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The Benefits of Writing a Novel By Hand
I love writing on paper. Few things spark joy in me like a brand-new spiral notebook—and that’s been true almost my whole life. Writing a novel longhand, at least for the first draft, is my personal preference. I don’t write the whole thing by hand before typing it: I transfer it to Word document on my computer now and then as I go.
Every writer is different, and I’m not going to claim that writing a novel by hand is right for everyone. I know that writing on paper isn’t even an option for everyone.
Besides, writing a novel longhand does have its disadvantages. It’s slower, since you’re going to wind up typing it on the computer later, anyway. And if you’re unable to decipher your own handwriting, which is true for lots of people, writing on paper for your first draft is pretty much a non-starter.
Here are a few benefits of writing a story longhand, though. If it’s doable for you and you haven’t tried it, you might want to give it a go, just to see if you like it![spacer height=”20px”]
1. Writing on paper eliminates the distractions of the internet.
I know I’m not the only person who struggles with this. Of course, the other solution is to install an internet blocking app that allows you to block the whole internet…or just the sites you waste time on most often. I’ve found those to be pretty effective as I’ve typed a scene into the computer or as I’ve dived into a round of edits. (I use them to help me focus in my day job, too.)
2. Writing the first draft by hand may make you feel freer and more creative.
The act of writing by hand makes me feel less self-conscious, as if I’m just having fun and writing for me. This may vary from writer to writer, though!
3. Writing longhand helps you remember what you’ve written later.
Have you ever had to read back over a previous chapter to remember what your characters said? Writing the first draft by hand can help with this, because it engages the Reticular Activating System (RAS.)
4. Writing by hand may reduce stress and strain.
Again, this probably varies from writer to writer. For me, the act of writing in a notebook is calming. I like the physical sensation of the words flowing over the page. As someone who spends a lot of her waking hours in front of a screen, it feels good to be away from it. I’ve sometimes suffered physical strain from typing too much: a pinched nerve in the neck, a mild bout of carpal tunnel syndrome. Getting off the keyboard has meant less pain.
5. Writing your first draft longhand means you have a built-in first round of editing.
When you type a chapter you’ve written on paper onto your computer, you naturally do some revisions and edits as you go. That means that even the first typed version of the draft is a little better than it would’ve been otherwise.[spacer height=”20px”]
There may be other pros and cons of writing first drafts by hand versus writing them on the computer. Which do you prefer, and why? Let us know in the comments! There’s no right or wrong here, of course. Everyone’s going to use the method that works best for them.
If you’re writing a novel or you’re just thinking about writing one, I hope you’ll check out Blank Page to Final Draft —it’s a step-by-step guide from brainstorming to doing the final copy edits. It might help you reach your writing goals!
Thanks so much for reading, and however you do it, happy writing!
61 thoughts on “ the benefits of writing a novel by hand ”.
I carry paper at all times.
Me, too! Well…I’ve been stuck at home a lot this year. But when I leave the house, I always have a little notebook or something with me!
I love to write long hand for outlines, picture books, and rough draft my synopses. It’s easier for me to see where I need to make additions rearrange sentences, and color code different plot levels.
(Sorry for the late response, Savannah! These last few weeks…sheesh!) I never think about color-coding…it’s such a good idea!
No worries, I hope the week ahead is a great one! (I started color-coding thanks to working on my picture book manuscripts)
I only write long hand for first draft (research and outlines also). Mostly for the reasons you included.
Oh yes! I have big sections of notebooks for research and notes, too!
OMG, Bryn! I thought I was the only person in the world who wrote longhand! haha I write my first drafts in notebooks (Don’t get me started since I have a really unhealthy pen and notebooks obsession…) and then type it up in Google Docs or Word.
As the article mentions, I like to write notes to myself in the margins with my old fashioned fountain pen, cross out words or sentences and also using different pen colors on the paper does something for my creativity. I also like to look back at the notebooks after I have finished the books and see where they came from. It’s kind of like seeing this massive skyscraper, then looking at the blueprints when the building was first conceived.
