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Writers, Has Microsoft Word Changed Your Writing?

Writing on Microsoft Word

Writing on Microsoft Word

John Naughton at Guardian asked recently: Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work?

“—has word processing changed the way we write? There have been lots of inconclusive or unconvincing studies of how the technology has affected, say, the quality of student essays – how it facilitates plagiarism. The most interesting academic study I looked at found that writers using computers “spent more time on a first draft and less on finalising a text, pursued a more fragmentary writing process, tended to revise more extensively at the beginning of the writing process, attended more to lower linguistic levels [letter, word] and formal properties of the text, and did not normally undertake any systematic revision of their work before finishing”.

My hunch is that using a word processor makes writing more like sculpting in clay. Because it’s so easy to revise, one begins by hacking out a rough draft which is then iteratively reshaped – cutting bits out here, adding bits there, gradually licking the thing into some kind of shape.

I never learned to type on a typewriter, I began writing on Word. But I do draft my fiction on pen and paper–it is a kind of more visceral, organic experience.

I like Word, make no mistake, it Is Very convenient—but a keyboard is less sensory for me than the pen scribbling on paper. Besides, I like using various colored pens, and notebooks of different sizes, with papers of different texture. Besides, it is easier to unhook myself from the internet, and focus on writing, if a notebook and pen is all I’m carrying.

Recently I started writing pen and paper letters to writer-friends, and that is a whole different ballgame– I like it, and have stuck to it for a few months now.

I don’t know if Word has influenced my writing in any way– I continue to write by hand almost everyday–but I’m aware I’m in the minority. I use Word for my work writing and for revising my fiction, and that is all there is to it.

Has any of you written on typewriters? Do you write with pen and paper? How is it different from writing on Word? Has Microsoft Word affected Your writing?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Yes I love sitting up in bed – far too late, most times with some printed word versions to rewrite in pen. I write with a less critical eye – pen to paper. Then I bundle the whole night’s work up to decipher, cut and paste the next morning. I like to write with lengths of butcher paper when I am drafting up scenes and planning the structure and then I manually drop and drag A4 sheets or paragraphs or even sometimes words into their relevant scene. I find if I keep rewriting in word, my cuts become too brutal.

  • Amaruvi says:

    Yes, Word has affected writing in many ways. For once, it has definitely killed my ability to spell..I used to be proud of having the ability to spell any word. Now-a-days, that has become a thing of the past. There is a positive side to Word as well. It helps to revise works without much effort.

  • I personally found this amazing blog post , β€œWriters, Has Microsoft Word
    Changed Your Writing? | Daily (w)rite”, especially enjoyable and also
    it was a very good read. Thank you,Frank

  • Christopher Lampton says:

    I’m a professional writer and old enough to have started out writing on an IBM Selectric, back in the day when Selectrics were still a state-of-the-art device for people who made a living with words. Trust me when I say that word processors — and I don’t just mean Word here — are an evolutionary improvement as vast as the one between Cretaceous era rodents and modern humans. If nothing else, I no longer get the ferocious neck aches that came from typing entire second (and occasionally third) drafts of novels a word at a time on pieces of paper that as often as not wound up in the trashcan after contributing to the destruction of entire forests. Word processors allow me to be contemplative about the words on the page while not requiring me to figure out how not to get Wite-Out all over my fingers. And Word processors pretty much eliminate the concept of the first draft. With word processors the first draft and the final draft are one and the same. As the author notes, it’s more like sculpting in clay, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a very good thing.

  • Gargi Mehra says:

    Hey, Damayanti! Love this topic. It inspired me to post my response over at my blog:

  • anne gallagher says:

    I had a Smith Corona typewriter for many years at least 30 and that is what I wrote on. And Pen and paper. And yes, I agree, Word has changed the way I write. I find I can write faster and with less mistakes. I don’t know if the content is better I can write faster.

  • B.J. Baye says:

    I’ve grown up using wordprocessors, from old Wordperfect 5.1 now through Microsoft Word. I even used word processors to take notes in school (I’m disabled and handwriting really isn’t an option). Honestly, I don’t think I could write without a word processor, the words just wouldn’t flow right. (Also, I’d make too many typos.)

