Writing: The Advantage of Pen and Paper

With all of the gizmos, gadgets, and greatness available to us today, a lot of people have forgotten about the basics. No, I’m not talking about a Word program with no frills, I’m talking about the way Dickinson and Austen and Wollstonecraft-Shelly wrote. I’m talking about writing a first draft from beginning to end with a pen and paper.

Now I know that there are a few automatic concerns:

1) OMG THE ENVIRONMENT! – Yeah, I know. Use recycled paper and write small.

2) I MIGHT LOSE IT! – A true concern, especially for those used to saving copies on multiple hard drives, in e-mails, and on a friend’s PC, just in case. But then maybe this will be good exercise for your brain! Now where did I put my pen…?


I recently started working on the first draft of a new story (I’ve honestly lost count of how many I have going at once). When the idea came to me I was at work and, since I work in a book store, I couldn’t exactly sit down on a computer or with my phone and type up the scene. So I grabbed a few pieces of scrap paper and began to write. On my break I worked on it even more, piecing together the papers and writing up the entire beginning scene. When I got home, I had two options: type it up into a word document or continue writing it by hand. Against my usual habits, I decided to write this story by hand.

The experience has been liberating.

I’ve heard from a hundred different people that you have to turn off your inner editor when you write your first draft. Just go with the flow and ignore the changes she suggests! I thought I had managed to do that, but now I realize I wasn’t even close. I know that making changes in a written manuscript are incredibly time consuming and can get very complicated–especially when you’re writing in bound notebooks instead of loose-leaf paper. Because I know this, it is so much easier to lock that editor in a cage and give her something else to keep her occupied. The comparative silence in my head is amazing.

I’m not saying that my writing has suddenly improved tenfold or anything like that, but I’ve come to see that writing an entire first draft by hand is an experience every writer should have. I know that a lot of things I’ve written down will change or disappear entirely. And that’s okay! For now, I’m listening to my characters and letting the story go where they take it. They’ll be plenty of time to direct them later.

8 thoughts on “Writing: The Advantage of Pen and Paper

  1. Jen

    I love pen and paper. Unfortunately, my handwriting is horrible and I end up thinking faster than I can write and I wind up using shorthand. Which I then can't decipher when I go to type it. Le sigh…

  2. Sera Phyn

    There are definitely drawbacks to the system. For example, my hands hurt when I write for a long time and I definitely type faster than I can write. But the silence in my head is so worth the pain. πŸ˜‰

  3. Kamille Leili Elahi

    My best friend is paper. I was just unlucky enough to get hands that cramp when I write AND type. SO I type because I can get in more words typing before my hands cramp than I can when writing. The worst thing about paper has to be being able to find where you wrote that certain scene as I tend to write on anything and everything. I also try to hide my writing to make sure no one can find it and read it!

  4. Michael

    I'm glad that you found a system that works for you, but it seems like a real waste of time, since sooner or later you're going to have to start keyboarding.

    When I write a book, I write it as a book. I don't do an 8.5 x 11 inch manuscript. I write in the format of the book. My monitor shows me text and graphics on 6 x 9-inch two-page spreads, just like real books.

    This way I can better judge the size of chapters, and experiment with different locations for events, subjects, paragraphs, sentences and illustrations within the book. It's also easy to a edit to eliminate widows and orphans, and to make chapters end on the bottom of a page, rather than have a few words overflowing onto the next page.

    With pen and paper, to cut and paste, you have to _really_ cut and paste (or at least cut and Scotch Tape).

    It's much too slow and tiring to write by hand. My handwriting is so sloppy that no one else can read it accurately, and even I have trouble.

    Publishing has come a long way since the Middle Ages. I'll gladly take keyboard and MS Word over quill and parchment.

    Michael N. Marcus
    author of “Become a Real Self-Publisher,” due soon


  5. Sera Phyn

    Oh goodness! Quill and parchment would definitely be a hassle. >.< As for my pen and paper expedition, it definitely does have its ups and downs and I don't think it would work for all of my books. I have a few projects that are so twisted and complex that if I put everything on paper first my house would be filled with nothing but notebooks! The pen and paper thing may just be for this particular book. For some reason it just feels right to be WRITING this one. And gut feelings are something I rarely argue with when it comes to creative endeavors. πŸ˜€

  6. gunzeye

    Nice to see someone who shares a similar opinion. I just love the feeling of pen touching the paper and I prefer fountain pens over ball pens. I'm not a story writer and I can't write very good, but I have this craving to write loads of stuff but whenever I start to write I end up writing just one page. I have even bought a ring binder after getting to know about diyplanner website. I even bought a waterman pen recently, hope I can use it more often in the coming days.

  7. Term Papers

    I really thank to one who wrote this article. I have always been reading and writing texts like this in blogs. Thank you very much for the excellent and useful subject.


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