In my recently released book, The Redhead and the Ghostwriter, a Pulitzer Prize winning author is working with an aspiring author, and she asks why he doesn’t use a laptop. So it was fun to put in my personal experience for why writing it out on paper then sending it to the laptop was the way he did it.
Thanks for that on point and timely article!
Ivan, CONGRATULATIONS on the release, first of all! That’s so awesome! (And sorry it’s a belated congratulations. The last few weeks have been so bonkers. 🙂 ) Ahh, I used to have an old-fashioned fountain pen…there’s nothing like them. I should get a new one!
Mostly on the computer for spell check, but if I’m waiting somewhere 4 sheets of copy paper work, A couple of times I’ve used a shopping bag, or post it notes.
Hi Donald! Hahaha, when a writer’s got something to write, almost anything will do! Hope you’re doing well!
I don’t write longhand when I write a story. I also don’t follow my own advice about not editing while you write your fist draft. I cant help but edit as I write on a computer because it is so easily done. So, I was a bit surprised when the best reason I can think of to write longhand–much harder to edit as you write–wasn’t mentioned.
Hi, Tyler! Ahh, that’s such a good point about it making harder to edit as you go! I’m surprised I didn’t mention it, myself. 🙂 I do cross out a lot when I’m writing by hand, but still…writing by hand makes it much easier to keep going!
I placed in several contests with a short story I dreamed, then wrote longhand on my deck the next morning with a cup of coffee. Two hours flew by as I wrote. I, too, have a large collection of notebooks and journals, but my passion is pens, markers, and highlighters.
Hi, Bonnie! Ahh, it sounds like that story was almost divinely inspired! I have some friends who are *addicted* to pens and markers. Hey, there are worse addictions!
I’ve kept a cursive journal for more than 30 years. Most of the text goes nowhere, but I continue anyway because it’s my pressure relief valve. A decade ago I stopped buying notebooks and made my own from copy paper and a long-arm stapler. For at home I fold them top to bottom. If I’m on the road I make a few folded side-to-side because they fit in my pocket. I write short fiction. And I rely heavily on a manual typewriter, never letting the typos get in my way.
I posted on this topic at justcanthelpwriting. I do almost all my drafting in longhand for many of the reasons you’ve highlighted. I especially love that extra edit you get when you keyboard. And I value my ability to draw circles, arrows, boxes–all sorts of connections as new ideas pop up. Taking more time, indeed, allows for more incubation even between the lines.
I did have to follow up with a mea culpa for forgetting that not everyone can take advantage of writing by hand. It’s so easy to assume that what is natural for me is natural for everyone. I got strong responses for my mea culpa, which suggests that I was addressing an important issue.
Still, for those who can write by hand, I hope they will follow your advice and give it a try.
Hi, Virginia! (I deleted the duplicate comments—sorry comments were being weird.) I forgot to say that—I do that, too! I circle things, draw arrows, and put stars next to things. Yeah, if it’s an option for a writer, it’s definitely worth a try. 🙂
I am a notebook junkie. I LOVE new notebooks.I love school supplies. That said, I really prefer writing on a computer. I sometimes wonder how any novels got written before Microsoft Word. I love the ability to move paragraphs around and delete and add sentences without starting over.
Rory, I often wonder about that, too…how did Dickens and Austen do it?? Amazing!
I straddle both camps. If I write anything other than poetry or letters, I write on computer. Eventually it’s going to have to be typed anyway and my hand tires quickly from longhand. BUT I always write my poems on paper first. I’m very superstitious about having a bit of a ritual, a magic notebook. I need large pages (8.5 x 11) and large spirals that allow pages to lie flat or turn all the way back. I’ve seen numerous articles on how writing by hand improves creativity, and I believe it. My so-called first drafts would more realistically count as 2-15 drafts. I have to move the poem to the computer while I’m still able to read what I wrote. Technically, I could write my free verse poems on the computer, but verse (which I don’t employ often) requires paper for me to keep up my meter and rhyme straight. Alarie
Hi Alarie! I wasn’t even thinking about poetry…I’ve never drafted a poem on the computer in my life. I really can’t even imagine! I’ve heard about that link between writing and creativity, too.
