The Mighty Pen – The Benefits of Writing Longhand

The Mighty Pen

By Julianne MacLean

juliannemacleanIf you’re a writer, you’ll probably agree that one of the biggest challenges facing authors these days is how to find the right balance between the business side of being published and the creative side—which involves the all-important task of plotting, writing, and finishing a book.  It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to shut out all the noise from emails and the internet, not to mention the pressure to self-promote and network tirelessly through social media.  This new world of technology is a valuable aid to our industry, but the downside is the distraction it presents.

If you’re having trouble keeping your head in the game of storytelling, you may want to try a new approach.  Why not pick up a pencil and notepad (the paper kind) and write longhand like they used to do in the olden days?  It works wonderfully for me, and I’ve heard that Tess Gerritsen and James Patterson also write longhand, so there must be something to this archaic method of composing a novel.

If you’ve always written on a computer, you may not think it will work for you, but do give it a try.  You might be surprised by what you can accomplish.

The Benefits of Writing Longhand

Writing longhand forces you to kick your internal editor out the door and pour the story onto the page without backspacing, deleting, or re-crafting sentences to make them pretty.  You can relax and simply let go, knowing you’ll sculpt your work of art later when you are transcribing your pages.

Tip: When you can’t think of the perfect word at any given moment, use whatever is at the forefront of your mind, even if it’s a lazy, inarticulate word.  Who cares? It’s only written in pencil anyway.  Underline it with a squiggly line so you’ll remember to check the thesaurus later when you are typing.  The goal is to relax and let your story flow.

Writing longhand also gets you out of your computer chair, where most of us spend far too much time as it is.  This can decrease the risk of repetitive strain injuries on your neck, back, and especially your wrists.  I write in a few different places—the bed, a big comfy chair in the living room, a table in a coffee shop—and I change positions often. Sometimes I stretch out.  Sometimes I curl up.

Perhaps most importantly, writing longhand puts a physical and mental barrier between you and the distraction of technology (i.e. YouTube, emails, blogs, Twitter, etc.), which can sweep you away for hours if you let it.

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Julianne MacLean relaxing at Kobo’s head office in Toronto

Tip: Put your Blackberry or IPhone in another room and turn off the sound on your computer so that you don’t hear the little alarm bell that whispers seductively: “You’ve Got Mail.”

Tip: Go one step further.  Invest in a pair of sound-reduction headphones—the sort of thing you would use if you were operating a jack hammer—and wear them to shut out other types of noise around you.  Even if I am home alone and the house is quiet, I find they help me focus.  Maybe it’s a Pavlovian response in me now.  When the headphones cover my ears, I am conditioned to ignore the noisy world around me, and just write.

But what about the typing?  Isn’t that a horrendous chore?

Personally, I love the fact that writing longhand provides me with an opportunity to polish and revise regularly when I transcribe my pages.  Just make sure you don’t fall behind on the typing, or you’ll get into trouble.  I transcribe almost every day.  The previous day’s work (for me, that’s about 5-10 pages) doesn’t take too long in the mornings, and that’s when I polish my prose.  I never start a Monday without being completely caught up on the previous week’s pages.

And here’s one final word about it: according to a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin, students in elementary school not only wrote faster by hand than by keyboard, but generated more ideas when composing essays in longhand.  The same researcher also showed that writing by hand was more stimulating to brain regions involved with thought, language, and short term memory.

Tip: Try writing on a yellow notepad, because the color yellow is believed to stimulate creativity as well.

Writing longhand may not work for every writer, because we all have different processes, but if you find yourself growing bored with the same chair, same keyboard, same four walls, and you can’t resist the lure of Facebook or Twitter, you might discover that a change is just what you need to breathe new life into your writing day.  Give it a try, and let me know if it works for you!

 

Check out some of Julianne’s titles at Kobo.

Married By Midnight: A Pembroke Palace Novel

Taken by the Cowboy: A Time Travel Romance

The Color of Heaven (writing as E. V. Mitchell)

 

Julianne MacLean’s website

Comments

  1. Thank-you for the reminder. Reminiscent of Natalie Goldberg’s writing instructions.

  2. Before I purchased a laptop, I would write at a coffee shop in long hand then come home, transcribe it and pretty up the words. I finished my first MS that way. After I purchased a laptop I stopped doing the long hand, but I’ve recently gone back to it because for me, it really does seem to work the best on that first draft.

  3. I am a huge believer in writing longhand! It’s just easier for me, and then I go back and edit when I’m typing it in. I haven’t tried the headphones, but I think I might just have to give it a go…

  4. Great post, Julianne. I totally agree. I think and create much better with pen and notepad (yellow too). I think I’ll try some sound reducing though. Awesome tips!

  5. Fran Baker says:

    I wrote my first three books in longhand, then typed and revised them. Then came the computer … now I’ve come full circle and am writing my current book in longhand. Good advice, Julianne, especially the suggestion about putting a squiggly line under a weak word.

  6. I’m a big fan of longhand. I write both ways – sometimes straight onto the computer, sometimes longhand on paper. I have always found that the material I generate longhand is far superior to the straight-to-the-computer work.

  7. Thanks for the tips! I like that we can also doodle with a pencil. It seems to help with word flow.

  8. I must try that, Julianne! Thanks for the tips.

  9. I find longhand writing especially effective for sessions of speed writing to advance my novel into new territory. It’s so much more conducive to brainstorming than tapping computer keys. Thanks, Julianne!

  10. I LOVE writing longhand especially on yellow lined paper. It’s very freeing and somehow more intimate than sitting at a machine. Thanks for this lovely article.

  11. I think you are spot on. I usually plan my book using a dip pen (remember them?), and write the initial text on my laptop (using arch linux as the operating system) before dumping the text onto my iMac and into Scriviner for polishing/reworking. I find having a break from my big screen is essential, for the same reasons you have for writing by hand.

  12. I love reading about how you write!

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