Tips on Writing: Writing by Hand


I know.  It's very shocking.  When I suggest to clients and students that they may want to try writing by hand, there is sometimes outright rebellion.  To most writers these days, writing means writing at the computer, whether that computer is a desk version or a laptop (my own preferred option).   Okay.  I hear you.  Let's get the cons out of the way:

The Cons to Writing by Hand

Writing by hand seems antiquated, the purview of spinsters writing delicate thoughts in their journals.  (And what is wrong with that? I ask.)

Writing by hand is slow and takes more time.

When writing by hand it is difficult to make changes.

Writing by hand makes your hand tired.

What else?

Writing by hand can be hard to read.

A brief aside, and a confession, before we get the to pros of writing by hand.  The confession is that I've been writing by hand a lot lately.  And loving it.  I've always had an affinity for writing by hand.  I love to write in my journal, for instance.  And I always go first to the paper with pen in hand when I'm developing ideas for a novel, whether I'm working on the big picture, or smaller scenes.

However, all that writing by hand was mostly in the form of notes.  There was always a certain point at which I felt it was time to hit the computer and do the "real" writing.  

Not recently, though.  Recently I've been writing whole scenes, even whole chapters by hand.  It is somewhat amazing.  And very freeing.  Because I like to get up first thing in the morning and write by hand.  Usually that has taken the form of journaling.  But because I now seem to be able to write first drafts by hand, I can do that first thing.  And this has increased the amount of time I spend on my novel.

(I also like it because if I go to my computer first thing in the morning, the email inboxes and social media are sooooo tempting.  And I am weak, so weak.  So writing by hand sidesteps all that and I don't have to exercise discipline first thing.)

So, shall we look at pros?

The Pros to Writing by Hand

Writing by hand feels like a more direct line to heart and soul.  (At least it does to me.  You?)

Writing by hand is even more portable than writing on a laptop.

Writing by hand feels good.

Okay, the truth of the matter is that I'm stretching to find more pros to writing by hand.  Given the technology we have at our fingertips (hahaha), writing by hand is just not practical.  But it is wonderful.  And if writing by hand helps me (and you get) words on the page, I'm all for it.

What about you?  Do you like writing by hand?  Hate it?  Why or why not?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Try it.  C'mon, just do.  Try writing a scene or first draft of an article.  See if writing by hand doesn't feel good and inspire you.  If no, there's no harm done now, is there?

Photo by twenty_questions.

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28 Responses to Tips on Writing: Writing by Hand

  1. Carole Jane Treggett 02/08/2012 at 10:51 #

    I really like writing by hand too, Charlotte, for the very reasons you cite in this great post. An added benefit to me has been the words and phrases I crossed out; they’re still there on the page for me to review afterwards (whether cringe-worthy or inspiration for new insight or direction for the piece of writing I’m working on).

    When I’m typing away on a keyboard, I’m constantly using the backspace button to delete (like I have at least three times for this tiny comment lol). Writing by hand, writing forward all the time (instead of ‘looking’ or going backwards!)helps me get ‘in flow’ easier sometimes than when I’m typing.

  2. Square-Peg Karen 02/08/2012 at 10:52 #

    Charlotte, I think the physicality of writing by hand is important. Not to say that it has to be done every day – or ever, really.

    But one of its gifts IS the very physicalness of it — the touch of hand (and pen) on paper; the feel of pen in hand – such textures! Whereas the computer (which I love, love, love – not knocking it!) feel is same old, same old.

    There’s something also running around the back of my head (I think I need some coffee) about how writing on paper, compared to writing on a computer – is like exercising in the house (windows closed), compared to walking outside — but I can’t get clear enough to explain that (oh WHERE is my coffee!?!).

    Just want to say that I was nodding my head til it nearly came off as I read “…the email inboxes and social media are sooooo tempting. And I am weak, so weak. ” Me too!

    I’ve been stuck with having to hand write a couple times lately (it felt that way — like I was stuck, had no choice – and I WAS grumbling) and I was amazed at my output. I don’t know if it was just shaking things up (that always helps me) or whether it had to do with something IN the paper & pen use, but wow! (I do have a problem with reading my ow writing tho — ohmy!)

