5 Reasons to Handwrite Your First Draft
In today’s era of big tech, there are a plethora of resources available to writers to help make the writing process “easier.” There are programs to organize story outlines, keep track of word count goals, block out distractions, and help with word choice. Although so many resources at your fingertips may seem beneficial, the truth about writing is that it won’t happen until the words from your creative self materialize.
As a writer and editor, I love the feeling of my fingers gliding over the keys to give life to the words in my head. Yet, when I’ve designated a specific time to write, I’ve often found myself hesitant to fire up my laptop and stare at a blank screen and blinking cursor—especially when I’ve already spent most of my day on the computer or checking my phone. I feel the urge to write, but not while staring at another screen.
Maybe you can relate?
That’s when I decided to experiment with my writing process. Several months ago, I’d read a Dictionary.com article titled “Bullet Journaling And Other Writing Trends That Keep Coming Back,” which inspired me to try writing my newest book draft by hand in a journal. The change helped me tremendously, and here’s why:
1. I stopped stressing about finding the “perfect” words.
Have you ever found yourself stuck on a word or sentence to where you spend more time deleting and then rewriting that one word/sentence rather than moving forward? I have—too often to count! It’s so easy with the DELETE button only a few keys away. Although I may eventually end up with the “perfect” word or phrase, I’ve also wasted precious time. Mistakes and uneven writing are expected when drafting. The ultimate goal isn’t perfection; it’s getting the material out of my mind and onto the page. Editing can come later.
With that in mind, handwriting gives you more freedom as a writer. Freedom to let the words flow as is, without the pressure of a perfect copy. Perhaps you make a few changes here and there, but it’s probably far less than what you’d be doing with the DELETE key. You might simply leave yourself a quick note to fill in the details later.
Handwriting also leaves a record of the changes you’ve made, which can be quite satisfying. Claire Bustarret, a specialist on codex manuscripts at the Maurice Halbwachs research center in Paris, explains, “When you draft a text on the screen, you can change it as much as you like but there is no record of your editing. The software does keep track of the changes somewhere, but users cannot access them. With a pen and paper, it’s all there. Words crossed out or corrected, bits scribbled in the margin and later additions are there for good, leaving a visual and tactile record of your work and its creative stages.”
2. I focused on the “bare bones” of the plot.
My initial resistance to handwriting drafts was my annoyance with my hand’s inability to write as fast as my brain thinks. Typing is just so much faster. What I found by handwriting, however, was an increased ability to get the essence of my story down on paper without sweating too much over the nitty-gritty details.
The skeleton of the human body, for example, provides numerous functions. Among them is support and movement. Just like that skeleton—and by not focusing on perfection—you’ll find that handwriting your novel makes it easier to concentrate on the “bare bones” of your plot. Knowing you can go back and fill in the details when you finally type up your draft gives your imagination free creative reign. The skeleton of the story is there, but you still have plenty of wiggle room to flesh it out later.
3. I gave my eyes a rest from the computer screen.
The list of electronics in my life seems endless: smartphone, tablet, desktop computer, laptop, smart TV, and Kindle. I’m ordinarily using at least three of these devices once a day, in varying degrees. Although technology is supposed to make our lives easier, it can take a heck of a toll on our eyes. (Just ask my optometrist who had to fit me for another pair of reading glasses just six months after my first visit.)
After a long day of editing on the computer, the last thing I’m interested in doing is staring at another screen at night. The main struggle is my eyes may be tired, but my writer brain is awake and ready to create. By writing my novel in a journal, my eyes get a much-needed break from the glaring computer screen. Putting pen to paper actually becomes a cathartic experience, and I find it’s much easier to settle into a comfortable, inspirational rhythm in a more relaxed body position.
4. I’m less easily distracted (e.g., Google, social media, online shopping, etc.).
My writing rhythm is too often in danger of disruption when on my laptop. Knowing that Google is only a click away makes it all too tempting to stop writing and research when certain story questions arise. While researching, I may be tempted by ads or emails. I might even check my phone as well. What could it hurt?
The next thing I know, I’m on Instagram scrolling through my feed and hearting funny cat videos. If I want to hit my word count, it’s best I don’t go tumbling down the internet rabbit hole. By setting aside both my computer and my phone, the temptation to get sidetracked is significantly reduced. And if I need to research something, I simply make a note to do so later and keep on writing.
5. I’m forced to edit while typing the draft.
Since I’m an editor, it’s not strange to say that editing my work is my favorite part of the process. I love pulling the pieces of my story together and filling in the gaps. Edits are basically the frosting on the storytelling cake.
When I go back and type what I’ve written in my journal, I’m able to see my writing with fresh eyes. The bigger picture suddenly becomes clear, and it’s much easier to see what’s working and what needs fixing. For authors who don’t like editing, this is a great alternative to get motivated. You have to type up your work eventually; why not edit the draft at the same time?
If you find yourself overwhelmed by technology or just plain burnt out, handwriting your novel is worth a try. You can do it in segments by handwriting a few chapters and then typing them up (like I do); or you can handwrite the entire novel before progressing to a typed second draft. There is no right or wrong process. It’s whatever works best for you.
Also, as an added bonus, you can choose whatever type of writing journal suits you best. Personally, I like to add a bit of style and flare to the cover of mine. Who says your creativity has to be limited to inside the pages? 😉
 Anne Chemin, “Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard?” The Guardian, Guardian News & Media Limited, December 16, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/dec/16/cognitive-benefits-handwriting-decline-typing.