Sunday, June 24, 2012

What Writers Look Like When They Write

Frederick Weisel
Whenever an author does a public reading and invites the audience to ask questions, one question is nearly always posed: “When you write, do you use a computer or write in longhand?”

This question was more pertinent in the late 1980s, when personal computers were just beginning to be used in the mainstream, and many writers had to adjust to the new technology. But, oddly, the question persists. Last week, at a public reading that I attended, it was the first question.

Readers especially seem to enjoy the anomalies. John Irving is still well known today for writing in longhand in lined notebooks. Wendell Berry once said he refused to use a computer, because to do so would mean supporting electric utilities. Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk writes on graph paper. Annie Proulx writes in longhand, because she believes “writing on a computer produces facile prose.” The great Michael Ondaatje uses Muji brand notebooks. Ian McEwan composes on the computer but tries out sentences in longhand. J.K. Rowling writes in longhand and then edits as she types the text into a computer, and if you care, uses black, not blue, ink.