  3. Square-Peg Karen 02/08/2012 at 10:53 #

    Oooh, Carole Jane – there’s something I hadn’t thought of — the ability to still see something that’s been crossed out! Love it.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 02/08/2012 at 11:08 #

    Carole Jane and Karen–I thought the exact same thing. The ability to see what’s been crossed out is huge! Another item for the Pro list! And Carole Jane, that bit about always writing forward when writing by hand is truly profound. I love it.

  5. Carole Jane Treggett 02/08/2012 at 11:08 #

    Thanks, Karen. Lately it’s been cringe-worthy more than inspirational lol. I keep hearing Dory from Finding Nemo in my head, though. So I’ll just keep swimming, swimming, swimming (frequent and forward writing motion!) :)

  6. Charlotte Dixon 02/08/2012 at 11:10 #

    Karen, I think the metaphor you used about exercising inside versus outside said it all and was more developed than you thought–thanks for being willing to share it. And yes, another item for the Pro list–the physicality of it. So glad my readers share my love of writing by hand!

  7. Zan Marie 02/08/2012 at 12:48 #

    I draft by hand and always have. I can’t draft on the keyboard. Errors that are easy to cross out in pen and paper are much more annoying and distracting. I’m more fluent writing by hand. Keyboards are for copying. That said, I *can* edit on the keyboard. ; )

  8. Charlotte Dixon 02/08/2012 at 15:26 #

    “Keyboards are for copying.” Hear, hear! I love that, Zan Marie.

  9. Jessica Baverstock 02/08/2012 at 20:26 #

    I think the imperfection of writing by hand is important. When something is typed up on the computer it can look so well-formed, so perfectly spelled…so *finished*. I find I then have to battle, to force myself, to view these beautifully typed words as merely a draft.

    However, if I’ve written the paragraph or story by hand, it’s messy – scribbled, scratched, smudged – and *obviously* a first draft.

    Then I don’t view it as perfection, I view it as *progress*.

    Also, there was something sad and missing when my writer’s callus went away. Now it’s back, I feel complete.

    I both write and type with crazed abandon at times. I don’t want to give either of them up. They each have their place – and in the end I pick the one which will help the words come the easiest. Some words are for handwriting, some are for typing.

  10. J.D. 02/09/2012 at 05:11 #

    A good post, Charlotte, and the answers are all very interesting. I don’t usually write by hand, just a bit recently. However, let me share this. I have submitted one of my completed books with no success. A different beginning came to me recently and I grew very excited. I was about twenty pages into the rewrite when I realize my excitement was premature; the original was better than my makeover. Thankfully, I had not just jumped in, deleted the beginning and set about retyping. I began with a copy, keeping the original intact. To start hacking on the original sounds utterly foolish, but I can see it happening. Sometimes writing on a keyboard, I bounce around so much that I lose track of what I started with.

  11. Jessica Baverstock 02/09/2012 at 05:33 #

    Oh, that’s *so* easily done.

    Always save. Always back up. And always start revisions in a new document.

    I also have a document where I save ‘cut’ scenes, paragraphs, sentences and even phrases. You never know when you’ll wish you could go back to the way you had it.

  12. Charlotte Dixon 02/09/2012 at 07:06 #

    J.D., I suspect you are very, very hard on yourself.  I know from reading your work that you are a very fine writer, and sometimes it can take a discouraging long time to see publication (I'm still searching for an agent myself, so I feel your pain.) And you bring up a good point–that writing successive drafts can make it hard to keep track of changes.  I do recommend keeping copies of each draft and labeling them someway you'll remember so you can keep track.  Thanks for weighing in, as always. 

  13. Charlotte Dixon 02/09/2012 at 07:10 #

    Another excellent point, Jessica–imperfections are an integral part of writing by hand. And I love that you call it progress! And yes, I’m with you–I end up doing both most of the time. I just think that so many people automatically discount writing by hand and that’s a shame.

  14. Charlotte Dixon 02/09/2012 at 07:12 #

    A great reminder, Jessica. I also keep a file for cut scenes. I usually call it something like “Save For JemimaB” or whatever the working title of my project is. Like you, I save everything. Many’s the time I’ve been very pleased with myself for doing so. You might want to go back to the way it was, or use that little snippet for something in the future.

  15. Eric J. Krause 02/09/2012 at 07:36 #

    I have a hard time writing on the computer–ideas don’t flow as easily. I always write my first drafts by hand, including, often blog posts. Plus, when I type in that first draft, it’s like a first edit. I don’t make many changes to what I write during this typing, but minor changes are taken care of that won’t need to be worried about in the editing process.

