8 Ways Writing Longhand Frees Your Muse

8 Ways Writing Longhand Amps Your Muse

8 Ways Writing Longhand Amps Your MuseWhenever 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!

WriteMind Writing Journal Lined Pages

My outline using the awesome WriteMind Planner.

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.

Good Writing Is 3 Percent Talent and 97 Percent Not Being Distracted by 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!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I can never think of a time when I’m not writing something down, either via my laptop or in the writing journal/dream journal I keep by my nightstand when I feel inspired to keep track of things in my head, among other places. I use a balance of both writing electronically and traditionally. Notably, when I’m on the go, I can’t haul my laptop with me, and sometimes I don’t feel like jotting down things via my Ipod Touch (though it does come in handy in some measures), so I carry my favorite ink pen and pad and I’m ready to go. Another advantage to writing with pen and paper: the pretty ink pens. 🙂 Something about writing with my favorite pen gives a little extra step in my day, especially when a good idea comes to mind.

  2. I love my iTouch for portability, but, I agree, it can be a pain to use in typing out long notes. Sometimes writing something out by hand is just plain faster and easier.

  3. Actually, Dickens was a professional shorthand reporter. It’s still a feat, but not as hard on the hand as long-hand. Shorthand was considered a useful gentlemanly skill in that era.

    I prefer paper for lists and offline research, even some online research. Copying links or chunks of text is easiest online. For writing, though, I’ve lost the feel for paper. I’m too used to being able to throw something down, then edit it. Also, I type faster than I write (assuming I want to read it again). Sometimes I even type notes to the kids’ teachers, edit, then handwrite them!

  4. I believe it. Before the advent of the typewriter, I’m sure people used every shortcut they had at their disposal to lessen the physical stress of longhand writing.

  5. I always have to brainstorm longhand. SInce no matter how much I try, I simply can’t ignore my internal editor in computer. It will jump wherever it likes and destroy all my tempo. But I like to write my drafts in computer and save them on skydrive. So I won’t lost them. Since writing them longhand is hard on my hands :/
    And it would mean having to keep lots of notebooks with you and for a traveler like me, it is hard to even keep the brainstorming notebook always available 🙁

  6. Being a poet I find pen and paper indispensable. I can jot down verses, rhymes and sometimes full poems while waiting for medical/dental appointments or at intermissions during performances I attend. Nothing is more distressing to me than to have perfect words pop into my head and then try to remember them until I get to my computer.

    And yes there is a freedom in putting ink on paper the old way. It is slower and gives the muse a slight break in her harried life.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve been wanting to try my hand at poetry more. Even bought a special notebook for it! But, alas, I haven’t made time for it yet. Must try to do that this year!

  7. I always use pen and paper when brainstorming and outlining, it just seems to be more natural to me. Then I transpose those thoughts to the screen, and as I’m doing so it sparks further inspiration. If I’m stuck while writing a novel I resort to pen and paper to write down my thoughts and invariably I find the answer to my dilemma.

    However as my handwriting is atrocious I have to be careful to make sure I can read my writing, unlike my shopping lists when I get to the supermarket and can’t make out what on earth I’ve written. 🙂

  8. I agree! My first draft is always in longhand.

  9. THANK YOU!!!! I literally only came to this realization for myself yesterday. What a waste of a year I’ve had. I was working on a project on my laptop, only to dread and hate my story for everything it was.
    Last night, I sat down preparing to strap myself in and found myself jotting down ideas for the next portion of this story. Before I realized what had actually happened, I was almost a chapter in and loved every word.


  1. […] started doing some trusty Googling and sure enough, there is quite a bit out there about the perks (and some drawbacks) of writing longhand – specifically writing first and even second drafts […]

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