As a child, I wrote and wrote – stories inspired by fairy tales, when I was young, and then, in my teens, romantic tales. Of course, these stories were handwritten on paper. I can recall even now the rustle of the paper, the scratching of the pen nib, the scent of the ink. I enjoyed writing back then.
In my early twenties, when I began writing my first novel, it did not even occur to me to use a typewriter – I wrote longhand, the words flowing out of my mind straight onto the page. The fountain pen danced in my hand, evocatively and fluidly, the cursive round with romance. I loved to write, the act of guiding that pen on the paper: I was writing; it was that simple and that rewarding.
Years passed, I raised my children and ran my business, and then finally the time came to devote my time to writing. Only now, it seemed, the act of writing would be quite different. I was to type the words into a laptop?
I resisted, initially. How soulless! My old manuscripts were things of beauty to me – ink spotted, perhaps, in places, but real, tangible; actual products of my labours. What would I be creating on a computer? Would a printout feel the same? What of my fountain pen, which fits the dent in my finger so perfectly? The notebooks, empty pages ready to be filled? Was it sacrilege, in fact, to write without actually writing?
Some great writers have favoured pen and ink over typewriter or computer: Vladimir Nabokov, for example, wrote on index cards; Joyce Carol Oates writes for up to eight hours a day in longhand; George R. R. Martin keeps fans of his epic fiction waiting for years while he fills paper by hand; JK Rowling famously drafted the first Harry Potter book on paper.
Stephen King said in an interview that for him handwriting a book: ‘brought the act of writing back to this very basic level, where you actually have to take something in your fist and make the letters on the page’. I understand that simplicity – and I value it; in a sense, handwriting takes you back to childhood, when you learned to write and when you dared to dream.
So, do I handwrite my novels? I wish I could say ‘yes’! I would love to have a stack of notebooks for each novel; the precious first edition. (Writing in this way can pay dividends down the road as well; a JK Rowling manuscript, for example, sold for £1.95 million at auction!)
But for me handwriting a novel isn’t practical. It’s time-consuming; it makes my hand ache; I worry the notebook may become damaged or lost. And, of course, I have become used to the modern way of working, and the many conveniences of a word processor and internet access.
Still, I felt it important – given how much writing, the actual act of writing, gives me pleasure and inspires me – to keep writing in some way. So while I don’t write novels by hand, I do write my notes and plans on paper. I buy beautiful notebooks and I write in them. I fill them, as William Wordsworth instructed, with the breathings of my heart.