Here’s a look at Charles Dickens’ original manuscript for A Christmas Carol, which is decidedly the coolest thing I’ve seen all week. You can leaf around in it, and see all the sections that Dickens crossed out and edited.
That’s an undeniable advantage of the longhand method: you can see the evolution of the page, what you changed, and how you changed it. Maybe you go back to it and find that the original word was the right one after all, and it’ll still be there. With the computer, there’s no “original draft”. It’s like dumping some narrative clay on a table and forming it into a shape—deleting, reshaping, improving—and all the stuff you deleted and changed just disappears.
Another thing I find comforting about longhand manuscripts: permanence. We can see Charles Dickens’ original work, a hundred and sixty-six years ago. There’s no need to find a device that will read the medium, and no need to track down a file converter for some archaic word processing program. That Dickens manuscript, provided it is kept dry, will be readable in another hundred and sixty-six years. (In contrast, let me hand you a box of word processing files from the 1980s, written on 5.25” floppies with OmniWriter on a Commodore 64, and ask you to find a way to read those.) Using waterproof ink and acid-free paper, a modern handwritten work will last for hundreds of years without significant deterioration.
One of the many little things that made me appreciate handwriting my stuff is the recipe book I’ve mentioned before. It’s a little composition-sized book with hard black covers, and it’s filled with recipes in Robin’s grandmother’s handwriting…all written down before she left Germany for the United States in the early 1920s. Call it a grand conceit, but I like the idea of my kids and grandkids being able to hold and read something I wrote before they were born—something that traveled around with me for a while, and that was filled by my own hand line by line, page by page.
Of course, that assumes they’ll be in a position to appreciate such things, and not just chuck those old notebooks out with the rest of the old geezer’s stuff when he kicks the bucket…
(Via Matt G.)