  16. Charlotte Dixon 02/09/2012 at 07:44 #

    Eric, my blog posts also often are first written by hand. They actually often come to me when I’m writing morning pages–all of a sudden I’ve morphed into writing a post. And that’s the magic of writing by hand, how often that happens. And yes, I agree that typing the post into the computer is like a first edit. Thanks so much for chiming in!

  17. Patrick Ross 02/09/2012 at 11:52 #

    A great post, and interesting comments. I do a fair amount of outlining by hand, especially in the last year, since I was given a Waterman roller ball pen that moves easily across the page, increasing both my speed and (it seems) my creativity. (Refills are expensive and needed frequently, unfortunately.) I see Eric’s point above in using the process of typing in the draft to revise, but I don’t have the patience to write an entire first draft by hand and then type it in. That said, I often do revisions with pen on paper, and then type them in, finding I do further revision in the typing process then.

    I hadn’t really thought much about my pen vs. keyboard behavior, thanks for provoking some thought on that score.

  18. Amanda 02/09/2012 at 15:48 #

    I write so slowly by hand that I hate doing it for my first draft. My mind goes faster than my fingers at the keyboard, I have a heard enough time slowing it down to keep up! However, I think you’re absolutely right about the connection to the heart. I try to write notes to my kids every so often to give to them sometime later, and when I do them by hand it’s a much more enjoyable experience for me. It feels so much more real. And I think they’ll appreciate it later on too.

  19. Charlotte Dixon 02/09/2012 at 16:33 #

    Amanda, I’m glad you weighed in on the other side! And I love that you write your kids notes by hand, what a beautiful idea. Thanks for commenting.

  20. Charlotte Dixon 02/09/2012 at 16:49 #

    Patrick, I love Waterman pens. I really love fountain pens, but I have a hard time using them for long writing sessions. Something about the nib doesn’t lend itself to that, at least for me. And you make a good point about revisions–there’s something really different about printing a hard copy out and editing by hand.

  21. Christi Corbett 02/10/2012 at 08:13 #

    I love starting out a new project with an unlined notebook and a really good pen. I can flip pages at will to start a new train of thought, put long winded notes in the margins, and best of all create diagrams (and doodles) to further cement what I’m thinking about.

    Great Post!

    Christi Corbett

  22. Charlotte Dixon 02/10/2012 at 08:29 #

    Christi, Oh, the joy of a brand-new notebook and a good pen. Nothing makes my heart beat faster–well the joy of a new book might be equal to it. (And yes, a few other things, but never mind.) I love your description of how you use your notebooks!

  23. Mike Smith 02/13/2012 at 05:26 #

    I think you’re on to something with exercise analogy. The biggest reason that I like to write is that writing induces thought. Writing forces you to slow down which allows your thoughts to flow more easily because the process is slower. When I’m typing, it’s so fast that I really don’t have time to organize my thoughts. Let’s say you’re doing pushups: it feels a lot different when you do a pushup slowly versus quickly. Performed quickly, you don’t even feel your muscles working on the way down. Done slowly, you feel all the muscles that you may have never felt before. That’s it! You feel “thought muscles” that you may not feel by typing.

  24. Charlotte Dixon 02/13/2012 at 08:08 #

    Love the idea that “writing induces thought.” I’ve long maintained that writing helps us organize our ideas and that a good writer is a good thinker. I have a friend who maintains that thinking a book is the smartest thing to do. Thanks, Mike, for chiming in.

  25. how to write a phd 12/03/2012 at 21:30 #

    I have a heard enough time slowing it down to keep up! However, I think you’re absolutely right about the connection to the heart……

  26. Charlotte Dixon 12/04/2012 at 06:52 #

    I do notice that my brain is sometimes ahead of my hand!  And then my handwriting gets really sloppy and interesting to read.  But it's still a wonderful process.  Thanks for commenting!

  27. Writing by hand is not that hard. Just be careful on the spelling and usage of your grammar because your only reference on this one is your knowledge alone. thanks for the tips that you give.

  28. I can really say that writing by hand is the pure skill. You are aware of those errors especially in grammar that you cannot able to locate if you’re just taking for granted when you write.

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