I realise now that this has always been the way for me. Writing mournful poems about unrequited teenage love, or jotting down my angsty thoughts in my late teens-early twenties was always cathartic because of the effect pencil on paper has on me. It was also a time before personal computers and word processing programs, so I had no choice.
I moved to electronic writing in my first job when I was issued with a work PC of my own. All my poetry and short prose was dutifully transferred on to a three inch floppy.
Occasionally I would scramble to jot ideas down on the backs of envelopes, serviettes and receipts, but they were just the seeds. I would tend and cultivate my ideas electronically. Most of the pruning and grafting would also be done on a screen.
Isobel Carmondy told us, in last year’s Master Class at the CYA Conference, that handwriting engages a different part of the brain when compared to typing; and when you transfer the written word onto the computer it's like you are writing your story for the first time twice – it’s a different type of editing.
I have only just rediscovered the joy of handwriting. I get snippets of writing time in the kitchen while stirring a béchamel sauce or cooking the bolognaise sauce I know by heart, but my children have a moth-like attraction to the lights of an electronic screen. Even when everyone seems content with their activities, I open my laptop and … “Mum, can I just play … “
“Mum, can you check the price of … “
“Mummy, I won't touch, I just watch you ...”
Exasperated, I took my beautiful new note book with creamy silk pages, a pencil and a sharpener, and went outside on to the deck. An idea I’d been brewing streamed on to the pages.
My children sidled up to me and said, “What are you doing?”
“I’m writing,” I said. They slipped back inside or went and bounced on the trampoline. I kept writing.
I am sure that the physical feeling of writing on paper provides me with a different way of processing my ideas. It's also less enticing for my children to invent passive ways to surf the net, or conjure an excuse to confirm an urgent piece of toy trivia.
I do not know how writing long hand will work when I go back to writing my novel length story, but I do know there will be problematic sections where only a pencil and paper will provide me with the solution. As for the shorter stories and poetry I write, handwriting is the preferred method for getting my first draft onto paper and giving me some sneaky writing time alongside my family.