I can’t imagine it either, but apparently many of our writing colleagues did just that.
Thanks, Bryn. I can relate to some of those reasons. Usually, I do write poetry on paper because it usually comes line by line rather than a stream of thought and I’m not usually in front of a computer when they come. However, my mind races faster than I can write when working on a novel. So then I prefer the computer. All of your points were valid and I may need to try it more. Thanks, again.
Hi Lynnette! YES, I was just saying to Alarie…I’ve actually never drafted a poem on a computer in my life. For me, those HAVE to be handwritten. Thanks for commenting!
Love this, Bryn! I write everything in longhand right up to editing when it’s time to move stuff around or save for something else! 🙂
Hi, Felicia! Yeah, when you need to start moving scenes around, it really needs to be on a computer. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves writing longhand!
I wrote my very first novel by hand before typing it into the computer. After a hundred thousand words, my typing got better. I was even nice to be able to close my eyes and picture a scene in my mind and type the scene without having to look. That works great unless your fingers are in the wrong position. I don’t write by hand so much anymore, but since I am working on a second sequel to my first book, I think it would be wise to write this one like I wrote the first one. Something can be said for using a computer. I once wrote a letter in long hand to my son. He had to ask someone else to read it to him. He had not learned to read cursive in school. That’s sad.
That means he won’t be able to read any of my early journals even if he wants to after I am dead and gone.
Hi, Jessie! (Sorry I’m so late in replying. I think my schedule is going to get less hectic!) That’s an interesting point about writing books in a series using the same method…I bet that would help them be consistent in a lot of little ways! I never thought of that before.
I think they should still teach cursive in school. It may be that your son will learn it later. <3
Hi Bryn! Hope you‘re good, what a fun topic you choose, I love it! Handwriting is important on so many levels. However, it’s not an option for me. I’ve worked in a restaurant for years and we took the orders by writing them down. My my, the amount of time I struggled figuring out my own handwriting. It was so embarrassing, every so often I had to walk back to the table, asking the customer what they had ordered. Sometimes I just took a wild guess and in case I was wrong, I could always blame the kitchen, haha! Stay healthy, xoxo Scarlett
Hi Scarlett! Nice to see you here 🙂 I had to smile, because I’ve had many embarrassing moments as a server in the past, myself. (Not handwriting-related, but still!) It’s true—handwriting doesn’t work for everyone!
You make a lot of great points about writing by hand. I miss writing things out that way sometimes. The built in editing was so useful, but since I have the handwriting of a serial killer, there were times that I couldn’t make out what I wrote. I also have the problem of my brain going faster than my hand. Typing helps me keep up a bit better. I do still do a fair amount of outlining and revision notes by hand however. I find writing it out does make it stick in my head better. If only I could always read what I wrote. LOL.
Erin! Sorry for the late reply. These weeks have been tough lately! “The handwriting of a serial killer” cracked me up. I do have some trouble deciphering my handwriting in the parts where my brain was moving fast, so I get it! 🙂 Hope everything’s going well with you!
I really enjoyed this post, as I love stationery and have always thought writing stuff down helped me remember, so I checked out the link provided too, thanks for sharing ?
Hi Kellie! Ahhh, you know, I love stationery, and it’s been way too long since I’ve written a proper letter. I’ve just today been thinking about doing that more…I am leaving Facebook and I’m doing a lot of thinking about other ways to connect. A handwritten letter is so special. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!
I have written longhand but in the interest of saving time revert to the computer. These are all good reasons to at least start out with longhand. And of course nothing like a fresh sheet of paper for inspiration.
Hi, Tanya! (Sorry for the delayed reply…hectic week at work!) The time factor really is an issue, for sure. Thanks for reading the blog!
I write scenes in a notebook as they come to me, but I don’t write the entire first draft by hand.
A friend writes her entire first draft by hand, and she’s a bestselling author–it’s obviously working for her. 🙂
Hi, Denise! (Sorry the delayed response…it was quite a week!) I can see why you would do it that way. Sometimes you’ve just got to get it down! 🙂
No worries–I was late in posting.
