Thursday, August 11, 2011

Writing by hand

Lately, I've been finding myself with time to write, but no computer to type words into.  However, I always carry notebook paper with me, so I've been hand-writing a lot.  I have to approximate where I am in what I'm working on, and I usually have to fill in some lines of transition to line everything up correctly, but, overall, I find myself ahead for having handwritten a page or two.

I go back and forth with writing by hand.  I've had some writing instructors tell me that it's the only way to write a proper first draft, the only way to know the value of words, as opposed to pixels tapped out onto a computer keyboard, fixed by a few strokes of the backspace key.  One feels the words so much more acutely, I'm told, having to trace them out with a writing implement.

And yet, it's time-consuming.  It takes longer to write something out by hand, which is probably why it's espoused.  You have more time to think about what you want to write, and so the sentences that come out on paper are a lot more polished than typed ones.

It also takes time to transcribe the words into the work in progress, and, depending on how good you are at transcribing, you also have to go back and check for mistakes and typos.  When I'm typing up my handwriting, I usually read what I wrote, a sentence or a paragraph at a time, and consider if there's a better way to say it.  Therefore, anything I transcribe becomes even more polished.  Not perfect, mind you, but better, with more thought put into it.

Despite the time issue, though, I do benefit from this approach.  When I transcribe pages I've handwritten, I feel like I have a running start on that evening's word production.  The momentum carries me through several more typed pages before I've even had a chance to consider that I might not have the time or energy to get much writing done.

There's also the aspect of distractions.  When I have a clean sheet of paper in front of me, I don't have my email blinking at me that someone else has put me in a circle on Google+.  I don't have a very pressing game of Freecell I need to win.  I'm not wondering if someone's posted something funny on Twitter.  It's just me, my imagination, and plenty of white space to run free in.

So I don't always write by hand, but I do find it's a helpful habit to cultivate.  If you find yourself stuck, or unable to resist the allure of the internet, or your eyes are tired from an 8-hour day of staring at a glowing screen, I'd recommend giving it a try.  If you already do some writing by hand, let me know in the comments whether you find it helpful, or a hindrance, or what you like about it.


  1. I thought I'd written something about this very topic on my own blog a few months ago. Turns out I didn't. So I'll say what I wanted to say, here.

    I do exactly the same thing. I do most of my writing at work (I have lots of time to myself in my job) but I can't just whip out a laptop and start typing as I need to be more mobile than that. So, I need to keep a notebook handy. This has done two things to me.

    One, all of the things that you have mentioned: appreciating concise writing; thinking more as I go; editing as I write. Two, it has made me obsess over good quality stationery. I just cannot abide by a ball-point pen and a journalist's notebook! It's gel-pen and Piccadilly plain notebook or nothing.

    Do you find the same thing or are you more functional?

  2. I forgot to add that I also subscribe to the fanciful notion that, one day, the notebook I used to draft my first novel will be worth thousands of pounds... I can dream.

  3. I've been using loose-leaf or legal pads, but I am picky about my writing implement. My husband gave me a Cross pen for Christmas years ago, engraved with my name. It has to be that pen, fine point black ink. I can't write in any other color, and any other width strains my wrist.

    I had to talk myself out of hoarding those bits of paper, because I have so many boxes of paper filled with amateurish writing. I live in a fairly small home, so my usual hoarding habits are easier to rein in.