By BILL DUNCAN

For the Capital Press

Funny how as you get older you revert to some of your old habits. I managed to get through journalism school without ever owning a typewriter. My assignments were first handwritten and later typed for submission in the college journalism newsroom.

Fortunately, I've always had readable penmanship so transcribing was not that difficult. Once I became a reporter I used the typewriter exclusively and from that day easily adapted to a computer keyboard.

Recently, circumstances have forced me back to the dark ages of paper and pen. First, I had to keep up with a weekly column and book review while confined to a hospital bed for three months. Never during that time did I miss a deadline.

I came to like the idea of writing my columns and book reviews by hand for later transcribing into computer type. This column has been written in that manner for the newspapers for which I write.

I find myself in good company. Recently, the Book Festival in Wigtown, Scotland, featured two handwritten manuscripts from the pen of J.K. Rowland, author of the popular Harry Potter series. Her handwriting is atrocious, but she's scribbling all the way to the bank.

Actually, many, if not most, writers wrote their first drafts in longhand. Viewing three of Albert Einstein's handwritten manuscripts makes me wonder how on earth someone translated his hieroglyphics on solving the mystery of splitting the atom.

Ernest Hemingway had a desk built to accommodate his height so he could stand and write -- longhand, of course. Thomas Wolfe, also a hulk of a man, wrote atop his refrigerator and let the contents fall into a cardboard box below -- seldom in the order they were written.

Margaret Mitchell wrote "Gone With the Wind" in longhand in the hallways of an Atlanta hospital while keeping a vigil with her dying father. When an editor for Macmillan Publishers heard about the manuscript, Mitchell was reluctant to show the work to him, and when she finally agreed it was in terrible disarray.

The editor recognized a classic and pieced it together and thus the epic Civil War novel was born.

I'm uncertain whether Ray Bradbury wrote "The Martian Chronicles" in longhand but I do know he did not own a typewriter. Every day, he would go to the University of California-Los Angeles with a pocket of quarters and use the pay-as-you-go typewriters there. It was the book that launched his career.

Early writers, like Charlotte Bronte, didn't have much choice but to write in longhand. Many of those old original manuscripts still exist and reveal that there were many false starts among the geniuses that gave us literature.

If you have the great American novel somewhere in your mind, remember you don't need a fancy computer to put your words in motion. All you need is a pen and paper.

A creative mind helps.

Bill Duncan can be reached by writing to P.0. Box 812, Roseburg, OR 97470.

Recommended for you