  • I was a magazine feature writer for years and saw a huge jump in my productivity when the old Commodore 64 came out. With each new step forward in computers and software my writing efficiency and productivity has increased. Microsoft Word allows me to write fast, format fast, revise fast, and submit documents that every one of my editors can read.

    Nowadays I write and revise two-to-three long novels per year (Young adult for Simon & Schuster; thrillers and horror for St. Martins Griffing; media tie-in for Tor and IDW, nonfic books for Citadel, etc.) along with a number of comic book scripts for Marvel, a large number of short stories and novellas, and posts for my own blog and others. Last year my writing output almost hit the mark of one million words for publication.

    The struccture and ease-of-use of Microfost Word has allowed me to focus on my writing without the nagging interruptions of formatting, setting margins on each new document, page numbering, page breaks, etc. Every step saved equals a tighter mental focus and more work accomplished. So…yeah, call me a fan.

  • When I was younger I wrote my stories in spiral notebooks…and never finished them (we didn’t own a computer). I’d get so frustrated when I’d make an error or want to go back and change a section. And now, dare I say it? Using a pen actually hurts. My handwriting is awful (I can write, but I don’t like to) and after five or ten minutes of writing on paper….my muscles scream at me to be finished. I think we as writers all have what works for us. I don’t think one method over any other makes us any better or worse than the next guy…it’s what’s in our heads…not how we get it out.

  • When I was small we had a really old typwriter in our house. It was like a game to play on it. I thought it was really cool! I have no idea what happened it… Now that I think about it (and I haven’t thought about it in YEARS) it would make such an interesting piece of “art” in my house πŸ™‚

    When I plan a story I hand write it. It just… works better somehow πŸ™‚ But after the planning I’m happy to type the rest of the story, just making occasional notes by hand.

  • Wow. Great post! Really making me self-conscious about how much I use word processing. I’m a bit of a hybrid though. I primarily use word, but I use pen and paper every once in a while. There is an absolute difference. Night consider trying only pen and paper on my next draft. Thanks for the great information!

  • When I first started publishing, I wrote on a typewriter. It was a very different experience from keyboarding. I feel keyboarding allows us to be sloppy because we know we can easily go back and edit. But it also allows for more freedom of thought – we can dash down the thoughts as they flow and massage them into coherence later.
    I keep notebooks at hand for recording thoughts and inspiration, which do not line up orderly and wait their turn at visiting my brain. My penmanship, however, is poor – always has been. My 2nd grade teacher declared that I was destined to be a doctor: I already had the handwriting for it. To be legible, even to me, I have to write very slowly.

  • I write almost exclusively in Word and/or Apple’s equivalent, Pages. I haven’t owned a typewriter itself in years. As for pen & paper, let’s just say I my handwriting is atrocious and leave it at that. I only use pen and paper is I absolutely want to make sure that my future self will not be able to read what I just put down.

    That being said, while I don’t go out of my way to make the first draft rougher than it needs to be, I do appreciate the ease in editing later on as opposed to the whole red pen, write the whole thing again approach.

  • My Apple computer gave me the freedom to write. In the past all my essays and letters were done by hand. I paid someone to type my essays as my marks improved with a neater presentation. With a computer I managed to type my own work. I’m still slow at writing anything but at least I get pleasure from seeing my thoughts appearing before my eyes and it is easy to remedy mistakes. WORD is handy but jolly annoying when it ‘thinks’ it knows better than the one typing! Likely you know what I mean.
    What’s more, due to my sight problems, without my computer I could not write and my reading would be limited.

  • J.C. Martin says:

    I have always pictured the writer as someone hunched over a typewriter rather than over pen and paper. My mom was a secretary, so she could touch-type like a demon, and when she was on the typewriter I always dreamed of being able to write as quickly as she did! I only use paper to scribble down ideas on the go, but when it comes to sitting down and actually writing something, Word is the way to go for me. And for a left-hander, the keyboard is the ultimate field leveller–no more ink-stained hands and smudged writing!

  • Devyn says:

    I never owned a computer until I was nearing the end of university. I had to go to the campus computer lab to write papers. I can remember writing stories on my mom’s electric typewriter when I was a kid. But I hate writing long hand. I hardly ever pick up a pen. I even write lists and notes on my iPhone. I don’t think I would get anything written if I wrote on paper with a pen. I hate transcribing things even more. I write with a pen so infrequently that my hand writing has become absolutely horrible. For a while my sister and I were writing actual written letters to each other, as a fun project, but it didn’t last.

