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Good Reasons for Writing by Hand

11 September 2017

From Self Publishing Advice Center:

This isn’t another one of those ‘how to write’ posts, it’s a post about the actual physical nitty-gritty of how we go about putting our stories down into words.

Lots of writers now use the ubiquitous laptop – some have even found a way of writing on tablets, and others still, as recent discussions following the recent BEA Indie Author Fringe have shown, have been talking about how they use voice recognition software for dictating their stories.

. . . .

When it comes to practicality though, I have always and still do, favour pen and paper. Specifically fountain pen and leather-wrap journal. It’s what works for me.

Of course writing this way is not without its downsides. Principally there’s the typing it up afterwards (‘though this too does have its own pros, but more of that later).

. . . .

The Advantages of Writing with Pen and Paper

  • Accessibility: Take the pen and notebook and you can literally write anywhere, at any ime, and be putting down your story in as short as time as it takes to flick off the lid and turn to the next blank page.
  • Portability: The leather-wrap journal is the ultimate in portability.
  • Power: It never runs out of battery, or crashes.
  • Legibility: You don’t have to worry about the glare of sunlight on the screen.

I’ve been known to write (as those dreams would have it) for hours in my favourite coffee shop or library, or in snatched moments at the end of lunch breaks at work, or on the bus whilst commuting.

Link to the rest at Self Publishing Advice Center

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39 Comments to “Good Reasons for Writing by Hand”

  1. Elmore Leonard wrote his novels by hand on legal pads. Shelby Foote wrote his novels using a quill pen he dipped in ink. Of course, they both had people to type their novels for them when they were through, but still…

    To each his own, I guess. I prefer using my laptop. But I do plan to try dictation. I can talk a lot faster than I can type, but the time required for editing might eat up the difference.

    • I do plan to try dictation. I can talk a lot faster than I can type, but the time required for editing might eat up the difference.

      I love dictating my writing. As the software people say, it goes about three times faster than typing. As for editing, I use an older version (2.5.2) of Dragon Dictate on my Macbook Pro and the text is virtually error free. I’m sure that it helps that I am a trained speaker with good elocution (I used to do the news and weather on the radio.), and some editing is still required. When it is, though, it’s because I’ve changed my mind about what I have said, not in what the software types out for me.

      Good dictation software is a joy to use. You speak and the words appear like magic.

      • I think my editing would be more editing content rather than correcting errors in interpretation. I tend to edit as I write, so it’s not just typing, or speaking. But I do need to give dictation a try.

        My brother’s an attorney and he said it took him a while to learn to dictate his briefs, but now he can’t imagine how tedious it would be to have to type it.

  2. Portability also translates to lose-ability. It’s too easy to lose something you carry around.

    • Hmmm, wireless copy to the cloud in case you have a rainy day? 😉

    • Exactly the reason I use a computer. In high school I somehow lost the notebook I was using for a novel. I was very grateful that I’d been transcribing it to a computer every day after school. Still annoyed about losing most of the handwritten chapter, though.

      Never again!

      Also, I do backup to the cloud. Just in case the hard drive dies. Or in the case of my laptop, gets murdered by a 30 second power outage.

  3. Switching from laptop/computer to writing by hand breaks through blocks or glitches. When stuck, I go to pen and paper.

    • Same here. I mix it up. Small laptop, big desktop, several different keyboards. Sometimes I write things straight to .txt in Notepad, sometimes it’s MSWORD all the way.

      I use pen and paper when I’m out and about, on a trip, or when I’m so stuck on something and so pent up with perfectionism that all I can do is scribble away knowing no one can read my handwriting.

  4. Sigh. Another article about how cool it is to write by hand. As Merrill said above, to each his own. Good for the author of the OP. All I know is that when I write longhand, I lose the words in my head. When I sit in front of my computer, or use my laptop or tablet, I can write at the speed of thought and I lose nothing.

    Were you ever frustrated while sitting in front of a typewriter because the words that you typed out weren’t exactly the same as the words that formed in your head?

    I don’t have that problem anymore.

    • I agree totally.

      If you know how to touch type, a keyboard beats pen and paper for speed, legibility, ease and /lack of pain/!
      These days, my hand writing is so atrocious I can barely read it myself. And the hand gets cramps.
      To each her own, but I’ll stick to a keyboard.

  5. And it *must* be a leather-bound journal because anything less would kill inspiration. Ah, the smell of elitism in the morning.

    I’m with Meryl, grateful for a way not to lose my ideas before I can get them safely transferred out of my head.

    • I was watching video by a master woodworker a few days ago. He was detailing a technique using a chisel. At one point, he stopped and looked at the chisel.

      “I paid one pound for this chisel. I think it’s the cheapest chisel I have ever bought. And it’s doing a pretty good job, actually a very good job. Just keep it sharp.”

