Somebody asked me a couple of days ago whether I write by hand or on the computer (you can see my answer at http://www.lemontastic.com, the site of my recent children’s novel, ‘Bob and the Alien Escapade’ – never pass up the chance for a quick plug…!). It was only in answering the question that I realised that despite writing fiction and non-fiction mostly on the computer, I always, always write poetry by hand. Even if the poem requires some kind of internet research, I will sit next to the computer, notebook on my knee, check any necessary facts on screen and then write by hand. And I’m ridiculously fussy about the type of notebook I use – it must always be large (A4 ideally), with thick white pages and no constraining lines.
So this got me wondering about what other poets do. Is it just me or do other perfectly computer-literate people also write their poetry long-hand?
And perhaps more interestingly, why is this? It’s a curious thing, this poetry writing. By its nature, it’s often an introspective act, more personal certainly than writing a factual book, and perhaps the feel and permanence of pen on paper reinforces its integrity and strength. But if so, then what about fiction? Novels are intensely personal too.
Romance aside, the reason could of course be more practical, due to the length of most poems. After all, when you’re dealing with edits, deletions, insertions, scribbling outs and so on, it’s more manageable if the work is only a page or two long and rewriting isn’t particularly time-consuming or arduous.
For me, I think it’s a combination of the two things. I would certainly find it difficult to write a whole novel by hand, but my fiction planning and notes are always done this way. With poetry, the act of writing is, for me, somehow part of the process, and my thoughts, crossings-out and the lines I choose not to include are as important to me as the finished verse. In fact, I always keep my original versions and never quite obliterate the words I’ve left by the wayside – they’re part of the story too.
I’d be really interested to hear how any other poets work. Do you write by hand, on the computer, or a combination of the two? And if so, why?