Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday Talkback: Longhand or Word Processing?

George Lucas has said in many interviews that he prefers to write his scripts in longhand.  Indeed, there is a behind-the-scenes feature on the Phantom Menace DVD that shows he writes his first drafts in pencil on line-legal paper which is then given to an assistant to type up in the proper format.

I have a similar quirk - when I'm brainstorming, I prefer to work out ideas in my own handwriting on lined paper.  I've tried brainstorming by typing on my laptop and despite the fact that word processing programs allow my work to be intensely more legible than the chicken scratch that passes for my handwriting, it just doesn't work for me.  Somehow I think better while writing in one of my binders.

I also habitually get my best ideas in the shower - so I suppose that means I should start taking legal pads into the bath with me.

Even after producing a typed version of my outline, I have another longhand habit.  Before I begin a day of writing, I hand-write a beat sheet of the scenes I intend to write that day.  Somehow that helps me focus.  Then, after I complete a first draft of the script, I always find it more effective to print out a hard copy and edit from that, making notes with a red pen.

So I'm curious to hear how many of you have longhand habits.  I suspect that the younger among you might be more prone to working completely on the computer.  Are any of you guys like me in that you have to work in long-hand at particular stages of writing?


  1. I feel like I have to write long-hand; if not the central idea, then at least the very basic outline, though I'm not used to writing essay-length stuff anymore. There's something much more immediate about it that makes me feel connected to it. Suspect there's a neurological basis for that.
    Anyone ever mention to George that he's supposed to do a second draft...?

  2. I don't know what younger would constitute--I'm 23--but I most definitely have longhand habits that fuel my process so much better than doing everything on a computer. I think it goes back to when I first started writing when I was 9 or so and my initial thought was always to grab a notebook. Not to mention that while we had a computer, the notebook was just easier and actually portable, unlike the hulking desktop.

    My notes come more freely via pen and paper, though as you mentioned, sometimes I don't even know what a word or line was supposed to say after. I still prefer it to typing, though. I like when I can cross things out and put an arrow here or there and leave little notes in the margins or between thoughts. When I'm getting into the meat of it, Final Draft is a godsend, for sure, but I think I could do it all longhand and never miss it. I tend to be old-school in the sense I hate modern reliance on technology--especially computers--so I could be biased in that sense.

    And it is very interesting to hear that I am not the only one who seems especially struck by creative genius while in the shower. What is that about! Waterproof paper is clearly the next way to go...

  3. I rarely write longhand anymore. I prefer the keyboard. But like you, once a draft is finished, I print it up and edit with a red pen. Also like you, I get a lot of ideas in the shower. Whenever I'm stuck, I hit th shower. If they ever come out with a waterproof iPad I'll be set.

  4. I always do a detailed outline longhand and only type when it comes time to start the script itself. When I'm doing an outline, I usually sit for several hours and write the story from start to finish in my outline notebook, filling page after page. When I'm typing up the script, the notebook is always open for reference, and I also use it for sorting out logical conflicts that come up, or to remind myself to go back and edit certain parts for continuity. When I'm on the go without my computer, I still have my notes handy in case I hit on an idea worth working into the story.

    I'd probably write the script out longhand as well if I were willing to pay someone else to type it up for me. There's a certain pleasure that comes from writing on paper (even if it's just a shopping list or a phone number), and watching my notebook fill up is far more fulfilling than seeing my word count go up on the screen. I guess I just like the tangible more than the virtual when it comes to productivity measurement.

  5. Not an iPad but a paper pad for the shower.


  6. I have almost the EXACT same habbit... save for the making the beat/to-do list.

    Best Ideas in shower. Always. But they usually STICK in my head for the day, so i can get them down on paper. ACTUAL paper. With pen or pencil.

    It's weird... to break a story, usually the first act, I will take a college ruled piece of note paper, which conveniently has 30 lines on it, and number them. THEN I'll consider each line a page. And write what's going to happen on that page.

    However, a strange thing happens by the time I'm done with that sheet, and my fingers are just ITCHING to write the actual pages. Which was my habit until this year.

    Lately, instead of going to script, i'll go from that Act One beat sheet, and then start outlining. And then type from that.

    But, when it comes to brainstorming ideas, it's all scratched down on lined notebook paper.

  7. I don't write anything if I can type it. I've never held a pen correctly and my handwriting is atrocious, so my parents bought me a computer pretty early on. For the past couple of years a medical issue has made writing by hand increasingly painful, so I type pretty much everything.

    Plus typing is so much faster. Writing by hand, I can't keep up with my brain.

  8. Brainstorming / Concepts: I usually type and write. If I'm just emptying my brain, I'll try and write it on blank white paper and then transfer to the computer so I have a backup. If there's enough meat, I usually will dump it into it's own template in Word, so I can keep adding puzzle pieces to it as it comes up.

    Outlining: Typing. I don't use index cards but I create a list of scene in Word and then I move them around in there. I'll flesh out all the scenes in Word and when I get between 13-16 pages, it seems like I have enough material for a draft.

    1st Draft: Handwritten. I've tried typing before and it takes me longer to get revved up. It might be because I write long hand on either blank copier paper or in those old school, poor man Composition notebooks where each of those pages I write is only a half page of actual script so I'm usually flying through those handwritten pages. No denying how important momentum is in this stage. Normally, I write as many pages as I can each day for a few days, then transfer it all into Final Draft. Repeat and rinse until it's done as I'm crossing off a printed version of my outline.
    1st drafts are pretty fast for me. Normally, 8-12 day with 3 or 4 of those days being 'Transfer Days'

    Rewrites: Always print out the draft, grab a pen and go to town. Usually, more red on the page than black by the end. Any new scenes I write handwritten again; anything besides that is done typed.

    I just find that my brain flows better with handwriting. My brain is a little ahead of my pen so there's a constant word flow. It feels a little more organic and personal too.

  9. I write everything longhand. I can't take a laptop with me to the coffee shop, or I'll waste all my time surfing the net. Then I type everything up and print it out to edit. Whenever someone asks me to read a script, I print it out as well. I don't think people who read scripts on their computers give them the full attention they deserve.

  10. I'm really enjoying this thread…

    >>>Emily Blake said...
    >>>”Plus typing is so much faster. Writing by hand, I can't keep up with my brain.”

    I’m the exact opposite. For me, a pen, a pencil and a legal pad – oh, yes, and in the bath. My, uh, “wet office.”

    >>>Steve the Creep said...
    >>>”I don't think people who read scripts on their computers give them the full attention they deserve.”

    I so very much agree. The script trading community, cheap paper at Walgreens and my HP laser printer = PRICELESS. The tactile experience is ineluctable.

  11. Storyboards and outlines (and general scribblings) are always longhand first time out. This is mainly because I think my brain just finds it easier to process the written word when I'm first forming an idea.

    Also, if I'm plotting something complicated or that runs across several scripts (I mostly do TV episodes, basically), then having handwritten notes before me helps me trace the flow of arcs and plot beats from point to point, even across multiple episodes.

    Outlines are then typed up because that leads to me revising them on the fly, and once that's all down, then the final script is always done in Final Draft because that's become the must intuitive way for me to write scripts first draft and onwards.

    Consequently I have dozens of notebooks and heaps of paper covering all my notes and outlines, but no actual scripts on paper anywhere in my house!