Why Writing is Better in Longhand


Yesterday, unable to face the monster word document of my second draft lurking away in my hard drive, I pulled out a notepad and started scribbling. An hour later, I found I’d rewritten an entire chapter of my book from scratch. It had been so long since I’d written anything more than post-its and quick notes that I had entirely forgotten the benefits of writing longhand.

It’s interesting to think that every author until recent times has written out their work by hand. The computer screen has only existed for a relatively short amount of time. In fact, many writers still make the decision to write longhand in favour of using a computer. Quentin Tarantino said as much in an interview with Reuters a few years ago.

‘My ritual is, I never use a typewriter or computer. I just write it all by hand. It’s a ceremony. I go to a stationary store and buy a notebook – and I don’t buy like ten. I just buy one and then fill it up. Then I buy a bunch of red felt pens and a bunch of black ones, and I’m like, ‘These are the pens I’m going to write ‘Grindhouse” with.’

There’s something innately satisfying about putting pen to paper – filling up a notebook with real, substantial words. Something that’s missing with the transient nature of a word processor. On paper, words seem to carry more weight behind them – more permanence. When I’m scribbling longhand it feels personal, not something disconnected like filing taxes or a TPS report. And without the ability to delete a sentence from existence with a simple click, I find myself thinking harder about what I write next. Longhand seems to naturally improve the quality of my writing.

Another huge benefit of course, is there’s no internet to distract you with just pen and paper. I wonder if authors of the past would have been as productive as they were if they had access to the wealth of online resources we do today. These days, it’s too easy for your attention to wander and a short while later, find yourself tumbling down in an electronic rabbit hole. I wrote about boredom in creativity a few weeks ago.

There are downsides of course. Writing by hand is much slower than using a computer. Nothing will approach the same level of speed as touch typing. And corrections become more difficult as you can’t just print off another copy of your work. The inability to backup your work becomes a concern as well – there’s no Dropbox with a notepad. So some convenience is lost when you remove a computer from the process. But on the other hand, you can take a pen and paper anywhere you go.

So if you prefer handwriting to the cold, blankness of a computer screen, then you’re by no means alone. Any amount of googling will turn up other writers who prefer writing in longhand during this digital age – a time when people cycle through garish, throwaway iProducts faster than the child labour produces them. I know I regret not starting my first draft on paper, and with a certain stubborness, I know that any future writing I do will begin with a blank notebook and the touch of a familiar pen in my hand.

© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by Joel Montes de Oca licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

26 thoughts on “Why Writing is Better in Longhand”

  1. Reblogged this on Just Can't Help Writing and commented:
    One of my favorite topics: the benefits of writing in longhand.
    I write in spiral notebooks. They must be college-ruled, however. Not only do I love the tactile sense of the pen making letters on the page, I love being able to scribble notes and reminders and questions in the margins. An added bonus: you get an extra edit when you keyboard what you’ve written. When you have to type something, you find it much easier to ask, “Do I really need this?”
    Hardest thing has been writing instruments. I hate throwing away whole pens or even refills when the ink is gone. I used to use Schaeffer cartridge pens, but the cartridges got hard to find, and I still had to throw them away. Now I’m using a refillable fountain pen, and really liking it. (You can get a “fine point” by turning a medium nib upside down.)
    And writing more slowly gives ideas time to begin to build ahead of me as I write, so that when I get there, they’re just waiting to spill onto the page!
    Anyone else write this way?

  2. There are critical difference between hand writing and computer writing in the way it goes to the brain. Things register differently. There is research for that fact that I won’t try and explain badly. If you want to make something real in the brain, write it down. I have many shelves filled with handwritten notebooks and journals. Writing by hand allows the creativity to flow better. It just is what it is. I type things out after I’ve written out the premise of what I want to say so I can edit but the original has to be hand written. I’m with you on the handwriting. Makes such a difference. Popped over from Charles French’s blog.

  3. writing longhand is the only way to really feel what you write. You cannot create anything properly with a keyboard, not in my experience, anyway. Typing up afterwards is the first edit…

    1. I haven’t come across anyone that feels the opposite yet. I’m sure there’s plenty of them though. It would be interesting to know what percentage of writers actually prefer typing exclusively over writing longhand, and why they prefer it that way.

