will read it! For those who are more proficient at getting their ideas across with spoken word, dictation is a viable option.
Pros of Dictation
You don’t need to use your hands to dictate. Do you fidget, play with your pen or pencil, or move your hands often while typing? Then perhaps dictation is a good route to take. In the past I’ve dictated ideas while I worked on other hands-on activities. Since I promised a friend I would crochet them something, my hands were not free to type – but my mouth was free to speak. I crocheted three hates in a few hours, and managed to get down a decent amount words in the process.
Speaking aloud helps you get a feel for a more natural flow of the story. This goes for proofreading your story as well. As an added bonus, speaking aloud will also improve character dialogue in your story since you can hear how it actually sounds. So long as you can keep a calm, even voice, your dictation should be quite straightforward.
It’s a good alternative if you can’t write or type very quickly. I know for a fact that if I ever broke my dominant hand, dictation would be my go to for getting a story down on my phone or computer. My grandmother, who was recently taught how to text her family, prefers to “push the little mic button and let the phone do all the work”. The small keyboard on her phone is much too small for her liking, and sending a text is faster and easier than writing a letter.
Cons of Dictation
Often enough, your software won’t recognize certain words, and the speed needed to recognize what your saying might be too slow for your preferred speed of speaking. I found issues with this early on, as my quick talking sometimes slurred words together. I also needed to be extra vigilant with my pronunciation if I didn’t want silly mistakes to pop up. Even with all my precautions, however, the software program itself is not infallible, and mistakes will still be made no matter how careful a writer is.
It’s hard to do in public or loud areas. As with any activity that involves speaking out loud, dictation can be difficult to do in certain places. If you’re, for instance, creating a ‘vivid’ story that might not be appropriate for everyone to hear, you can’t exactly say it in public. If you have a family member or appliance that’s particularly loud in the background, it can also throw off your dictation and lead to more errors and mishearing for the software.
You can’t stop and start very easily, and mistakes have to be revisited after they are made. Dictations are usually done in batches, unless you’re the kind of person who has the patience to go one sentence at a time. My biggest issue with dictation was having to go back through everything that the software picked up and fix all the problems that arose. With typing and writing, you can see the issues right away and fix them as you go.
Tools Needed for Dictation
So you’re down to try dictation. Good. Before you jump right in, there are some things you need to have prepared beforehand. I, personally, have only tried dictation a few times, as my speed of speaking is sometimes too fast for the software to pick up. If you can slow yourself down, however, you should be fine.
- Obviously you’ll need either a computer or smartphone with which to dictate your voice.
- Most computers and smartphones come with software for this, or at least have the ability to download apps or software.
- There are several free programs you can use for a dictation, which are listed below.
- Apple Dictation
- Windows Speech Recognition
- Google Docs Voice Typing
- There are several services online that you can pay for to get extra features, better recognition, etc., but the list is quite long, and each person has different needs and budgets. I recommend finding something that’s both affordable and easy to use.
- Last, you’ll need to have a strong voice if you plan on doing a lot of dictation.
- I suggest lemon water and proper throat rest between sessions.
If you’re like me and have horrible handwriting and talk a bit fast, then typing could be your salvation. I have to admit, I used to absolutely hate typing. The learning curve for remembering where every letter and symbol is location on a keyboard is rigid, but ultimately doable. If you’ve got the time and the patience, then typing might be right for you.
Pros of Typing
Typing is generally faster than handwriting, unless you’re just learning the ropes and still have to search for each letter. In contrast to my typing skills, I always like to watch how my sibling handles using a computer or smartphone. My brother has been typing for a few years longer than I have, but still ‘pecks’ at the keys and looks at his fingers while he’s typing. He’s never written more than an essay or two in his life, and as such hasn’t found need to perfect his typing skills, just as I’ve never perfected a lateral pass. It’s only because I’ve put in so much time and effort that I can type without looking at the keyboard and be productive enough to warrant typing over handwriting.
You can type your work directly onto a platform that’s ready to be published, and every single word will be spellchecked. When I used to transfer handwritten works to my computer, I was always shocked to see how many words I had spelled incorrectly, as well as the amount of time it took to move my writing from one platform to another. By typing directly onto an app or document, you can easily post or publish your work as soon as it’s ready to go.
