After the First Saturday Writing Workshop a couple of days ago, new Writing Your Life class member Bruce asked a question I hear often: Is it better to write by hand or on a computer?

I gave him a strong, qualified answer: Well, it depends. And it does. It depends on what works best for you. There is no one right way to write the stories of your life, and you may find you use different writing tools at different times.

My primary approach to writing is to use a laptop. I sit in a comfy chair or at my desk (rarely) or at a table on the porch when the weather is nice and while away the hours lost in a cloud of words. I enjoy writing on a laptop for a number of reasons. One, I’m faster typing than writing by hand and can better keep up with my thoughts. Two, it’s easier to edit and move around blocks of text once I’m finished a draft. Three, I can easily lose a piece of paper in the growing pile on my desk, while what I write on my laptop is saved on my hard drive and in the cloud backup system I use.

I also have a long history with the keyboard. My mother began teaching me how to type when I was five years old on an old, Underwood typewriter. My small fingers could barely reach the keys much less push them down, but I persevered, and typing became an integral part of my life, first working as a reporter and later in the information technology industry.

I loved the sounds made by a roomful of reporters, the rhythmic key punches, end of line bell rings and enthusiastic carriage returns that combined to create its own symphony. When I feel nostalgic and long for echoes of the old days, for times when I could hear as well as see the efforts of my labor, I treat myself to a few seconds of vintage typing sounds and get inspired all over again. 

Writing by hand is also part of my daily routine. Each night, I write my journal entries in purple ink. (I love purple.) Writing by hand is somewhat painful for me, so instead of the long, flowing sentences created on a laptop, my journal consists of short sentences and phrases, fragments that capture the day’s emotions and events.

Many theories surround the benefits of handwriting over composing on the keyboard. One is that your hand is connected to your heart, so your writing is more heartfelt as you guide a pen across the page. Another is that handwriting helps you better express your thoughts and ideas. Both may be true, but what’s best for you is the process that results in words on a page whether they are typed or handwritten.

Maybe you hate to write on a computer or by hand, but you love to tell stories. My client Ron is one of those people. He is a great storyteller but would rather have his teeth pulled than sit down with a pen or peck away at a keyboard.  His solution? He used a software package called Dragon Naturally Speaking, which translated his words into text. (Disclaimer: I’m not promoting this product nor do I receive anything if you purchase it. I’m just passing on information.)

A few months ago, I purchased a home edition of Dragon Naturally Speaking for about $40, and it works fairly well. It’s simple to install and set up, and it comes with a headset/microphone that plugs into your computer. When you speak into the mic, you see your words appear on the screen. It’s not perfect, so you do have to correct some of the words it doesn’t understand, but the more you use it, the more accustomed it gets to your speech patterns. Many of the new smartphones also have a version called DragonDictate on them that you can use as well.

Another new Writing Your Life class member told me that her husband was an author, and he wrote books by hand but then used speech–to-text software to create a digital file of his work for editing.

Bottom line…please, write your stories in whatever way that works for you.

So, let’s try an experiment. Think of two moments from your childhood that you’d like to write. Pick a time or an event you can adequately portray in a few paragraphs. Write one of them on a computer and the other by hand.

Do you see any differences in your writing styles? Did you find one method easier than the other? Why do you think this is the case? Which is your preference—handwriting or keyboard? Do you see uses for both? Have you ever used a speech-to-text software program? What were your results?

Type in your comments below, and let’s start a conversation.

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