It’s a romantic notion, a writer sat scribbling away in a notepad, chewing on his pen and doodling while he thinks. But since the popularisation and easy availability of the word processor it has fallen from being the norm for a writer, especially a professional, to write a draft by hand. And that’s fine, word processors are great, as is dictation software if that’s your tool of choice. But I write everything by hand, and I’d like to tell you why.
Like many other writers, I have trouble shutting up the editor inside my head. Every writer has a little perfectionist creeping around behind their eyes telling us we had better get it right first time. It’s common advice to ignore that voice, to write now and edit later. But it’s not so easily done as it is said.
Using a word processor means having spelling errors immediately brought to your attention, even grammar errors depending on the software. It also means you can go back and easily edit anything you’ve written as you write. These are great features for editing. They aren’t so good for writing that first draft.
With a good old pen and paper approach, however, editing on the fly is discouraged by the fact that you can’t easily change what you’ve already got down. Your notepad won’t put a passive-aggressive red squiggle under your spelling mistakes, it just sits there and lets you get on with it. It helps you to not get in your own way.
Another common block to creativity is the urge to research. Many times I’ve found myself deep into Wikipedia or some obscure historical database trying to bring authenticity to my work, to get the details right when I have no first hand experience of a subject. And this is good, you should put that effort in and it’s a fun part of the process. But sometimes it’s just procrastination.
If you’re on a computer and you wonder about a detail, there is a world of information promising you answers at the click of a mouse right there on your desktop. It’s tempting to just do that research right away. If you’re anything like me, the compulsion to do that research leads almost invariably to delving deep into the subject and, in doing so, not writing.
Separation of your workflow is key here. The research should be kept as a separate activity. So cement that by using different tools for different jobs. The research must of course take place on the computer, so keeping the writing to a notepad tells your brain that whenever you’re holding a pen over some paper you are in writing mode, not research mode, or editing mode even. It’s the same reasoning behind only using your bed for sleep and sex, you want to form the association to strengthen good habits.
The last reason I think you should write with a pen and paper is simple and personal. For me, the act of writing is particularly satisfying as an act of creation, using craft to make something. Now, the value of the end product is the same whether you type or scrawl, but for me the intrinsic value of the process is far greater if I create something physical.
There’s no greater feeling than holding a pile of crumpled, messy pages containing your words in your hands. The feel of it is magical, a real moment of accomplishment. Maybe you get the same feeling from finishing typing a manuscript, but there is no comparison for me.
So while it probably won’t make your writing better, using a pen and paper to write a first draft can really do a lot for you. If you’re struggling with productivity, developing good writing habits or find yourself losing passion in the process, perhaps give it a go and leave a comment below to let us all know if it helped. Please like and share. You can follow Writer’s Allegory on Twitter (@writersallegory) and you can follow me (@matt__milton) as well.
Until we meet again, keep on writing.
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