The Daunting Task of Writing Longhand

And why you should do it

I remember the first time I heard of someone writing their novel with pen and paper. I’m embarrassed to say it wasn’t that long ago. Now, however, I know that many of the great novelists write/wrote their first draft (of several novels) this way. Hemingway, Sontag, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King make the list.

I didn’t get it. It seemed like double the work—to write 80,000 ish words by hand and then have to type it—am I right? Wrong. In fact, those who swear by it say you end up revising less since you write more carefully with a pen, so although you do have to transfer it to the computer, the work you’ve already done likely puts you a step, or perhaps a draft, ahead.

There’s other benefits too such as an increase of creativity in how using the pen stimulates your brain. (I worry today’s students miss out on this when they take notes on their computer instead of in a notebook.) You also remember what you write down better than you do when you type it. (This is another reason students should drop the computer.) Writing your novel longhand helps you to keep moving down the page too. It’s more aggravating to cross through words than to delete words with the push of a button. And when you cross through a word, it’s still there for you to see. Perhaps when you revise, you’ll like your first instinct better, but when you delete a word on the computer, it’s gone forever. Writing longhand helps you to choose words more carefully and move down the page at a better pace.

I tried writing by typing a certain number of words every day, and I found myself constantly looking at my word count, rearranging words in sentences, and rereading previous paragraphs and revising over and over instead I'm of writing more of the story. Sometimes I stopped and stared. If I kept this up, I don’t think I would ever finish a novel. I am a perfectionist after all.

Now that I’m attempting to write longhand, it seems to be working for me. I’ve written four chapters in just a few days and haven’t revised once. I haven’t turned to a previous page and read a previous written paragraph or scene. Each day I’m eager to move on with the story.

I'm also relaxed—which is not a strength of mine. I relax on the couch or in my bed with my pencil and notebook.

It does scare me to think I may fail to write an entire draft of a novel on paper. Doesn’t that seem daunting? But I’m going to do it. I have six legal pads and an entire box of sharpened pencils. Do you dare me? Please dare me.