Saving your work is much easier when you type it into a document, app, or online tool. Currently I use the app called Pages by Apple. It’s safe, secure, and allows me to go back and forth between my phone and my computer on all my projects. My laptop is a bit cumbersome and large, so I bring my phone and portable keyboard with me to work; the moment I get back home, I can hop onto my laptop and continue where I left off.
Cons of Typing
Cramps and carpal tunnel syndrome are always a risk for longer typing sessions. I’ve had hours of writing that end with my arms feeling more sore than they do after weightlifting. It takes serious effort at times to keep my wrist positioned as they are when I type, especially when I’m working on surfaces that aren’t level. If you’ve ever tried to type with your keyboard or laptop on your knees, you’ll know what I mean.
You can’t write unless you’ve got your PC, Laptop, or smartphone with you, and even then if you’re keeping your files online you’ll still need internet access. This is one thing that has plagued me in the past. I’d written a couple thousand words onto my phone, come home, hopped onto my computer, and saw that the file I had been working on all day weren’t there. Either Pages didn’t sync, my phone didn’t upload my work, or something else went awry. It’s frustrating to force myself to work a certain way just because technology has forsaken me.
It can sometimes be difficult to travel and type easily. Remember what I said about about typing on your knees? That’s not always very fun. Whether it’s a bus, train, airplane, or outside area, there won’t always be a comfortable flat surface with which to work on. Sometimes you just have to make due with what you’ve got if the writing bug has bitten you.
Tools Needed for Typing
This is an area where I see a distinct split in many writers. Some stick to the traditional computer or laptop setup; others choose to purchase a wireless keyboard to connect with larger phones (such as the iPhone X, or previous ‘plus’ versions); and others type entirely onto their phone using the built in keyboard on the screen. Honestly, you can mix and match with whatever works best for you. I’ve been mainly using a portable keyboard paired with my iPhone X (previously iPhone 7Plus, and 6sPlus before that), and it’s been working great for me. The list below is short and simple, but the number of apps used for writing are vast. Once again, it’s up to you to pick and choose what works best for you.
- A computer.
- This can be either a PC or laptop; any brand will do. I personally prefer Apple products simply because they all connect to each other, meaning I can write on my phone during work in the day and continue with my laptop at home at night. I hear that the same can be done with Android and Windows, but have yet to try them out.
- A smartphone.
- Even if it’s just to jot down notes or an idea while it’s fresh in my brain, I’m thankful to have my phone on me at all times. Since I use my phone as my main writing device, I’m always sure to have my portable keyboard and portable charger with me as well.
- A portable (usually Bluetooth) keyboard.
- As said above, this pairs well with my phone. Interestingly enough, I’ve also used my portable keyboard with my laptop. Since I write with my phone and Bluetooth keyboard more, it’s sometimes easier to do what I want with a keyboard I know well, even if it’s on a laptop that already has a built in keyboard.
- Applications or software to write in.
- Obviously, if you’re going to be writing on a digital platform you need something to capture your words. Even if it’s as simple as a basic notepad app, or as complex as a $100 program to track your every word written in the past 30 days, each writer should find something that fits their needs, skills, and expectations.
- I will say, however, that I prefer to use Pages by Apple (I believe I paid $10 for the app years and years ago. From what I see on the App Store, it’s now free. Darn). If I did not have Apple products I would definitely go with choose Microsoft Word, as it’s the platform I grew up using and am very comfortable and familiar with.
Final Thoughts on Writing Methods
So you’ve made it through the three methods, their pros and cons, and tools for each. At this point you might be thinking, “I have no clue how I should write! I thought that I’d know after reading this, but now I’m even more confused!” That’s all right. You don’t need to have a final, permanent solution to your writing style right this moment. All good things come in time.
Me? I do a combination of handwriting and typing. I handwrite all of my outlines, character profiles, world building notes, etc., into a notebook, which I then keep next to me while typing for reference. Even when I’m typing up my blog posts I have a separate notebook dedicated to my website that’s full of blog ideas, podcast episode ideas, freelance writing goals, and everything else that I want to accomplish in the coming year.
You don’t have to choose one, and you don’t have to settle forever with what you choose. Play around with each, find out what works, and utilize it to enhance your work. No one should have to settle with a method of writing that turns their work from a joyful experience to a painful chore.
Embrace your strengths and weaknesses, find your style, pick a tool, and get to writing! There’s not better time to start than now – get on it!