Since I’ve talked a lot so far about my fears and failures as it comes to writing, I thought I would, for once, highlight a part of my creative process that actually does work for me.
And that is writing longhand.
It’s such a writer-ly thing, isn’t it? To have piles and piles of notebooks laying around, some filled cover to cover, some with half writing and half scribbles of your two year old who co-opted it, or some that just plain looked pretty that you never got around to actually using.
I am one of those.
When I was a teenager, my girlfriends and I made up some Mary Sues and co-wrote self insert fanfiction as our hanging out activity of choice. We did this with notebooks and different colored pens for each of us. We would sit around one of our bedrooms, sometimes late into the night, throwing notebooks back and forth at each other and giggling about whatever drama we had just created in our fictional lives.
I learned a lot about writing and, in particular, my own writing quirks and preferences.
(Don’t worry, I got past the Mary Sue/self insert stuff. )
One of the things that did end up sticking was how much I enjoyed writing longhand. Maybe it was because I was a teenager and writing with gel pens gave me such delight. Maybe it was due to the portability of notebooks, allowing me to scribble anywhere and everywhere I felt inclined.
Whatever the reasons, I took this method into adulthood and have continued with it as my preferred method of drafting.
There are pros and cons to this, and it’s obviously up to individual personality and preferences which of those two cancels the other out.
The first big downside is that it takes a lot longer to write the same amount of words. Plus the hand cramping, oh the hand cramping. This might not be true for everyone, some people can scribble words just as fast (or faster) as they can type them, but I have a weird tic where I can’t stand looking at hand written pages that are full of scribbles, scratch outs, or ugly blots. So I tend to write a little more carefully, which of course takes longer.
However, that brings me to something I consider a major pro, and that is writing longhand limits my urge to constantly self-edit. Maybe it’s because of my strange little compulsion to keep written pages neat, but I tend to leave what I’ve written alone after it’s been inked on the page, no matter how clunky a sentence sounds or if a better word comes to me later. And in drafting, where actually finishing needs to be priority one, this is immensely helpful in silencing the inner editor.
Con #2 is that you’re pretty much doing twice the work. Not only are you spending more time writing the words themselves, you also have to put time into transcribing them.
But I’ve found that when taking my writing off the page and putting them into a word processor, I can make subtle changes that improve the quality of the work without really losing stride. I know I just bagged on editing while drafting, and I’m not talking about an actual editing step between the longhand version and the typed version.
But those clunky sentences or better words can easily be fixed or swapped in without too much time loss, provided you can reel in the impulse to make further, more lengthy edits.
I also really love that I can drop a notebook in my purse and be ready to write whenever I have some spare time. And, yeah, I still really like the feel of writing with gel pens.
I’m not saying this method is for everyone. It certainly doesn’t have the flow that typing rapidly can bring. But, as someone who tends to get paralyzed in front of a word processor for whatever reason, it is tremendously useful to have a jumping off point scribbled down already.
There’s also something immensely satisfying in the tactile feel of it, or maybe that’s just me. In fact, this is probably all just me.
So there you have it. If you can deal with the pain that is transcribing after the fact, not to mention the much more literal pain of your hand after a hefty word sprint, I find longhand a great way to draft.
Your mileage may vary.