Your First Writing Draft: Typed or Handwritten?

I’m working on my first book-length memoir. It’s terrifying.

The general theme or topic: My immigration, at age 24, to America. Rather than just a ME-moir, I blend the personal narrative with national and family history, economics and psychology to examine the socio-economic, feminist and spiritual factors that made me (and 200,000 other young 1980s Irish) leave my own country.  

Depending on what gets to stay in there, I’ve written about 75 pages.

Fifty of those pages are well-polished keepers, though a literary agent or editor might have other ideas.  Mostly, I wrote and re-wrote those first 50 pages early in the morning, before leaving for work, on a laptop.  I just sat there, half asleep and clacked away.  These first 50 pages have taken me to that plot point where I’ve gotten my U.S. visa, I’ve filled in some back story (the why I left), I’ve said my goodbyes and I’ve hoisted my backpack on my back to leave for the airport and my transatlantic flight.

IMG_20131028_164614_101 (1)Then (cue the creepy music), it was time to generate new stuff, as in, a lot of new stuff, as in, the first few chapters of the American part of the story.

Oh hell.  I tell you, nothing, not even shopping for last year’s bathing suit, was as scary.

So I did the adult thing: I found a nice big pile of sand and stuck my head as far into it as I could without actually ingesting sand or suffocating myself to death.  Oh, I didn’t quit writing. Nope. I just found other oh-so urgent, must-do projects, so I could procrastinate on what I really needed to do: those first American chapters.

I don’t know why I was so frightened. Mostly, when I drafted them in my head, I felt a terrible sorrow, a mother-lion protectiveness in which I wanted to take that young emigre (me!) and lead her by the hand and protect her from all the things she didn’t, couldn’t possibly know. More, I wanted to give her a sense of and pride in herself and, most important, the chutzpaha to assert that self.

Ah, middle-aged revisionism.

Then, one morning last week, I got myself up out of bed with, “Just get to it, and stop these damn excuses.”

So I switched on my laptop. I must say, it’s a very nice laptop.  And it has this super, beautiful Facebook app and Twitter and email and … (more procrastination).

IMG_20131111_093639_755Then, thoroughly fed up with myself, I shut off the laptop and opened up my brand new journal, a well-chosen birthday gift from a great writer friend.

My hand stopped shaking.

America, at least via pen and paper, lost its scare factor. In fact, I am amazed by what this handwritten draft is unearthing, what I am managing to remember from 27 years ago. I am equally shocked to discover what the older, middle-aged me thinks about those early American years and my own immigration. Would all this memory and wisdom have come as easily in a typed first-draft?

Memory and wisdom.

I’m glad to say that there’s a good chunk of both there now, in black (pen) and white (paper).

Do you type or hand-write your first drafts?  Does it depend on the topic, in that certain subjects lend themselves to keyboard, while others absolutely must be journaled or hand-written?  


About Aine Greaney

I'm an Irish writer living in greater Boston. I've published four books--two novels, a small collection of short stories and a how-to writing book, "Writer with a Day Job" (Writers Digest Books). I've also published lots of short stories, essays and feature articles. My latest project, "What Brought You Here" is a non-fiction narrative about being an expatriate in America. Find me on Twitter @ainegreaney. Or at my author web page, As well as creative writing, I am the communications director for a healthcare non-profit. I also lead creative writing workshops at various libraries, schools and arts programs. At my workshops, I've been inspired by lots of wonderful writers--most of whom work a day job!
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7 Responses to Your First Writing Draft: Typed or Handwritten?

  1. I have to write some things by hand still. Some of it has to do with the emotion involved (the screen is too impersonal), and some of it is how I continue to interact with what I am writing (the screen is too “printed”).

    I am writing about my childhood, and cannot do it on the screen. I have to scribble, and draw, and let myself feel things through the fountain pen (yes, I am that tactile!) and the paper.

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one! 🙂

    • Aine Greaney says:

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, Elizabeth Anne. Tactile has a lot to do with it. The hand-written pages also feel more “secretive,” as if I have to get all that stuff out first before it can even attempt to go public. I hope the day never comes when pens become obsolete. Errgh.

  2. Laurie Skiba says:

    What a great post, Aine! You always manage to get right to the heart of things for me.

    As for drafting longhand via computer, I spend much of my day job on my laptop, the same one I must use for my writing, so sometimes keying makes it seem too much like work. (And if that doesn’t freeze the muse, nothing will.) Like you, I’ve been learning the power of discovery by drafting longhand. It’s how I started when I wanted to be a writer in elementary school, and the very act can give me the same elated feeling I had when I started this gig, all those years ago.

    • Aine Greaney says:

      Thank you, Laurie. “The power of discovery.” That’s exactly what I’m feeling with this hand-written version. It’s as if I’m writing about someone else–and that’s a good thing. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Don Mitchell says:

    Thx Aine for your thoughts. It seems more real to write it out, with scribbles here & a tear there on the paper. Recalling the life we lived through longhand does make it all so much closer, personal. Sometimes I can see the writing get shaky, or larger or smaller, depending on the memories. It’s good to get it out of us! All the comments above are so very true.

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