I often write out my first drafts on paper then type them up later. Usually not the full draft is written longhand, though, as some scenes may just be sketched out as notes for when it’s typed later.
This is exactly what I do!
I’m so impressed at all these people writing a whole draft by hand! I can see the benefits but it feels so daunting. I wonder if it would be freeing, though, to be taken away from the pressure of the word count and to just write as it comes out… Maybe I’ll try it for the next one!
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It has been some time now since I have written a story or novel freehand, not because I think it silly but simply because the extra time required in typing it later is something that annoy’s me. All of my early novels started out with a notebook, then they were conceived on a digital voice recorder, Now all are written on the PC. I suppose it depends upon what type of a writer you are. My notebooks were so difficult to follow as red and green scores outnumbered the words left of the original tale. Then cutting out bits of pages to move one piece of narrative to another place, stapling them in place and then later to move them again as the tale came together. Yet if you are one of those writers who can hold to the imagined tale, from start to finish then this is a good idea in my opinion.
Because I type so much, my handwriting has gotten terrible over the years; however, I respect all writers who can go this route. Enjoyed reading your post.
Hey, Thank you for your post to reassure me writing longhand isn’t a dying art although how do you stay eco-friendly while doing it. I always have a mix of awe and guilt when I stare at the page and pages of paper. Thanks AJM
Hi AJM! What a great question. Sometimes I write on the backs of printed-out pages…when I was still working in an office, I’d pluck them right out of the recycling bin and take them home. 😀 Just now, I ordered post-consumer-recycled notebooks from Office Max, and I love them.
I really enjoyed these tips, thank you! Because of tendinitis woes, I’m unable to write full novels on paper anymore, but I’ve always preferred outlining on something other than a computer. Notebooks and a pencil also mean I can write anywhere, if there won’t be a chance to bring my laptop. There are definitely benefits!
I’m so sorry, E.G. Tendonitis is no joke. 🙁 I hope it gets better! I’m like you–I especially like outlining by hand.
I remember doing this a lot as a child. Yeah, some of my attempts at a novel went unfinished, but a) I didn’t have a home computer at the time, and b) it was good practice. I’m going to start doing it again, and this time, maybe I’ll create that novel.
I’ve got eleven books published on Amazon. Alla of them were done completely on the computer. I was looking online for something related to screenwriting, and I came across an article on handwritten first drafts. The list of authors and screenwriters was amazing.
So book number twelve started out on looseleaf college-rule notebook paper. I have 50+ pages so far (with a blank space between each paragraph and section of dialogue; it’s easier for me to separate everything). And it feels great. The process feels more natural. I used to sit and stare at a blank screen for long stretches at a time. Writing by hand has greatly reduced the writer’s block episodes, and the story flows better. And, as others have mentioned, the desire to edit right away are reduced to a strike-through (maybe a scribble) and then I continue. It’s very liberating.
I enjoyed the read.
*All of them
Great blog, I am currently typing on a keyboard but lately I’ve been debating writing by hand or on a typewriter
I came on your site to read ‘Why do some Publishers have different Word Counts’ – moved on to ‘List of Fiction Genres with Word Count Examples’ (both interesting articles) and ended up here). I had to take a break from writing to care for my disabled mother. When I finally had the time to write again I was faced with writers’ block – until I started writing longhand. And I’ve stuck to it ever since. I do most of my writing in the wee hours then type it up the next day (adding more as I go). I then print off what I’ve typed up double spaced so as I progress I can red pen additions to the printed copy that either clarify or add a twist I didn’t see at the time.
Hi Lindsey! Caretaking is such hard work, and I’m not surprised it interrupted your writing. I’m so glad writing by hand has gotten you back into the groove. That is wonderful. Like you, I really like what you can discover in the process of transferring handwriting to a Word document! Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!
Totally agree. I learnt the hard way by losing chapter two on a word document. The tech stress truly blocks my creativity. By hand now for the 1st draft. Its great to have it confirmed.
