Old Fashioned: Writing with Pen & Paper

I used to write everything longhand. I still have copybooks filled with my young scribbling. But once I got to grad school, I found that between school and working full time, I had no time for the luxury of writing longhand and then typing it in. So I’ve switched to writing everything on the computer.

This year, I attended some writing sessions with Kathryn Craft. These sessions involved writing exercises. Because I don’t like lugging my laptop around, I elected to do this writing on paper. The funny thing was, I loved the experience of returning to paper.

There is something visceral in writing with pen and paper. I feel the words more intensely through my fingers. The smoothness of the paper is soothing. The pen pressing into the pulp lends the words a tangibility that the computer screen lacks. A permanence exists, too—no computer glitch will randomly erase your work!

The visual aspect of writing creates creative energy, too. Not only do the letters themselves have shapes that I am creating, I can deviate from the linear plane by writing in the margins, adding arrows, or writing sideways. This is akin to using another creative outlet such as painting or music to release writing creativity. I find that simple starting to write, even if I don’t have a clear idea where I’m headed, acts like doodling for me—and sometimes I will doodle as well, while I’m thinking.

I have found that writing on paper meshes better with the speed of my brain while doing writing exercises. Certainly, when in the writing flow state, typing is faster than writing. But when I am trying to come up with an idea, trying to create a scene or character on the spot, writing on paper is a good speed. I don’t get frustrated because my writing outpaces my ideas and leaves me staring at a blinking cursor on a blank line.

To my great surprise, I found the writing from these sessions to have a different tone from my usual writing. In many cases it was infused with a humor I struggle to find in my writing. I often felt that the writing was more powerful, even in its unedited state, than what I normally wrote. Perhaps this is a fallacy, perhaps it was because the writing was meant to be experimental and I felt less constrained, or perhaps there was a raw emotional connection facilitated by the physical connection of pen and brain.

I hope I can import this new depth, feel, and humor into my computer writing, but if I cannot, I know I can revert to the pen and paper. And whenever I am stuck, or struggling with a particular scene, I will try this simple change of medium and see what sparks in me.

Writing on pen and paper may seem old-fashioned, and certainly is no longer the norm, but it still has power and uses that should not be overlooked in our pixel-dominated lives. I look forward to incorporating it into my writing process and letting the ink flow!


  1. Hello:
    I used to write everything down on paper but then started using computers like many others. I still keep my journal (going on 22nd notebook now) in longhand but most of my stories are written by computer. I like the idea of going back to longhand for first drafts so i think I’ll give it a second go.
    Have a Great Day!!!
    The “Creature”

  2. I feel the same @ composing, I could never imagine writing music on a computer as many do, I need the paper and the piano to do anything worthwhile.

  3. sirsteve says

    I’ve ben writing longhand for a long time. It’s my usual mode. When I write, my brain thinks faster than my hand can write so the ideas flow better. Then I can do a first edit when I put it into the computer. if I try to type it first, I can type faster than I can think so the story comes out stuttery and not as smooth.

    • That’s exactly why I used to do it longhand, too. Now that I’m doing a lot of writing in small chunks of time, I may return to longhand for first draft. It may, in the end, be more efficient.

  4. Sally Carpenter says

    I start my fiction in longhand, too. Looking at a blank computer screen feels too much like a “day at the office.” I stop and correct errors as I type. With a pen I get my thoughts down faster. After I type up the pages, I edit and revision. The final draft often bears little resemblance to the first but that’s OK. The handwritten draft is just getting down basic ideas; I expand and polish in the computer.
    Sally Carpenter

  5. I write my first draft in longhand. Then type it into the computer for a first edit too. Also I always have a notebook handy and if an idea or storyline hits, I can put it down. Very convenient when waiting on a train. I’m a little superstitious too, if I start a story in one kind of pen, I have to finish it with the same kind of pen. Sometimes, superstitions are fun.

    • I don’t know if I ever thought about using the same kind of pen, but I know I always had to use the same color – if I started in blue, it had to always be blue!

  6. gregoryfrost says

    I still write longhand drafts–which (borrowing from the great Judith Berman) I call my “Zero Drafts” because it’s where everything is messy, sentences don’t have to be finished, or connect, things are jumped over, crossed out, tried over and over to find a “perfect sentence”, etc.

    I started it so many years ago because I was a deadly fast touch typist, much faster than my brain could form sentences, and the longhand forced me to slow down, see the words I was choosing to call down imagery. And it’s stuck. So here’s to pen and paper (of course, you become a pen and paper geek if you do this for long…)


    • Greg –

      I had the same feeling when doing those exercises – I could think better. Maybe once my toddler is of school age I will have hte luxury of enough time to do it all longhand again. Until then, I think I will need to pick and choose!

  7. Paper and pen are the norm for me when kicking off a new writing project. I don’t want to look at a screen until I have several scenes or pages to transcribe from paper. I refuse to stare at a screen pondering the next line of narrative or dialogue. In fact, 90% of the time, I write on the blank side of scrap paper that otherwise would have been wasted on my FT job. Reams of it. Same with any rewrites/revisions. All done on paper first then typed up. I also tend to edit as I transcribe, tightening up the narrative and dialogue.

    • I seem to see a theme emerging. When people are thinking things out, paper is a helpful creative tool. Computers are great when editing and when the thoughts are coming faster than you can write, but there is an intimacy in writing on paper you can’t get with a computer screen.

  8. I write a sorta shorthand that only I understand. Paper and pen are my friends and many times ideas of the nest scene comes to me in the middle of the night, so not to wake anyone I keep a pad and pen on my night table so I will not forget that scene before I awake for the day. I have written pages from when I was a young child that at times I refer back too. But, in defense of the computer and correctional typewriters, I have to admit they are great, wouldn’t want to be without them. augie


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