Columns > Published on August 8th, 2014

The Joy of Writing Longhand

Nowadays, we do everything on our computers and phones, from ordering food and dating to scheduling meetings and catching up with friends and family. There is truly an app for everything, and it’s making our lives ridiculously simple and instant. It only makes sense that we also use our various devices to write. After all, we need our stories to be printed, emailed, submitted here and there, so why not keep them all in the same place?

Don’t worry; your words will make it to the computer screen eventually. However, like mashed potatoes, not everything is best when provided instantly. Starting out longhand shouldn’t be an impossible thought for you. Before you call me old fashioned, let me state my case for writing your story down on paper before turning on your computer.

1.  It’s the Perfect Way to Begin

After I get that first spark of an idea, I can’t wait to sit down and outline the world, the characters, and start coming up with little details. I have the best time doing this when I run out, buy a notebook that will be dedicated to that project/idea specifically, and dive right in. It makes sense for me to use a notebook  because my story planning process is never just words. I tend to also make drawings of the people and places I may not necessarily have the  words for yet. Starting on paper immediately connects me to what I’m writing much more than staring at an irritably bright Word document. That always seems so distant somehow.

2.  Love Your Story

Starting on paper immediately connects me to what I’m writing much more than staring at an irritably bright Word document.

Along those same lines, your project is worth the extra “effort” it takes to write longhand. You will experience each word you write much more than you would if you were typing it up quickly. You will probably remember the things you write way better, and more vividly, too. Because you’re giving your idea the time it deserves in such early stages, it will matter more to you and others. It will most likely be clearer. Convenience and speed are wonderful for certain things, but your first draft is so full of possibility. Why not spend as much time with it as you can?

3.  Handwriting

My favorite part of writing longhand is watching my handwriting morph as I go. It never stays the same page-to-page, sentence-to-sentence. You can tell when a section excites me because my handwriting will lose all legibility and get gigantic. When I’m struggling with how to convey something, my handwriting becomes tiny and impeccable, like a computer font. It’s all very telling, and fun to look back on after your project is finished. You’ll always have that notebook with your crazy handwriting, outlines, and bold concepts.

4.  Drop the Delete Button

When I stop to think about all the times I’ve carelessly hit the ‘delete’ button when I’m writing on my computer, it makes my head spin. Honestly, over time I have probably deleted more words than I’ve written! Oof. If you write longhand, not only do you think before you cross out, but your “mistakes” are right there in front of you. There have been instances where I’ve been sure that I won’t use a passage and cross it out, but realize much later that it works elsewhere, or was meant to be there all along. When I cross out, I just mark the word, phrase, or paragraph with a single line to make sure what I have on the page is still legible, just in case. It pains me to think of all the material I carelessly deleted just because it didn’t seem right originally.

5.  No Distractions

I know there’s that great app (there’s an app for everything!) that keeps you away from the temptations of the Internet called Freedom, but how often do you actually use it? Instead, you think, “I’m a serious writer, I have control.” Five minutes later, you’re on Twitter. If you leave your computer at home and sit at a coffee shop with nothing but your notebook and pen, I guarantee you’ll write…as long as you keep your iPhone out of arm’s reach. In a sea of laptops, try being the one writer with just a notebook, a pen, and some coffee. You just might enjoy it.

A new idea is an exciting thing, and it’s totally understandable that you want to rush to a computer and type out your initial thoughts right away. After that purge, though, I highly recommend switching over to longhand. Experience your work fully. You will thank yourself later. Who knows, it may inspire you to go off on a longhand adventure. Pretty soon you’ll be writing letters, postcards, labeling things in your home — all in the name of actually writing something down. Put your computer away. Start now. Your next writing project is waiting for you! 

For the record, I totally wrote this column longhand first.

About the author

Christine J. Schmidt is a writer originally from New Jersey. After receiving her BFA in Dramatic Writing from SUNY Purchase, she worked at Seattle Repertory Theatre as their artistic literary intern. She recently left Brooklyn, where she was a bookseller and events host at WORD, to reside in Los Angeles. She has previously written for New York Theatre Review, and her plays have been read and produced at theaters in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Washington. Coffee is her favorite thing.

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