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When You Write
Do Writers Type or Write by Hand? Creative Benefits of Each
In my writer circles, the question “ Do writers type or write by hand ” gets asked a lot.
There are little bells attached to both methods, you have to choose which method makes the less annoying noise for you.
Research seems to indicate that writing using longhand allows you to retain more of the written material than typing. But, when it comes to speed, typing will outrun longhand—Usain Bolt quick.
These benefits, which seem to be evenly distributed, create some sort of a conundrum, especially when you actually need both speed and retention of your material.
Like many novelists and authors who have come before you, you’re probably musing over what method to use at different stages of your creative writing process.
Fortunately for you, you’ve landed on the right post at the right time. Before I start rambling about which helps with creativity or which is the preferred method by your favorite author, let me outline the benefits that each method has.
Handwriting Vs Typing: What’s The Difference?
The major differences are typified by the benefits and cons of both—the benefits of typing mirror the cons of writing by hand and vice versa.
Benefits of Writing by Hand
Taking notes longhand has its advantages; in fact, the hypothesis that you remember more of the content that you hand wrote than the stuff you typed has been backed by research.
Moreover, there are old-school writers like myself who’ve not fallen out of love with a physical journal notebook. From experience, I have learned that pouring one’s thoughts onto paper actually helps overcome writer’s block and establish a more personal experience with your concepts.
Here are some of the benefits of handwriting:
1. Writing by hand is a distraction-free type of writing. Typing usually involves the usage of a device that is probably connected to the internet. More often than not, if you are typing using a smartphone, tablet, or computer, a huge chunk of your time is spent jumping from one app to another or from one Twitter to LinkedIn.
But, shutting out distractions and maintaining maximum focus is essential to professional writers. A stylus might help you write, but it doesn’t do much in minimizing the distractions from your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
2. Writing helps deal with writer’s block. Writing by hand allows you to scribble some rhubarb in your journal or on a piece of paper. But unlike a word processing app, misspelled rhubarb—by hand—doesn’t result in any ugly squiggly lines popping on the page. This is just one of the ways in which handwriting gives you an extra edge over typing when you lack internal inspiration.
3. Writing by hand helps with retention. As I said, this has been backed by research. Researcher Daniel Oppenheimer conducted a psychological science research at the University of California that showed that writing notes by hand helps with memory and recall. The study results indicated that areas of the brain associated with recall and comprehension are more “engaged” when people use pen and paper for handwriting their notes.
4. Writing by hand is effective for visual learning processes. Sketching visual representation of information is easier and intuitive with handwriting. Writing by hand allows you to sketch infographics and manipulate them however you want—nothing is preset and you can freestyle everything, unlike in word processing apps and spreadsheets, where most infographic tools follow predetermined dimensions.
Benefits of Typing
Nowadays, most writers type their first drafts on a word processor (well, since the first typewriter, “modern writers” have been trading the quill and fountain pens for a set of keys).
There are reasons why most professional writers have the entire writing process on word processing apps. It is faster to type on a laptop than writing by hand (for most people, anyway).
Moreover, a lot of things are automated; hence one can write mindlessly and let the apps brush up after them—seamlessly putting the text in check as they produce letter-perfect content.
Here are some of the major rewards of typing your work:
1. Typing allows formatting . There are some texts that need to be formatted in a specific way, formats that can only be done with a word processor. A publisher or a lecturer might require you to submit work with a particular word count, a particular font, or a specific referencing style. Typing with the help of a word processor enables you to automatically set and tweak such formatting specifics.
2. Typing offers ease and speed . If you are working on complex writing projects with deadlines, working on a laptop is more efficient than using longhand. Typing is also a very convenient way of writing when there is a lot of content that needs to be copied; transferring texts from an external source to your document only takes a few commands. With lots of grammar checking software extensions, word processors play a huge part in the editing process .
