Does Writing on a Computer Kill Creativity?

I admit that I’m at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to my fiction writing. I LOVE writing and can’t imagine a life without it. But it’s been feeling more cumbersome over the past year or so — I think because I’m writing on a computer.

copyright Paramount and Gene Roddenberry

copyright Paramount and Gene Roddenberry

Back in the day — yeah, I’m one of those people who still uses that phrase — when I first started writing, I had a blast with it. Now, for clarity’s sake, you should know that I started out writing Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfiction. (don’t know what fanfic is? Google it). Not exactly strenuous storytelling, mind you, because the characters and the settings were already created. That meant nothing to think up. No personalities to make interesting. No time and place to create. No background (that never makes it to paper but that’s critical to storytelling anyway) to conceive.

All the hard work was already done for me by someone else. All I had to do was to take my favorite characters, make up a new storyline, and run with it.

And, I did it all in a notebook.

rights to zizzy0104

Fast forward years (and years, and years), and I’m now a published author who creates her own characters and storylines and backgrounds. And I’m still LOVING it. But something’s changed, and more so recently. Like, say, over the past year. Something feels off, and not as fun.

Not as creative.

Maybe part of that change came with actually getting published last year — more demands of my time now, more pressure and deadlines, more marketing, blahblahblah. You know, the stuff that the reader never knows about but that makes a writer insane.

But I don’t think that’s all of it. I’m seriously starting to think that maybe, just maybe, that shift came with working more and writing more on my laptop.

rights to Thoursie

Here’s the thing. Writing on a laptop can make things move fast. I mean, I can type a hell of a lot faster than I could ever write longhand. BUT…I get pulled in by email, flagged by updates in social media, and (here’s where I break out in hives) sidetracked by all of Word’s reminders that I’ve spelled something wrong, written an incomplete sentence, or misused grammar. My screen is a bunch of highlights, all screaming for attention to be fixed. And this is all on what’s supposed to be a draft.

Sheesh.

Back in the day (there I go again) when I wrote in my notebooks, I felt liberated. I also felt like I had less prying eyes around me. Let’s face it. Commuting to NYC every day with a laptop, banging out words and scenes, makes me feel uncomfortable (and this is the only time and place I can write my fiction). I always feel like someone’s peeking over my shoulder, even if no one actually is. And that becomes inhibiting. But with a notebook, I can keep the flap up and hide my work, and really feel like I’m immersed in the world I’m creating even if the process is slower because my hand can only move so fast with a pen. But there are no squiggly marks or popups telling me I screwed up the English language, damn it! No emails or texts or anything to distract me and my creativity.

It’s nirvana. Pure writing freedom.

Oh, and another plus? It’s lighter to carry!

marble notebookSo guess what I did today? I bought a notebook. Yep. One of those college-ruled marbled pads.

I’m going to give it a go. I’m going to try my hand (pun! pun!) at writing the way I used to write and see where it takes me. Add to the fact that I’m also trying to write as a panster instead of as a write-itor, and my storytelling life should become even more interesting.

Are these excuses for not writing a certain way? Or for not focusing as much as I should? I have no idea. Maybe. But mostly I just want to find that passion again, and I think simplicity may be the way to do it. Because, honestly, I don’t think computers (or technology) are making my life all that much simpler anymore. At least not my writing life.

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About Terri Herman-Ponce

I write about twists, turns, past lives and suspense
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26 Responses to Does Writing on a Computer Kill Creativity?

  1. Lola Karns says:

    I love my composition books. Winter Fairy began on a hotel room notepad. I am in full agreement the computer is too distracting for a first draft

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    • terriponce says:

      Sigh. I love reading these replies. For the record, my experience in going back to the marble notebook has been amazing. I feel so free, so uninhibited, so creative. I’m loving it, and I’m finding I write even more every day with it!

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  2. Terri, are you sure you aren’t actually ME? You’re recent writing struggles sound so much like mine it’s scary. Yes, I do believe the computer is part of the problem – I always used to write longhand too, and I find the computer offers too many distractions and too many ways to get stuck on one paragraph, perfecting things.

    I’m trying to get back to writing by hand too, but I have pretty severe carpal tunnel problems and after just a couple of pages of writing, my hand is completely numb. I did acupuncture for it for a while and that helped, so I might go back to it. I’m also finally starting to think about (horrors!) actual surgery for it.

    I don’t even think the problem with computers is all to do with distractions or the urge to perfect one paragraph before moving on. I just think there’s something more creatively satisfying about scribbling the words down on a page.

    And oh, I do love my marble-backed copy books too!

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  3. lashumway says:

    I adore my notebooks(and hey, they’re all like super cheap on clearance right now). The computer is great, but I still usually write long-hand first(very, very sloppy long-hand) and then type. Editing is a lot more fun on the computer.

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  4. I learned to write anything, anytime, anywhere while doing NaNoWriMo. I find I can write just as well on my computer, my AlphaSmart (which I take to the dock or in the car while Hubby drives), or a notebook. Which do I like least? The notebook. My handwriting as gotten so bad I can’t translate what I wrote to a computer. I think the secret is not what you write on but letting yourself go on that first draft and working all the way to the end. Even with an outline or story sentence, my characters can take me places that I didn’t know about, characters appear that I didn’t plan on, and the plot gets better and then it’s time for rewrites and editing. I learned a lot about myself as a writer participating in 8 NaNoWriMos. I hit 50K+ each time. Some drafts are great, a couple not so much, but all are finished stories. Not bad for a confirmed short story writer.