  • Roy says:

    Over the years, I have used crayons, pencils, pen and paper, a type writer and a word processor. Without a doubt the word processor is an unbelievably great blessing. There are no good old days as far as anything, including tech, is concerned. The one concession to retrophilia I’ll concede is that I’m using Open/Libre Office because it’s just easier to use with the traditional menu based GUI compared to the ribbonised MS Word GUI. Urgh.

  • Jack Durish says:

    First off, I believe that the question reflects a narrow point of view. Do you really mean to ask if word processing has changed the way writers write? I hate MS Word (for many good technical reasons) and use OpenOffice for one very excellent reason – it’s free.

    That being said, I have been writing for more than 50 years. I have used pen and pencil, typewriters, and word processors. Each improvement in the writing instrument improved my writing. Typing allowed me to keep up with my thoughts inasmuch as I could type far faster than I could write by hand. Furthermore, I didn’t even have to look at what I was typing whereas hand written documents required some brain activity to coordinate the hand and eye. Thus, I could focus on the story and not the act of writing.

    The word processor gave me the ability to edit far more efficiently. Unfortunately, publishers have been eliminating editors to cut costs and quality diminishes unless the writers edit their own work.

    Lastly, for all those who scoff at the word processor, who feel that they are being “truer to the art of writing” by eschewing such modern conveniences, I can only laugh, especially when they are younger than me. They may be younger than me in years but they are far more decrepit in their attitudes. I would love to give each a buggy whip and a dose of smallpox so they can really enjoy “the good old days.”

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with most of what you say.

      For me, longhand is more about enjoying myself or getting into the flow than about efficiency—not the good old days πŸ™‚

  • Alexander J says:

    I have a typewriter. I learned how to use a manual one when I was a kid. I like using Word a lot. I will write a novel on a typewriter one day. I promise.

  • Rebel Sowell says:

    I began writing before there were personal computers. After rewriting a short story ten times on a typewriter (luckily, it was electric), I would hate it in the end. I love writing on the computer; it’s made my life so much easier. I still use pen and paper for sudden inspirations and keep a notebook near my bed, in my purse, and anywhere I might find the need to use it.

    • Damyanti says:

      “I still use pen and paper for sudden inspirations and keep a notebook near my bed, in my purse, and anywhere I might find the need to use it.”

      I do the same!!

  • Kellie says:

    Yes, I learned to type on a typewriter. I took a keyboarding class in high school. Even wrote several college essays on it, up into the mid-90’s believe it or not!
    Now, I write by hand every day, because it’s such a connected, sensual experience, and I’m much more likely to let it all out. Online, it took a while to teach myself to not edit along the way and that went a long way towards improving quality and flow.
    I do all my personal writing by hand, as well as all preliminary pro work – then I transfer it to Text Edit on my mac for follow up drafts. I absolutely find that my writing is more creative and unadulterated when by pen. I also use colored inks and Muji notebooks and find them to be a pleaurable part of the experience.

    • Damyanti says:

      I never learned to type on a typewriter. Maybe I should have. I agree that ‘writing is more creative and unadulterated when by pen’.

  • John Holton says:

    I used to prefer to write longhand rather than type, until the computer came along. Since then I’ve done all of my writing on the computer, but used pen and ink when I had a sudden burst of inspiration. The loss of the use of my right hand has forced me to give up the pen, which is just as well, since my handwriting was illegible anyway.

    I don’t like Word, although I use it on occasion. I use OmmWriter to put my writing into a text file, then cut-and-paste the file into Google Docs and format it. Word is a little too busy visually and has far too many settings that make life difficult.

  • ,Damyanti, I started out using pen and paper, going a chapter at a time. It became too time-consuming to do pen & paper and then computer, so now I write in Word. It’s interesting that no matter how many writing programmes I try out or buy, I still write in Word.

    • Damyanti says:

      Yes, it Is time consuming to write on paper. But sometimes when the words wont come, any words are better than none. πŸ™‚

  • Arlee Bird says:

    I used to write in longhand all the time, but using a typewriter became so tedious that it discouraged me from any serious writing. Correcting errors was such a hassle and I tended to make a lot of them.