3. Typing is good for research and multi-tasking. Writing involves a lot of research and referencing. Therefore, the note-taking or draft writing processes require that you multitask—switching between tabs, media clips, and PDFs. When you are writing by hand you have to laboriously transfer all your researched material to your notebook—letter by letter. On the other hand, a laptop or tab allows you to have both the writing window and the research window open, side by side. When you find the required information, you can simply highlight and drag the text to your document.
4. It’s easy to back up typed writing . Writing on a computer offers more storage options than writing in a notebook. Most of these options offer easy, instant, and secure ways of backing your work compared to storage options you have when you write using longhand. For example, working on a word processor—like MS Word or Google Docs—allows you to save and backup your documents on backup drives or the cloud. Writing by hand affords less storage options, and you might easily lose your work because there are usually no advanced security options—i.e., digital encryption.
Discovering What Does the Job for You
There are factors that need to be taken into consideration when choosing a method best for you. You should know that what worked for someone—even in the same genre—might seem a burdensome writing method for you.
Moreover, you will find out that, in specific scenarios, one writing method might work better than the other. This might depend on the nature of the material you are writing and how you want to use it later.
Therefore, I would recommend experimentation; before making up your mind on whether to write by hand or type, you should give both methods dummy runs in order to find out which way of writing works better for you.
To get a better picture, take a look at some of the scenarios that fit each method.
What Scenario(s) suit(s) typing?
Since it’s easier to edit and fix, search through, and backup typed work, typing is convenient for writing bulky material that has tight submission deadlines. It is also perfect for work that needs to be decently edited and securely stored.
What Scenario(s) suit(s) Longhand Writing?
Writing by hand works best when you want to retain a lot of the material which you’re writing. Take for example, when you’re note-taking during a lecture or watching a video tutorial; what you need—to have the most out of the learning process—is to have an abstract understanding of the content and maintain focus on the most substantial elements of the material.
Not only will your brain retain more of your handwritten material, but you can also draw visual pointers to help you remember parts of it.
Which One Helps with Creativity?
More often than not, typing seems to produce better quality content, but that’s at face value. Sometimes, your idea reservoir dries up, and there usually isn’t much your stylus or keyboard can do to help you get your mojo back.
A perfect solution is actually one that has induced creativity for writers across centuries—pen and paper.
The aesthetic element of longhand and the freedom to write and sketch anything makes writing more fun than typing, and that can inject the much-needed creativity into the writing process.
When you are writing by hand, your cognitive processes are more involved than when you type and this can lead to some random springs of ideas. And at the pace of handwriting, you’re not worried about your hands outpacing your brain.
Do Writers Write by Hand or Computer?
There are still a bunch of writers that use longhand writing to craft their first draft before transferring the material to a word processor for editing.
Although typing enables a writer to finish books much faster than writing using longhand, there are a couple of authors who believe the benefits of the pen-pencil-paper setup outweighs the rewards of typing. Therefore, they still prefer getting the work done the old way (of course, they have to get the draft typed later).
In fact, most writers who still use longhand believe—in line with the benefits of handwriting that I have already outlined—that using longhand helps them process their thoughts and poppy ideas more efficiently.
For some old-school authors, writing by hand offers the only way to completely eliminate the distractions brought by the many widgets that have flooded the digital era.
Authors Who Write by Hand
Here are a few authors who wouldn’t (God bless their soul) and those who won’t let go of their beloved pen and paper when writing their draft:
- Ernest Hemingway
- Jack Kerouac
- Quentin Tarantino
- Joyce Carol Oates
- Stephen King
- J. K. Rowling
- George Clooney
- Neil Gaiman
- Joe Haldeman
- Andre Dubus III
“Having reviewed all the evidence brought before this honorable blog, it is the decision of the court that writing by hand has more creative benefits compared to typing.”
If it were up to me, I would say write by hand when crafting your bestseller. However, I do realize that writing by hand can be a taxing process for most writers.
Moreover, the creative process is supposed to be flexible, and depending on the type of prose or the reason you’re writing, you might be bound to fulfill some formatting requisites easily attained when typing.
Ultimately, the onus of choosing whether to type or write by hand is on you. As for me, I have my pen and Moleskine ready to pour my thoughts.
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