  4. i thought i was alone in writing all of my early drafts longhand. when i write by hand, and rewrite by hand, i am more intimately aware of what i have written. when i write longhand i am ever mindful of the shortcomings in my writing. when i type i am blind to them, speeding along, feeling good about myself, only to have to toss 800 words the next day.

    1. There’s definitely advantages to the pace of handwriting. I find a thousand handwritten words alway feel much more substantial and higher quality than the equivalent in a word processor.

  5. Hi Gavin. I followed the link on Charles French’s blog and I’m glad that I did. I’m of a generation to whom writing in longhand was the usual thing to do – unless your were the proud owner of some kind of typrwriter. It took me a long time to get used to writing on a word processor/computer in the first place, and now I still scribble the opening sections of my books in longhand. I can’t say I do the entire first drafts that way, but for scenes which need a lot of thought and planning, the notebook comes out. Ideas just seem to flow more easily from my brain to my pen, somehow. And I never go anywhere without a notebook and several pens. Thank you for the interesting post.

    1. Writing on a phone has never sat well with me – touchscreen typing is so fiddly and unsatisfying. So like you, I carry a notebook with me whenever I go somewhere. Thanks for reading, appreciate the comment.

  6. What an inspiring post. I run a campaign about handwriting for university students to raise awareness about the lack of handwriting practice happening in this digital age. Word processors are definitely faster to work with but it will never give me the freedom that a notepad will when it comes to creativity. Typing always make me miss a few words in a sentence (because I type so fast) and in that way I’m more prone to making grammatical errors in my written work. As opposed to that, when I write sentences on a notepad I tend to look back on the words and correct any mistakes that I make. It definitely slows down the process, but at the same time it helps me stop and think about the content that I’m putting down on paper. Also, what an inspiring man Tarantino is! I might try that for my next draft too. Thanks for the post! Happy Handwriting 🙂 -Y.K-

    1. There’s definitely a slower, more reflective pace to handwriting. Glad you’re spreading awareness – I can’t remember the last time I saw someone write something by hand rather than tap it in to their phone. Appreciate the read.

  7. Alas, I didn’t think there was another way for me. Yet we are oft wired differently. I can attribute (or blame) the A.D.D. that pushes those thoughts onto the page. Initially it was to prove myself right, I was not. It was very freeing as I can type so much faster which helps as the thoughts whizz through my imagination… 😉 For me, it is less frustrating to work on the computer.

    For a bit more on the subject, here is a post from an earlier post: https://poetryphotosandmusingsohmy.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/surrender/

    Thank you for choosing to follow one of my blogs. I hope you continue to enjoy the posts. Lea

  8. Reblogged this on sherriemiranda1 and commented:
    Thank you, Gavin, for this post!
    You make some good points here, but there is something happening that you haven’t touched on. Handwriting uses the right side of the brain, the creative side. Typing, especially if you are a bad typist like I am, uses the left side of the brain, the analytical, logical side of the brain.
    In my case it was very obvious as I couldn’t type one sentence without getting stuck and making changes and correcting stuff. When I hand-wrote the pieces, using script writing, the stuff just flowed out of me. It was a very natural process. Now if one types 120 words a minute, they probably could do the same thing, but for those of us that are thinking while they type, it just doesn’t work very well.
    I hand-wrote almost my entire first draft of my novel. Then I needed to tie up some loose ends so I just typed it right into my PC. Now, THAT was the stuff that I lost, trying to copy it onto a flash drive.
    I re-wrote those pieces, sort of half and half, I wrote down some of what I remembered from what I lost and added to it when I typed it.
    You need to be loose and let the creative juices flow for that first draft. The writing doesn’t come from your brain; it comes from your heart and from the environment, much the same way that someone might get an idea about how to make electricity. Not sure how much sense that makes, but I hope you get the idea.
    In fact, I am just realizing that this is why I am having so much trouble getting anything done on the prequel to my novel! I need to write it by hand first!
    Thank you very much for this reminder!
    Peace, love & harmony,

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