    I love using Word and the computer. Writing is now such a breeze. However I do see the point Naughton is making although I don’t think I overly guilty of it. I write all drafts on the computer, but I’m fairly careful in my approach and try to turn out quality work to the best of my ability.

    A cat’s memoir?
    Wrote By Rote

    • Damyanti says:

      Lee, you’re one of the fast adapters on Word. I still see a lot of typewriter and longhand users struggle with MS Word. πŸ™‚

  • I’ve never used a typewriter. Sometimes I handwrite if I have no computer convenient. The biggest issue then is being able to read it so I can type it up….

    My writing process is not materially different on paper and on Word. I write it (in full, usually) and then I revise it. I don’t believe my first draft on Word would vary significantly from a first draft that was handwritten.

    • Damyanti says:

      I write both on paper and computer, and like you, for me the process is not very different—I can use a lot of colors when I write by hand though—which seems kind of silly when I write on the computer.

  • Tonja says:

    I’m not that old…but when I was in high school, I had a manual typewriter. In college I was thrilled when I got an electric one. I hand-wrote every rough draft, second draft, and sometimes a third, and then I typed at least one copy of the final draft. I wasn’t great at typing, so it took forever, was very frustrating, and I often had to start over. A lot of times I got tired of typing or didn’t have time to redo it so I turned it in as is.

    I sincerely believe that computers are blessings for writers. We can save multiple versions of the same piece, we can check our spelling in a fraction of a second, we can send copies to other people effortlessly.

    I think kids (specifically my kids) need to give themselves the freedom to write a really crappy first draft if only to take the pressure off themselves.

    • Damyanti says:

      No doubt computers are blessings for writers—one of my published short stories went through 25 drafts before I liked the way it looked—and some of the drafts were complete/ absolute re-writes. I think of myself as a hard-working, if not talented, writer. Would I have done all those drafts by hand? Now, there’s a thought. Thanks for commenting, Tonja, I appreciate it.

  • DarcKnyt says:

    In some ways, I think the writing process is easier, and faster, with Word (and other word processing software as well), but I think the challenge of writing a novel and writing it well is fairly questioned. If I had to still do it on paper with pen, I wonder if I could?

    Great thoughts. If Word had better built-in organization features I wouldn’t use anything else.

  • I write the same way – with pen and paper first. (Although for NaNo 2010, I HAD to write on the computer. I didn’t have time to transfer from paper to screen.) Just something about writing by hand that makes the words flow easier.

    • Damyanti says:

      Alex, yes. I’m so glad there is at least one kindred soul who drafts by hand and revises on the computer!

      • Hi, My question is really about what program you use. u have an amazing gift at imagination, i read some of your writings. . I am still trying hard to get excepted and was looking for a writing software because my word perfect crashed and everything was corrupted when i bought and downloaded a newer version of it. So is word your choice of a writing software? Thanks for your time and i do look forward to hearing from you. Taylor Raven.

  • xerardomendez says:

    I think that, writing with a word processor and a computer you are alwasys watching the text, and you can ‘t avoid comming back and rewrite something, and this is less probably you do do it if your you are doing handwriting. I think it’seven worst if you use a voice converter. In that case is even harder let your mind flow with the story.

  • I have used a typewriter and still would if publishers accepeted the work. It would be so much better on my eyes. I also write free hand with pen and paper, then then type my work in Word.

    • Damyanti says:

      I’ve never used a typewriter…but I write freehand every day. I find it very relaxing.

    • I can’t imagine writing a manuscript with pen and paper then typing it all into Word! All that extra work! I type, pretty much, everything. I use my Ipad, this way I’m not distracted by the internet. I like to know that once it is saved, there’s no chance of losing it. I worry for those that write with pen and paper. How many manuscripts have you lost because you had no copies? My blog covers more of my ideas on this subject. Please check it out.

      • Damyanti says:

        While I agree that the computer is indispensable, I like writing with pen on paper. Sometimes the sensory experience of touching pen to paper brings on a flow of writing. I carry notebooks with me cos sometimes I want to sit down and write more than a few lines, and that is hard to do on my iPhone Notes. I do take small notes on it, however πŸ™‚

        I write a few paras of my stories on pen and paper, rest on the computer, or sometimes, like today, I write the entire story on the computer, print it out and add bits and pieces with pen and paper.

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