Writing Process: Longhand or Typing?

Ever since high school, whenever I’ve written something creative I’ve first done it by hand, in a notebook. This started as a necessity. There was only the one computer in my house, and between writing and my fondness for anime forums I took up more than my fair share of computer time. Doing my typing at night didn’t help much, either, since I typed so fiercely it sounds like I’m trying to punch a hole in the computer, and that wasn’t much appreciated by my sleeping brother one room over.

The easiest solution to cut down my computer time, and quiet the mad clacking of keys, was to write by hand. I had whole spiral-bound notebooks full of poems, stories, and (confession time) fanfiction, which were all piled up and hidden in my closet, never to be looked at again. Today, I still write all of my fiction in a composition notebook before ever typing it into the computer. This makes the whole process much more time-consuming, but I keep it up for a couple of reasons.

It’s like meditating. Writing by hand has a calming effect on me. I physically move the pen across the paper, andI feel a little more in touch with what I’m writing. While it takes time to fill up the page, once I get started I fall into a rhythm, and I can usually fill up three pages before I set my pen down, and I always feel soothed.

I can’t erase. If I don’t like something on the page, I can’t just highlight it and delete it into oblivion. I can cross it out or cover the words with angry scribbles, but I can still read what’s underneath. So, 30 minutes later when I inevitably decide that half that paragraph I crossed out is actually perfect, it’s still there for me to see, to recopy or rewrite.

I edit while I type. As I said before, part of what makes writing by hand take so long is the fact that I have to go back and type up what I wrote. But it also means I’m actively reading what I wrote. I see mistakes in grammar or word choice, or notice where I need an extra sentence or when there’s a piece that just doesn’t belong. I get a better first draft (I’ll call it draft 1.5), something cleaner to work with when I go back to that part of the story later.

I see my progress. Because I write by hand, I have physical proof of what I’ve done. For my current project, Speaksong, I am on my third notebook of original story, total rewrites, and notes on plot and character. I can also look back at my writing and figure out the state I was in. You can always tell where I was stuck or distracted, because my handwriting is neat and the margins are full of doodles. And you can see where I just hit a vein, as the writing gets bigger, messier, and the margins are clean for pages.

I do type on the computer first for a lot of things. Pretty much everything non-fiction I do, from reviews to this blog post, are written straight on the computer. This has part to do with my very different process with nonfiction, where I’ll write paragraphs that I constantly rearrange, and bullet points for ideas in between finished paragraphs. Even then, when I’m really stuck, I whip out my notebook and scribble on the page until I find the right path again. Writing by hand helps me focus so I can reach back into myself pull out everything I need in order to get out the words as close to perfectly as I am able. It might be bad for the trees, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop filling up notebooks.

Your turn – what’s your process? Do you write by hand, or is it straight to the computer? Or maybe you have a typewriter? Or is it some combination of everything?


9 thoughts on “Writing Process: Longhand or Typing?

  1. This was a topic I was just mulling over in my mind recently. I haven’t handwritten a story in years, but was considering trying it again. You raise a lot of points in favor of phyiscial writing that I identify with.

    • I think writing by hand is very useful, and it gets me more connected with what I’m doing. My first draft is more likely to come out sounding “right” when I do it this way.

  2. As a kid, I used to write anything “creative” I did by hand. Although I didn’t think about it at the time, all the reasons you mention were such positives for doing so. I’ve abandoned the pencil and pen almost entirely, except for bills, forms, etc., in lieu of the ease and speed of the computer. This post reminds me of the value of slowing down and using my hands.

    Even now, when I’m out and about and waiting for someone or something (or in the middle of meeting!), I’ll pull out a notepad and start writing about a fictional life or take notes for a blog post. And definitely, during these short moments, I feel a strong connection to my youth, when this action was the norm.

    • The computer is faster, which is I think another reason why I mostly stick to it for writing blog posts and reviews, since I’m trying to get those out quickly. But my creative writing is much more of a process, and the slowness of writing by hand really helps me to pay attention to what I’m putting on the page.

  3. I completely agree. I have to be creative by hand. I can type and the words will come but writing by hand just feels so much more…. fluid. I can connect with the paper in a way I don’t feel with the screen. It’s like the pen becomes my hand and I can just let the energy flow into words; but on the computer I’m like “oh, I’ll type.. or check facebook, or watch videos, or mess around, or Google things” and it just becomes this nightmare of an ADD experience. But using a pen and paper I’m focused, and I think my work is better for it.

    • Ha ha, yes! I go on Facebook and Twitter and check my email a million times when I’m typing on the computer, but when I’m writing the computer is shut and I can focus better.

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