Why I Write Longhand

I have one very important discipline when I write: I always write my first draft longhand.

I didn't used to, at least not very often. Like so many students, I would put off writing that short story or essay until the last minute, and then I'd have no choice but to do everything on the computer. However, now that I'm no longer a procrastinating student, I'm writing the first draft of my first novel by hand.

Many people are surprised that I would actually write a 300+ page novel by hand, or even a 20 page short story. Some admire what I think they see as my dedication.

I don't mean to blow my own horn. I don't write longhand because I'm particularly dedicated, or because I have a romantic allegiance to what many see as a dying practice. I write longhand for two reasons. The first is that when I'm writing on my computer, I'm as easily distracted by the internet as an OCD squirrel is distracted by shiny tinfoil. When I write longhand, I have fewer excuses to procrastinate.

The second reason is that I like scribbling notes in the margins as I go. Sure, most word processors have a comments function. But I've found that writing longhand notes is more dynamic, more "organic." If I dislike something I've written or I think it's out of place, I just cross it out but flip back to it later if I think it would work elsewhere in the book.

If you haven't written anything longhand in a very long time, try hand-writing a short story, or perhaps the next chapter of your WIP. I'd love to hear about your experience, whether it gave you a new perspective on your writing, whether you liked or disliked, and why. Writing longhand isn't for everybody, but it's right for some of us, and maybe you're one.


  1. Very interesting. I don't think I've written anything longhand since I was in...junior high, maybe? You are so, so right that the Internet is a huge distraction when you are writing on the computer. We've been having problems with our Internet connection lately, and sometimes that can be a blessing as well as a curse -- no ability to do instant research, but also no ability to open Facebook when you're supposed to be writing.

    I think the main reason I would never want to go back to longhand is that I make constant revisions as I write. I chew over a paragraph like a piece of gristle when I'm getting it on the page the first time. On the computer, that means I have a fairly good first draft without much need to edit. On paper, that would mean I have a horrid mess of scribbles, cross-outs, and arrows repositioning words and phrases -- something perfectly nightmarish to read.

  2. When I'm writing a first draft, a blank computer screen is just so much more intimidating to me than a blank piece of paper. Even though I type much faster than I write, I find it so much easier to write than type my first draft. Also, when I type it into the computer, I edit as I go, so that that first typed copy -- voila! Already a second draft! I dream of a really useful tablet PC that takes my handwriting and converts it to text... and the day I'm making enough as a writer to afford it.

  3. @ Rosanne: It's just the opposite with me! When I write on the computer, it's so easy for me to constantly second-guess myself, delete, rewrite, delete, rewrite. On paper (I've recently switched to using pen rather than pencil), it's more of an investment, so I'm less likely to get hung up on one part of the story. I just scribble revision suggestions in the margins and keep on writing.

    @mfantaliswrites: That would be an awesome invention, and maybe it already exists (for an exorbitant fee, of course). On the other hand, it might garble everything like those voice-to-text functions.