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!

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