Why I write longhand

I know I promised this post days ago, but my workdays came up in the middle and they have been craaazy.  In a good way; new clients, lots of progress, but I end up mind-numbingly tired at the end of the day, and I need to focus my writing time on this marathon.

The marathon is going well.  To answer Ruzkin’s question, “Do I think I can keep up the pace?”  There’s no think about it.  This is no longer an option; it’s a certainty.  I will finish this.  It’s my willpower versus the story.  So far, I’m keeping one step ahead.  The cheering is helping immensely, though.  Thanks guys!

So, back to Diane’s question; why do I write in long hand?

I’ve tried to explain this three times, and I’ve deleted each attempt.  This is try number four.  The problem is my explanations keep ending up in a morass of neo-spiritual gobbledegook.  I’m a skeptic and an atheist.  Neo-spiritualism of any kind is abhorrence to me.

So, the practical side.

1.  It forces me to slow down.

My handwriting can’t keep up with my brain; my typing almost can.  By handwriting, I force myself to think over each sentence and each new direction before I write.  It cuts down on the waffle and the pointless sidetracking.  Not entirely, but a lot.

2.  There are no distractions.

If I sit at the computer to type, it’s all to easy to twit or checks blogs or e-mail or just mindlessly surf.  When I’m at the table, it’s just me and the page.  All I have to do to be productive is turn up with my cup of tea, and I get words.  Significant words.

3. You get a free edit.

My first drafts are still chemical sludge, but by having to transcribe the handwritten pages into the computer, I get a first-pass edit, to catch some of the more obvious errors, like spending 5 chapters writing ‘east’ when I meant ‘west’.  Or the scene where my MC forgot to put his clothes back on and walked naked across the camp, stopping along the way to have a lengthy conversation with his aunt.

Now to the not-practical side.  Feel free to skip this part.

Writing by hand is like meditation.  When I put pen to paper, the physical act, the movement, becomes soothing.  Time disappears.  The story flows unbidden from my subconscious to my hand.  I just spell out the words.

Aside from the pleasure of making forward progress, the very act of writing words has become part of the art.  The journey takes on a significance that it lacked when the pathway was keyboard and screen.

Whether you call it the muse or the creative energy or the subconscious mind, there is a wellspring of creativity that we tap into to write.  I’ve always had difficulty pushing past the logical side of mind (a.k.a the editor) to reach it.  Now I barely hear a murmur from the inner censor when I write.  Oh, he’s as loud as ever afterwards, but during, there’s a pool of silence in my mind, a peaceful place where I can write without fear.

I did warn you.  But that’s the best way I can describe how it feels to write by hand.

I can only say; try it.  If the way you currently write isn’t working for you, give it a go.  Be prepared to take time to get used to it; I would struggle to get 200 words when I started.  Now I’m producing between 1000 and 2000 words a day, in under 2 hours.  Take the time, you might be surprised at the results.

I know I was.


18 thoughts on “Why I write longhand

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I thought I was old fashioned by writing long hand. Mostly when I’m faced with the blank computer screen, I am aiming for perfection, and what I think other people might like.

    I spent way too much time editing, over thinking, that what came out was a bunch of mumble jumble that never made it on my website. Most of what I have published has come from deep within my notebooks, untouched, uncensored, just the way it came out. I’m still working on the whole (getting past the editor bit) mine is a little harsh.

    Slowly but surely I’m getting there but not quite.
    I would love to be able to write a novel, but also get past the fear that someone I know might notice the striking resemblance between the character, and well the inspiration behind that character, without taking offense or misinterpretation. Why should that matter? It does to me. That will be my biggest challenge, to write for myself, embrace my experiences (good and bad) and put those memories, those thoughts, on paper.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing longhand. Best of luck to you!

  2. I’m like Anna: I print out my first draft and re-type it up.

    I do write longhand occasionally, but it’s more for freewriting, or working out ideas, or drawing roadmaps & outlines. Or if I’m out and about and need to scribble something down.

    I think the reason I prefer the computer is I can type so much faster. And I’ve grown up with computers, really.

    But sometimes when I’m really, really stuck, I go back to pen and paper. I feel less guilty doodling and messing around on paper than I would on the computer, and I think that frees me up from anxiety and allows me to get words out.

    Actually, the only thing I always write longhand is poetry. Not that I’m a good poet (not even close!) but somehow it needs to be on paper for me. Don’t know why!

  3. Ahhhh, I love this post! I wish I had the patience to write my novel by hand. Maybe now that I am on my second draft, it would go better than the time I tried it before (way back when, when I didn’t have a solid idea and it was hard to get even 200 words on the page!).

    Perhaps I’ll try it again, if only for a day or two, for both a change of pace and to get away from the ever-distracting internet.

  4. Indeed, just think about some of the great literary works :) The Authors would almost exclusively write with quill and ink, no computers in those days!

    I’m still trying to find my way into the Wellspring of creative energy you talk about, I know the rituals are different for every writer – @Etherius writes in a coffee shop in a bookstore with no music or anything to distract him. Some folks carry notepads everywhere and write down things as they occur to them.

    I’m still on a voyage of discovery in that department!


  5. I’ve spent my whole writing life writing on computer, even back when I was 13, on my Commodore 64. I doubt I could write longhand even if I tried. Only thing I ever did write longhand was RPG notes.

    I like your reasoning, could we hear the neo-spiritual gobblygook version? You got me curious now!

    • Tama, I also used to write exclusively on the computer, and never thought I would make the transition to longhand. In fact I openly mocked my writing friends who wrote in notebooks. Well, now I’m eating my words.

      I’ll try the neo-spiritual version and see what comes out.

  6. You described it very well. It wasn’t gobbledegook at all. I normally write on the computer, although sometimes I do some (very sloppy) brainstorming using pen and paper, and it is helpful, and so yes, I can certainly see where you are coming from. Also, like you, when using the computer I tend to fall prey to the lure of the internet, which is never helpful, and so pen and paper would eliminate that completely. I guess we all have to use what works best for us. Is the final typing of the story, with necessary edits and clean-ups, very time-consuming?

    • Diane, it depends how much editing and analysis I do as I type in. If I just type what’s there, it’s pretty fast, 1,000 words takes me just over half an hour to type up. However if I stop and think and rewrite, it slows things down considerably.

  7. Interesting – even though your methods are completely different to mine I still place importance on many of the same things. I don’t (and in fact am physically unable) to write longhand but I always print out a copy of my first draft and then type it up as I do my first edit.

  8. The problem is that I can’t read my own writing.
    When I wrote software, I would often write it up on a whiteboard before coding it up. Not the same thing but it did help me think. I thinking of putting one up in my home office to outline parts of whatever WIP I’m on.

  9. Would the four or five books I have by different people dealing with writing as Zen practice make you feel better or worse about the “morass of neo-spiritual gobbledegook?” But they’ve been doing heaps of scientific study on meditation and the “Zone,” which I ran across a psychologist describing as putting yourself into a light hypnotic trance. It all does a body good :D

      • Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within is the first book everyone lists. I’ve got 56 flags of passages I found helpful.

        I can’t not recommend Heather Sellers books enough, but Chapter After Chapter deals more with keeping up with a writing life and trusting the process. Page After Page is more focused at getting you started.

        The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori is a good overview of Zen and its relationship to the arts, very helpful for those who only know Zen from Hollywood.

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