Wednesday, 28 October 2009
The Left Handed Writer - Katherine Roberts
I’m left handed and never learnt to touch type. So when I started writing fiction in the days before personal computers (not that long ago, honest!), I used to scribble my first drafts in pencil with my left hand. Since the left side of the body is controlled by the right side of the brain, which is meant to be responsible for creativity and intuition, this made perfect sense to me. I’d then type up my draft using an equal number of fingers on each hand (only about two fingers from each, but involving my right hand as much as my left). This resulted in an edited second draft, which I then worked on by hand until I had a final draft, which needed typing all over again. It made sense that I should start editing my words at the typewriter stage, since the right hand is controlled by the left side of the brain, which is meant to be responsible for linear reasoning and analysis – useful editing skills.
These days, for the sake of speed and convenience, I write my first drafts straight on the computer, missing out the left hand creation stage entirely. My right hand (and my analytical left brain) are therefore involved at a much earlier stage, which no doubt accounts for the amount of editing I feel compelled to do to the text as I type. There are also many more "drafts", since the text feels endlessly fluid. It works, but is this the most effective way to create? I still find it impossible to write poetry straight into the computer, and for a long time I could not write my first drafts in this way… it was almost as if my brain had to learn how to do it first. It would be interesting to do a survey to see how many creative writers of the past have been left handed. I’d also be interested to know if the right handed authors among you find your first drafts easier when typed straight on to the computer, rather than writing them in longhand? Because in theory you should do!
But writing a novel is not just a matter of scribbling a wonderfully creative first draft - the words still need to be worked on to make them readable. So whatever hand you use to hold your pen it would seem that, with the right brain doing the creating and the left brain doing the editing, the most important thing for a writer is that both hemispheres of the brain should work well together. This ability to use both halves of the brain (sorry, blokes!) is supposed to be a female characteristic, as well as being helpful to the typist who uses both hands… so is writing a novel using a keyboard actually easier for a woman than for a man? There certainly seems to be a high proportion of female authors out there.
And what does all this mean for our children, who might never learn to write in longhand at all? Have computers trained our brains to work in a more efficient way and levelled the playing field so that more people now find it possible to write a novel? Or are they quietly destroying the unfettered creativity of the left handed writer? Perhaps returning to pencil and paper for my first drafts might not be such a bad idea, after all...