Typing vs. Writing?

In my composition classes, we’ve had several conversations about the difference between typing our drafts and handwriting them. As romantic as I tend to be about writing — and as much as I love my little journals and notebooks — I have become a convert to the keyboard to such a degree that I almost can’t think unless I’m typing. A lot of my students agree, but that may be a generational thing; some of my students, for instance, seem unable to think unless they’re texting. But there are a few hold-outs, a handful of traditionalists for whom writing necessarily involves a spiral notebook or a yellow legal pad. So we’ve had a few discussions in my classes about what difference our method of writing makes on our texts.

Some of us — myself included — prefer typing because we have trouble making our pens keep pace with our thoughts (to say nothing of the atrocious script our frenzied writing produces), and we enjoy the satisfaction of seeing our text already “in print,” as though the bulk of our work was already finished. It’s a delicate self-delusion, because most of us are aware that a draft is a draft no matter how we produce it, and the hardest part — revision — still lies a long way out in front of us; but for us, this happy delusion sometimes works.

Others prefer the handwritten draft for much the same reason: because the pen slows down the writing, they argue, it also slows down their thinking, and they find their prose has a more deliberate, carefully considered air. They get to do a lot of the initial revisions — word choices, premise developments, and so on — in their head while they’re waiting for the pen to catch up.

Also, these writers fear the printed page because, even on screen, the typed text feels too final, so that their mistakes appear indelible and all the more a mar to their writing for that; they feel typing removes the excuse of poor handwriting and fast scribbling for the errors they naturally commit in drafting.

I was reminded of these conversations today as I opened my iGoogle homepage on my office computer. One of the “gadgets” I’ve added to that page is a daily literary quote, and today’s comes from Dylan Thomas (one of my favorite poets): “Don’t be too harsh to these poems until they’re typed,” he writes. “I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear bad with conviction.”

I’m fascinated by Thomas’s ability to synthesize our conflicting perspectives; he has acknowledged both the strength and the frightening finality of a typed text, and he has made both appear positive, an empowering sort of excuse.

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