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  5. cloudchorus says:

    Damn I wish I could have ignored the grammar/spellchecks in Word when I was studying! I’m writing for pleasure at the moment and using an exercise book.

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  6. “Back in the day,” as you put it, I wrote longhand with a fountain pen. The words seemed to flow as effortlessly as the ink. Strangely enough, my handwriting often changed with the characters I was creating, as if they possessed me. Although I write quite slanted in cursive, I found myself writing backhand sometimes. I did, however, adapt readily to the computer and actually find that composing on my keyboard brings my thoughts into clearer focus. I can see my words in print, and that brings more clarity to my writing. I guess! I still have to edit until my fingertips and brain are numb…but that’s to be expected. Creativity is imperfect, no matter what form it takes.

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  7. Hi Terri,
    I’m with you. I have always written longhand. I find I am continually making notes in the margins when I am foreshadowing something so I don’t forget to actually put them in the novel later on. As to interuptions, I still you a desktop so i leave my speakers off so I don’t know when a new e-mail comes in.

    When I finish the novel longhand I type it into my computer. This is my first edit. As to all those red, green and blue lines I ignore them on the first typing.

    Richard Brawer
    http://www.silklegacy.com

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  8. bellwriter says:

    Oh, Terri, I feel your pain, and you may be onto something. I love “back in the day” by the way. I write in a notebook and I put my thoughts down in shorthand and then print it before I go back to the computer. I tried taking out those two steps, and found that it was like the development of a baby. If a baby walks before he crawls, he misses an important developmental step. Further, if you’re on a computer, the distractions, unless you’re disciplined — and I’m not even close — I check e-mail and Facebook and read articles . . . . Your muse may simply be saying to you, Back in the day, you did it this way, and I miss that. Take that notebook and sit under a tree. Visit your favorite place that inspires you and see if that doesn’t help. Wishing you luck. If you decide to do this, and, please, keep us posted!

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  9. Terri,
    Great post! What I have done to get away from the ‘noise’ is I have packed up my laptop and headed out to a park or somewhere to write. No coffee shops or anyplace that has wifi, just me and my story clicking away. One day, I drove into D.C., parked near the monuments and just stared writing in the car. After about three hours, a park police came up to my window, totally freaking me out. He had been watching me and wanted to know what I was doing. So of course, I interviewed him. He left with my book card for his wife because she loves romance books. LOL.

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    • terriponce says:

      Nancy – what a great story! I’d love to go sit near a lake or under cool trees to write, but alas that’s not in the cards for me. My day is just too jam-packed to be able to do it. The weekends are an option but there’s all the household and marketing stuff I need to focus on. Such a juggle.

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  10. Susan says:

    I agree — I’m much more creative on paper: arrows to paragraphs in the margins, notes (“see back p.4 change location???” or just “FIX!!!!”) that let me capture fleeting ideas without breaking the flow. That’s not to say I can’t edit while typing, but if I’m in the lovely white-hot zone of new work, the computer is a hindrance.

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    • terriponce says:

      An addendum to my post. HOLY COW. I’m LOVING writing in a notebook again. No interruptions. No one looking over my shoulder (or my worrying about someone looking over my shoulder). It’s just free-flow creative process AND it plays into the write-itor in me because when I sit down to type the story out onto the computer later, I get to edit as I write! OMG. PERFECT! I am thrilled the way this is working. Now, ask me in a month if I still feel this excited…

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  11. Yes, I agree. Seeing all those mistakes on a screen makes me want to start editing. editing what? I haven’t even got the story down yet. Scribbling in a notebook could be the answer. No one will read over your shoulder – who can be bothered reading handwriting these days? However… writing in a notebook seems so laborious at first, and it does take time getting used to working like that again. A very interesting post, Terri. Thanks.

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    • terriponce says:

      Egad, Word really has a field day. And if you make up a name, you have to add it to the dictionary otherwise you’ve got a manuscript full of red lines. Writing in the notebook, so far, doesn’t feel laborious. I thought it might, but oddly … no.

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  12. Nicole Bross says:

    You should try a manual typewriter! Not as portable as a notebook, granted, but if you’re a speedy typer you can write almost as fast as on a laptop without all the distractions of your web browser, grammatical suggestions, battery life indicator, etc. I have rather a lot of them – about a dozen – and while I don’t write with them all the time, when I need to slow down a bit and reflect on my words, nothing beats my Royal Quiet De Luxe or my Remington Portable No. 3. (I’d love to see someone on the subway clacking away on a typewriter. I’ve never been brave enough to even take one of mine to a coffee shop.) I get crampy hands after only a couple pages of writing, so the typewriter is a good compromise. :)

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  13. Brenna Chase says:

    Excellent post, Terri! I read somewhere (though where escapes me) that writing on paper is a great way to get your creativity going when you’re stuck. Good luck!

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