I began my playwriting journey before it was so common for people to have their own personal computers. So, the first plays I constructed were written by hand on paper with a pen or pencil. Years into my playwriting journey, for a time I did switch to writing my plays directly into the computer, using a script formatting software package called Final Draft. You can learn more about Final Draft by going here. At the time, I didn’t think I was losing anything by quickly dashing out my latest plays directly into the computer. I was doing my editing and rewriting on the computer then too. That all seemed great.
What I discovered later on though, was that the plays I wrote exclusively on the computer were lacking something important that the plays I wrote primarily by hand with a pen or pencil all did have. For decades now I have been a daily journal writer. I write a few pages, longhand, into a blank book almost daily. I aim for daily, but sometimes life interferes. When I write in my blank book with a pen I always feel a good strong connection to my emotions and my thoughts. I haven’t always felt that same connection when typing into a computer. In fact, most of the plays I wrote directly into the computer weren’t nearly as good as the other plays that I wrote longhand.
In the past few years I returned to writing plays longhand and typing them into the computer only so others can read them, and or produce them. I also returned to doing all my editing and rewriting with a pen on the printed pages after getting play drafts input into the computer. These more recent plays have been far stronger than the stuff I wrote exclusively on the computer.
A few weeks ago I thought I would try something new for my playwriting. I have ghastly handwriting. My handwriting is so awful that sometimes even I myself can’t quite read what I’ve written later on. So, since I own a working manual typewriter, I thought I’d try out typing my playwriting work onto paper with the typewriter. After all, if I wrote my plays on a typewriter I would be certain to be able to read what I’ve written after the fact. I was also curious to learn if I would have the same good strong connection to my emotions and thoughts that I always have when I write with a pen on paper. I do!
Writing longhand doesn’t slow me down much as I take dictation while watching plays unfolding on the stage in my mind. But, when I typed a few scenes of my latest play in progress onto paper in the typewriter I found that I had to slow down. To get even ink distribution on the page with a manual typewriter you have to hit each of the typewriter keys with the same force. When I first tried out the typewriter, not all of my fingers were strong enough to hit all the keys with the same force, since I was not in the habit of typing on a manual typewriter. Slowing down my writing, both to get that even ink distribution, and to ensure that I didn’t jam the typewriter made a positive difference in my playwriting. Additionally, the play in my head didn’t seem as rushed as it sometimes does when I write longhand.
Having to slow down to make sure to evenly distribute ink and to avoid causing a jam of the typewriter keys meant that I had to take more time in the writing I was doing. Taking that extra time meant I had more time to pay attention to the words my characters were saying, and the actions they were doing on the stage in my mind. I do have that same connection to my emotions and thoughts on the typewriter that I have always felt when writing on paper with a pen or pencil.
However, there are very practical reasons that manual typewriters aren’t used by everyone any more. Manual typewriters do require far more maintenance than our computers do. And, if I were to switch to composing all my new plays with the typewriter I would still end up having to type everything I wrote that way again to get it into the computer. So, I thought to myself, surely there must be a bridge between the typewriter and the computer which would enable me to not have to type everything twice, and that would preserve my connection with my emotions and thoughts which is so vital to creating authentic and compelling works for live theater. Enter the typewriter inspired computer keyboard!
My typewriter computer keyboard is very Steampunk! It has backlighting, and it has keys that both resemble the very early typewriter keys in appearance, and more importantly they also nicely mirror that tactile sense of an old manual typewriter. If I type too quickly on the typewriter keyboard for my computer, the computer and keyboard combination remind me to slow down by deleting everything I’ve written. I have only noticed this happen once or twice, but since those two times it happened I have made it a point to type more deliberately, and more slowly, as I do on the actual typewriter.
Many people these days go on about Mindfulness, and how good it is for us. I agree. I maintain a daily practice of mindful breathing. It is good for me. Turns out, when creating my new works for live theater I am also finding it beneficial to do my playwriting mindfully. I will still write on the typewriter too. There is something very satisfying about that process. But, I am happy to have found that I can get the same effect by using my typewriter keyboard for the computer. So, this is my happy endorsement of Mindful Playwriting!