When my husband Rob was writing his thesis in the latter half of the 1990's, he did so on the computer. He was grateful to have the Internet at his fingertips, giving him access to European documents that he would have otherwise taken months to find. He managed to finish his PhD in five years; without the computer it would have taken much longer. His adviser used to tell him about another PhD student who used to type his thesis on the computer, then put the stack of papers into the freezer to store them just in case there was a fire. Of course, if you go back far enough, doctoral students used to write their theses with a pen and paper.
While there are obvious benefits to writing on a computer, we miss something in the writing process when we do not write by hand. I brought my laptop to the Christian Writer's Conference last week. However, early on it started acting up and I purchased a thick pad of paper to write on instead. There is something about the feeling you get when you write with a pen and paper. It brought me back to my university days when I used to hastily write everything down that my French professors said; somehow I was able to print neatly and review it later for the exam.
Rob talks about a record store owner in London, Ontario who years ago used to say that records were far superior to C.D.'s (he called records "freshly squeezed" while C.D.'s were processed). Rob couldn't understand why he would say this, given all the pops and crackles one heard while listening to a record. Isn't it ironic, though, that records have made a big comeback in recent years, long after the London store owner voiced his opinion?
Will pen and paper make a similar comeback? Do writers get something from writing manually that they don't get from writing electronically? There is something comforting about writing by hand. Maybe it lends creativity to the process. According to Horace: "The pen is the tongue of the mind." Maybe it lends a personal aspect to the writing. After all, each person's handwriting is unique. I know when I receive a handwritten letter (not very often) it seems much more personal than a typewritten one.
While I will continue to write my picture book on the computer, I will cherish my handwritten pieces of writing. And next year when I return to the Writer's Conference, I will bring my pad with me. At least I know it won't give me technical difficulties!