  6. Here’s a test we can all do at home.

    The next time you are typing, and stuck for a word or phrase, just pick up a pen and start writing the sentence. See if a solution emerges. Then go back and type it.

    A few years back, researchers at Stanford showed that typing and hand writing engage different nerves and parts of the brain, and they affect other parts not associated with the actual physical activity. In gross terms, we think differently when typing and hand writing.

    Want to push it further? Read the sentence with your right eye, then your left. See if the word emerges.

    • great advice terrence

    • This corresponds well to my experience. I have used text editors and word processors for over thirty years because they make editing easy. I am a lousy typist: slow, not very accurate, but I put up with it because I work incrementally, improving my output as I proceed.

      But I also hand write often. As an engineer, diagrams are an important mode of thought and ideas seem to come out more easily from a pen than a keyboard. I got my first fountain pen when I was 11 and I have preferred them to ball points, roller balls, gel pens, and pencils ever since. I’ve lost more expensive fountain pens than I care to admit, but I still reach for one whenever I have serious thinking to do on paper.

      Leather bound notebooks are not my choice. Too precious for a farm boy. I prefer to use plain and cheap sheets of printer paper from Costco or Office Depot. No lines for this cowboy. I have a three hole punch and used three ring binders if I want to preserve my scribbles. And a recycling box for the rest.

      Everyone is entitled to their own practices. These are mine.

    • I may try it next time I’m stuck. I have a couple of methods. Type something like [PUTRIGHTWORDHERE] and move on and pick it up later. Or I call a friend and say, “What word means x?” and then we wind up going back and forth for a couple minutes until I convey the meaning and the word pops out.

      When I’m on a roll, though, nothing beats [PUTRIGHTWORDHERE] and moving on. If I’m stuck, yeah, I’ll try the other methods.

  7. I am always amused by people who write using a “leather-wrap journal”. I always think, they must not write that much.

    In “Writing Down the Bones” Natalie Goldberg talked about using cheap school spiral notebooks and pen. She would fill spirals with her writing practice, harvesting what she needed, then discarding the spirals. At one point she had a four foot high stack of discarded spirals.

    I get the 70 page, wide rule, spirals and use a rollerball pen. That size is equal to a “manuscript” page on the typewriter(250 words). Unlike Goldberg, I only write on one side of the paper and I save the pages. Each page is titled, and dated. When the spiral is full I pull the wire, and trim the bound edge, then split up the pages and put them in three-ring binders. When I have a set of pages that are ready for me to expand I scan the pages and have them as pdf for access on the computer.

    – I do not transcribe the the pages, I scan them.

    My handwriting speed is a thousand words an hour, the same as my typing speed, so there is no point in transcribing what I can more easily read on pdf. Plus, each hand written page is holographic(in the classic sense of “hand written”), and because when I read those hand written pages, it acts as a mnemonic and contains more than just the words. It calls up the Images I was seeing when I wrote them.

    I wait for the August school sales and buy the maximum number of spirals that I’m allowed. Luckily that is enough for the job.

    BTW, Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey wrote the Nick Carter detective series on paper, using a fountain pen. This was a weekly digest magazine, about 33k per episode.

    – He wrote forty million words in his life using pen and paper.

    Nick Carter

    • buy the maximum number of spirals that I’m allowed

      Wait, stores have a limit on this?

      Because of my old job I have an abundance of legal pads that I formerly used just to document processes before transcribing, or just for plain old notes. When I got stuck with one chapter in a story I just grabbed one of the legal pads and started the chapter longhand away from my desk. That and the John Cleese method (of not going with your first idea, and giving time to let ideas percolate) helped me out of that bind.

      I don’t have a leather bound notebook. I do have a decorative blank book for brainstorming or for jotting down notes. It’s self-defense because the decorative hardbinding makes the book easy to find on my desk (as opposed to the ubiquitous notebooks and legal pads). It fits in my purse, which is my first criteria for what kind of note-taking object I carry around 🙂

      • I’m cheap. HA!

        I wait for the August back-to-school sales when the spirals are priced anywhere from ten to twenty cents, with a limit from ten to thirty. I usually get at least thirty spirals to hold me for the year.

  8. I’ve tried writing on paper but I can’t quite keep up with what my brain wants put on the page. I can type pretty much as fast as the words pour out of the old brain pan. I also have such horrible penmanship that quite often I can’t even decipher what I wrote later. I would rather stick with my laptop.
    I think the only thing I still would use paper for is to jot down random ideas in very brief form until I can get back to my computer.
    Really it comes down to what works for you and what you enjoy, there is no One True Way (TM)

  9. I write exclusively long-hand and type after.

    Yes, it’s slow.

    Yes, I’m doing the same work twice.

    But the process, to me, is very relaxing, free of distractions (oh, look, kitty pictures!) and I have it worked out to where four notebooks equals 50,000 words.

