Writing by hand helps me remain open to all those particular circumstances, all those little details that add up to the truth. Amy Tam
I’ve always loved writing in longhand. I love the feel of a blank pad of lined paper and a really nice pen. They always seem to be calling to me, “Come, start writing!”
What I learned from writing in longhand
When I experimented with writing in longhand during the writing course I taught earlier this year, I realized how it can actually be better than using a computer – especially for a first draft. I found myself writing more honestly, and more from the heart. I was less constrained about getting my emotions on paper, and they were much rawer.
I feel freer when I write by hand. In fact, I know I do. I write at odd times. I have a notebook by the bed. A lot of things will come to me, which I’ll note down longhand. Jhumpa Lahiri
Computers feel more formal, don’t they? They make us more inclined to perform the no-no of self-editing during the first draft. Longhand flows much more. You’ll find yourself writing without looking over your shoulder, making it about the prose instead of about you (even when you’re writing about you).
Longhand is friendlier. It feels like you’re writing to a well-loved confidant, or to some alternate self.
Many authors, such as Beverly Cleary, Truman Capote, Amy Tan, and Jhumpa Lahiri (bonus points for her because she transcribes her drafts on an Internet-less computer) write their first drafts in longhand, so you’ll be in good company.
The benefits of writing in longhand
In light of my own anecdotal evidence, I wasn’t surprised to learn that many psychologists encourage their clients to journal, as it’s a great alternative to either being depressed and anxious between appointments or being forced to have daily meetups with a therapist. The more you write, the more clarity you get.
If you’ve read my recent post on Method Writing, you will recall that the purpose of daily writing – even for 15 minutes – is to get in touch with your emotions and to make sense of your experiences in order to use them in your writing. Writing by hand forces your brain to work harder and your self-investigation or character development to go deeper. Emotions rise to the surface much quicker than when writing on the computer.
Studies show that writing by hand helps you retain what you learn better, clarify what you really want to say (despite the brain dump), and maintain your cognitive faculties as you age. Check these articles out:
More reasons to write in longhand
Pragmatically, I love the idea of having a spiral notebook or two and a very good pen that I can have with me all the time — it demands no power supply, no table (my knees work fine), and no coffee shop.
- Paper doesn’t crash, turn off for no reason, run out of batteries, or break when you spill coffee on it.
- We’re not as intimidated by a blank sheet of paper as we are by a blank screen. Therefore, there is a greater likelihood that we’ll actually write every day.
- Writing in longhand lends itself better to doing a “brain dump,” which is what I recommend for both your daily writing exercise and your first drafts.
- You can do it anywhere. And don’t argue with me about using a laptop in bed; it’s much more awkward and stilted than paper.
- The physicality of writing longhand is much more efficient than a computer when you have writer’s block, as you’re able to release pent-up energy and get out of your own way to let your brain work.
- The act of transferring your prose to the computer enables automatic self-editing. Welcome, instant second draft!
What other writers have to say about writing in longhand
I love walking into my office with no electronics, no distractions. Just slippers on my feet, tea on the desk, and a story in my fingers. I love the scritchy sound of the pen on the paper. I love the fact that I am forced to slow down — to breathe as my characters breathe…to unwind the story like a long, tangled thread.
With nothing between myself and the page, the story finally spilled out the way it needed to. No editing, no second-guessing, and no internet. When I’m truly stuck, pen on paper always frees up words in a way a keyboard just can’t.
Writing in longhand is a tool with many benefits. Try adding it to your arsenal of writing aids and strategies. Can you commit to using it for your daily 15-minute writing stint?
I challenge you to write the first draft of your next article or chapter in longhand. Let me know in the comments how it felt, and whether it was helpful and why.
Happy writing – with pen, pencil, or even computer!