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What is freehand good for?

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In this technology driven society, we get used to hearing that things are, or are soon-to-be obsolete. It’s almost never the case of course. We still have theatre, radio, books etc. Remember Egon in Ghostbusters saying, “print is dead”?

Another example – I remember thinking, why would I ever write something freehand again, when electronic typing is so convenient? But it certainty has its uses.

Back when I were a gnipper

I remember I used to like writing everything freehand on a first draft. The moment I changed my mind was when I had to copy up an overdue essay for school. Time was precious, and typing the whole thing up was a real chore.

I vowed never to do it again.

Since then writing electronically has become more and more useful. All my drafts are done on a word processor (I actually use Writeroom so even the distracting clutter of word processor writing is gone); my blog posts are written on my iPod Touch, and some of my notes are too.

Yes the convenience of writing something and being able to change it and move bits around is invaluable, and now it can go everywhere with you. I can’t imagine writing out a full draft and then having to copy it all out again. I find it hard enough to get things done as it is!

But you’ll notice I said (wrote, whatever), “some notes” earlier and not “all notes”. Yes, there are still some things that just don’t feel natural to type.

The freehand list

Freehand for editing

Freehand is still good for satisfying red pen action!

  1. Editing. This is a numbered list because editing is the number one king of freehand uses. I have edited straight into my electronic draft, and I can do it. But I just love scribbling all over a piece of work, crossing great chunks out of it, writing notes in the margins. It’s just so satisfying, and it goes quicker too. Sure I have to copy up those changes again and that’s a drag, but it’s worth it.
  2. Notes as you type. Some people use freehand for all their notes. For me it depends on the writing I’m doing. If I’m making notes to get me out of a hole, I like to write in full paragraphs, and I’m aware that I might use some of it later. That’s for the word processor.

    But I always have a notepad next to me when I write in case I need it. It might be a note on an idea I’ve had for later in the story; something I need to research; an idea for another story altogether. I don’t want to change what’s on my screen though. I don’t want to start a new document or swap out to another one. It feels distracting. Jotting down a freehand note with one hand somehow doesn’t.

  3. Journalling.This is a slightly odd one, because it’s hard to put my finger on why I do this and don’t type them. I have a journal that is strictly for new story ideas. One idea per tiny page. I love journals, but I actually had to have a long think about what I would use one for!

    Writing these ideas down freehand in the journal makes them feel special, and the space restriction is useful too (there is literally no space restriction in electronic work of course). I’m also worried about losing them amongst a virtual pile of folders. Most of all though, our ideas are personal, and freehand is personal. It feels good to keep these initial flashes in as raw a form as possible.

  4. Planning and mindmapping. I actually don’t use freehand for this, but it gets an honourable mention because I know many people do. For mindmapping I use Freemind, because I like to put useful links and images in my maps. Bt there’s no denying the freedom of scrawling on a blank page, and the least resistance we can put between our brain and the outside the better. It can also be useful to shuffle things around quickly and easily to see how they look, and there’s no better toolset than a pen and some post-its for that.

So there you go. Freehand is not dead, and never will be, so I’ll hear none of this freehand goo-goo or ga-ga. What I will hear more of however is your own uses for freehand, so hit the comments with your ideas!

  • Craig

    Freehand?  People still DO that!?  You do make some valid points, and I’ll be honest, I was probably writing out essay’s a lot longer than I should have (I wrote some of my A-Level essay’s longhand.  Freehand, whatever)  The problem is, it hurts.  I was an avid letter writer as a teenager.  I had friends I’d write to (and still did even at university) but when you get up to page 20 or so your hand really starts to object.  I also have a problem in that I’m left handed.  Writing left handed and ink do not make good partners.  Also, like you mention, it all has to be copied up again later.

    The thing that longhand will always have though is character.  recently I’ve been getting feedback from non-writer friends saying that I should write in *my own voice*.  Which of course conflicts with a lot of feedback I got back from uni workshops saying that my work was ‘too me’.  But longhand does have far more character than typed text, doesn’t it?  Your handwriting is as unique as your voice, and it can be far easier to deduce tone through longhand writing than blank typed text.

    Also, yes, editing.  While I never print out my drafts (I hate wasting paper – as I’m sure you’ll remember!) anymore, there is nothing more satisfying than making notes – scribbling in the margins, crossing things out, writing ‘what the hell was I thinking!?!’ in the fabled red pen!  I guess I do miss that.  All my editing is impersonal redrafts on my computer, which yes, does save time, but it lacks that… satisfaction level you get from longhand edits.

    *sighs, and longs for the old days*

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    I never thought about longhand contributing to a ‘voice’ or tone, but yes, I guess it can add a lot – a fast paced scene written quickly in longhand, an emotional moment written with angry stabs and slices of the pen. It would enhance the acting quality of writing. Very interesting.

  • Alij-79

    I actually write large sections of my drafts by hand, I always have. I also did this at school and college with essays which I then typed up later on. I think I just enjoy pen and paper. Maybe it allows my imagination to flow more freely.

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    There is something to be said for the “freedom” of paper (which is odd, now that I think about it, because paper has limited space, whereas a virtual space can be effectively limitless. But it does feel freer writing on paper).

    But man, typing stuff up is booring. And what if I lose my draft? My electronic copies are automagically backed up with Dropbox, so even if my house burnt down I’d still be able to get them back.