Whenever I crack open a hefty volume of Dickens, I’m inevitably overwhelmed by the realization this entire 800-page novel was composed by writing longhand. 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 your muse. 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. Here are eight!
1. Writing Longhand Discourages Censorship
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. Writing Longhand Brings Writing 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. Writing Longhand Removes You From Your Notes
Moving your writing away from the computer also means removing yourself from your notes. Instead of relying on old scraps of inspiration, you’re able to produce what the story needs as it needs it from the well of your subconscious. The results are often startlingly cohesive and powerful.
4. Writing Longhand Provides a Change of Pace
When you’re stumped by a tough story problem or even general burnout, changing your location and your methods can sometimes be just the trick for jump-starting your creativity.
5. Writing Longhand Frees Your 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. Writing Longhand Frees You From Distractions
Writing longhand physically removes you from the computer and all its distractions, including the siren song of the Internet.
7. Writing Longhand Allows 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. Writing Longhand Gives You an Instant Hard Copy
Unless your house burns down, your handwritten hard copies 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 hard copy as backup.
I love my technology. I love typing. I love the clean look of Times New Roman letters appearing on the virginal white of my screen. Sometimes I even love the taunting blink of the cursor (sometimes). 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.
Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you ever tried writing longhand for your fiction? Did it help or hinder your process? Tell me in the comments!
Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).