  10. I’m curious as to whether those Stanford test subjects had been accustomed to writing by hand, then switched to typing. I’ve been touch-typing since the age of 10 and for me, it’s second nature. Writing by hand is slow and frustrating (but necessary for the occasional memory-jogging note). If writing by hand uses a different part of my brain, it’s an obsolete part.

    Now, I’ve always wanted to try writing the really old-fashioned way, with a stick and a clay tablet…

    • I can’t say what experience the test subjects had, but I have personally found I can pick up the pencil and almost immediately write the word I have been searching for at the keyboard. And the last time I hand wrote more than a Post-It note was many years back.

      The technique has worked for fiction, nonfiction, business, speeches, etc. In business, it’s especially useful when I am horrified that I am about to type, “proactive,” “initiative,” or “reach out to.”

    • Yes! I’ve been touch typing for over 40 years. I couldn’t go back to pen and paper if I tried. That clay tablet, however… 😀

  11. I write, or rather, print by hand for the simple basic reason of hand fatigue. I have a nasty neuro-muscular disease that had taken up residence in my hands, of which the end result are a pair of hands that look like semi-claws at rest and a typing speed of roughly twelve to fifteen words a minute.

    Writing by hand is hands down (no pun intended) the best way to write blog posts before transcribing them to the computer (good if your blogging platform doesn’t have a “save draft” function) and to churn out large swatches text just about anywhere (like at work for example0. I use traditional filler paper at home and 4×6 notepads at work. And for me, because I have a decent enough memory to recall not only where I’d left off at but what the particular chapter was about to begin with.

  12. I can type 70+ wpm, but only write 15 wpm or so (under 900 words an hour). Even 1000 words an hour is only 17 wpm. This is easy to do while handwriting, 2 finger typing, whatever your method.

    The suck of it all is typing things later, if you wait too long you’ll end up with hours and hours of typing. I like to use the typed draft as a second draft, fixing things as I type them.

    • I usually type everything though. Usually.

      In law school I figured out how much different handwriting was. So I got good at it, it’s superior to typing when taking notes in class because the slowness of handwriting requires you to pay attention. So you can pick and choose what to write down, what you think will be on the test, and actually learn the concepts in real time.

      If you are a fast typist you can zone out and simply transcribe your way through a class, with very little learning actually happening. Tons of people did this, it was insane. You might as well just get the lecture notes from the professor and not even go to class.

  13. Why the recommendation for writing with pencil and paper, like the bourgeois do? It’s not true litchrachure unless it’s scribed with a quill and a pot of ink.

    By candlelight.

  14. type fast 185 min, but also have enough handwrit notebooks for whole house insulation. In these last years, dragon speaking, because my eyes are going. Use assisted screen on mac making things bigger.

    Take care of your eyes when you are young, esp if you have diabetes.

  15. A note about holding the pen to reduce pain.

    The normal way was causing major pain. It created a dent in my middle finger that would ache for hours. I would have to squeeze harder to maintain control, which made the pain worse. I watched a video about Taylor Swift around 2006 and saw how she wrote. Tried it and it worked. The transition took no time at all. The few times I would forget and do a simple signature the normal way hurt.

    Taylor Swift – Writing Songs

    Just looked on YouTube and found this video. The first example is the normal way, the fifth(at 0:40) the “Cool Way” is the reduced strain method I use now.

    12 Ways to Hold a Pen!

    Over 40 years of writing with pain, so I give Taylor Swift full credit for making it possible for me to still write by hand. HA!

  16. Al the Great and Powerful

    I had decent handwriting back in the 80s (I passed the post office test for legibility, which was a requirement to work in the machines where it was too loud to talk), but by the time I got my doctorate I had developed a doctor’s handwriting.

    For research I used to like to take notes on scrap paper, with the writing done on the computer. Recently I have been writing short fiction on my tablet, occasionally with a bluetooth keyboard but mostly onscreen. I like the tablet for note-taking these days, I can take pictures of documents and make notes in a text editor.

    In spite of the practice I get writing all the time for work, I am a two finger typist with 15-50wpm speed. And I still watch the keys and not the screen. On the plus side, I can edit as I write at that speed, changing on the fly…

  17. Probably bad advice for someone who can’t even read their own handwriting.

  18. I have several leather-bound blank books I’ve picked up at book festivals, renaissance fairs, and the like. The smell of leather and the rustic glow automatically make anything you write legendary…but not in my crude peasant handwriting. (I try to blame my handwriting on four years of studying Russian, but if you know Russian, my Russian handwriting is equally bad.) When I do hand-write, my copy is full of scratch-outs, doodles, and notes to self in side margins. I just can’t see doing that to an aromatic, hand-crafted, leather volume. As a result, I STILL have a collection of leather notebooks awaiting that perfect, error-free moment of inspiration.

  19. “Legibility”
    they have obviously not seen my handwriting…

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