On handwriting

“I like the whole first and second draft feeling, and the act of making paper dirty.”*

So said Neil Gaiman about writing his novels by hand. It started with Stardust, when Gaiman decided to try writing with notebook and fountain pen, “to see how writing by hand changed my head.” It turned out that he loved it, and he went on to write Sandman: Dream HuntersAnansi BoysThe Graveyard Book, most of Coraline and even American Gods by hand.

If you’ve never tried writing by hand, you might not know what a different sort of writing experience it can be. Plenty of writers swear by it, at least for the first draft – Joyce Carol Oates, Amy Tan and Quentin Tarantino all prefer using pen and paper to sitting in front of a screen.

But what is it about handwriting that is so appealing? Here are three reasons why writing by hand might improve your work:

1. It takes the pressure off

Computers are brilliant for editing – cutting and pasting, saving old drafts, Ctrl+F – but this can be a huge distraction when you’re just trying to write. Having the ability to go back and change anything at any time can mean you get bogged down in editing before you’ve even finished the first draft: why advance the story when you could tinker with that sentence a little longer? Writing by hand takes a lot of this pressure away. On the page you have permission to be scrappy, to make mistakes and plough past them, to revisit them another day. For a first draft, when you just need to get the words out so that the story can take shape in your head, handwriting can be invaluable.

2. It slows you down

Experienced computer-users can type very quickly, but if you can pump out an impressive number of words per minute, your writing might suffer as a result. Sometimes your fingers can be faster than your brain, meaning that you get the words out without really giving too much thought to them. Typing is great for meeting word counts or doing free-flow writing, but handwriting might be better if you need to slow down and take a little more care. With a pen in hand, you’ll probably find that your thoughts try to match the pace of your writing, rather than the other way around.

3. It makes you revisit your work

Have you ever written something and thought it was the best thing ever and it definitely didn’t need improving? If you type your first draft straight onto your computer, it can be tempting to consider it ‘finished’, and then you can very easily send it off or file it under ‘Complete’ without ever looking at it again. But this isn’t necessarily how you improve. By handwriting your first drafts, you’re forced to revisit them in order to type them up. When you do that you’ll discover problems and you’ll have to work to fix them. That is what makes you a better writer.

Have you been inspired to give handwriting a go? If so, let me know with a comment down below. Happy writing!


on handwriting

* https://www.timeout.com/london/books/neil-gaiman-how-i-write
Image courtesy of Unsplash and Canva

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