Whenever I crack open a hefty volume of Dickens, I’m inevitably overwhelmed by the realization that this entire 800-page novel was written by hand. The writer’s bump on my middle finger throbs just thinking about it. Without doubt, our 21st-century technologic additions are a decided blessing. But we’ve also lost some things along the road to the future. We’ve amped up distractions and made it far too easy to stifle creativity by editing and tweaking before a thought is even half-formed.
Returning to the caveman technology of pen and paper can have a surprisingly freeing effect on our muses. Although I write my first drafts on the computer, I’ve learned to free my imagination in the first rush of creation by writing my outlines longhand in a notebook. In the process, I’ve gained a number of benefits.
1. Discourages the tendency to censor or edit. Removing the temptation to glance up at a previous paragraph and switch out words and phrases allows my raw thoughts to flow onto the page. I don’t judge them, I don’t edit them, I don’t censor them. I just pour them out.
2. Brings writing down to a primal level. There’s something about the tactile experience of ink on paper that is inimitable. It presents a return to writing in a purer, more instinctive form, without the intercession of complicated electric tools.
3. Removes us from our notes. Moving our writing away from the computer also means removing ourselves from our notes. Instead of relying on old scraps of inspiration, we’re able to produce what the story needs as it needs it from the well of our subconscious. The results are often startlingly cohesive and powerful.
4. Provides a change of pace. When we’re stumped by a tough story problem or even general burnout, changing our location and our methods can sometimes be just the trick for jumpstarting our creativity.
5. Frees imagination by allowing sloppiness. Something about the near illegibility of my handwriting seems to break down my need for perfection. Instead of toiling over word choice, I’m able to dash down my thoughts as quickly as they come to me. I find this particularly vital in the early creative stages.
6. Frees us from distractions. Pen and paper physically remove us from the computer and all its distractions, including the siren song of the Internet.
7. Allows a critical editing during transcription. The necessity of transcribing our notes onto the computer allows us the opportunity to apply a critical eye to what we’ve written, once the first rush of creativity is past.
8. Gives us an instant hard copy. Unless your house burns down, your handwritten hardcopies aren’t likely to randomly self-destruct as computer files are known to do. Even if you lose your notes after you’ve typed them up, you’ll always have a hardcopy as backup.
I love my technology. I love typing. I love the clean look of my Times New Roman letters appearing on the virginal white of my screen. Sometimes I even love that taunting blink of the cursor. But writing longhand is an invaluable technique my writing would suffer without. In a recent Writer’s Digest article, freelance author Dick Dickinson agreed:
In today’s stream-of-consciousness world of e-mail, text, Facebook and Twitter, initials become sentences and words take flight before thoughts are well-formed. What to do? Well, are you ready to turn the clock back, oh, a few centuries? To hone concentration and put consideration back into your writing, and for a striking change of pace, try using a … pen. Consider the advantages: There is no insert, spell check, cut and paste, or delete; just your words drawn on paper with an ancient technique.