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.

Christine J. Schmidt

Column by Christine J. Schmidt

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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Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault August 8, 2014 - 8:06am

Good stuff. I started doing this, and I find it much easier to hash out a rough first draft. And there's just something so personal about it.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine August 8, 2014 - 8:14am

I prefer to draft longhand and redraft/edit on the computer. Spices things up.

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day August 8, 2014 - 8:15am

That's how I do it as well. Sometimes I do feel it's inefficent to not have the first draft typed, but in essence your first typed draft becomes a 1.5 draft where improvements are getting made! And I do think there is something cool and old-school and personal about the actual pen and paper doing there thing!

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman August 8, 2014 - 10:33am

I like handwriting too. There's been quite a bit of research about how it lights up different parts of the brain. Plus, if you're on the road, it's so easy to use a notebook. No turning it off while the plane takes off and lands, no power source necessary, and if you lose or break it, you're only out $5.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami August 8, 2014 - 12:49pm

I mainly plot my stories this way. I also use it for researching things that I want to be able to freely make personal inferences and associations, without the censor known as "peer review", when it's not like I'm dissecting a frog.

So like if I wanted to study fairy tale structure -- prohibition, resistance, and downfall, then I can't use my own judgement to determine how to apply the same structure without doing a retelling for science fiction like Cyberpunk.

Aside: Critics can go move to goodreads, I loved Maleficent.

konzill's picture
konzill from Sydney is reading Writing the Natural Way August 9, 2014 - 3:08am

My handwriting is terrible, and I still remember having to wrap bandaids around my middle finger in come exam time back in high school, on account of the red presure blister.  As such I've never understood the write it long hand directive that appears in some books on the craft, to me it seems like old hands being advising aginst new technology.

That said my writing setup is quite unusual these days. I do most of it on an android tablet, using a stylus and an input method pased on gestures. In some ways all the benefits of long hand, without the pain of having to interprate my dreadful scrawl at the end of the day.

Granted its not the fastest method of putting my words down, I still type somewhat faster, but raw transcription speed isn't really the limiting facter. Thinking what to write and how to phrase it still takes me longer then the writing itself.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like August 9, 2014 - 8:21am

Out of the house, I write longhand because I don't like lugging a laptop around (and the battery is sketchy anyway). In home, I go either way. Longhand does lead to more forward progress and less rereading, I find. On the flipside, it actually kind of sucks reading and transcribing from a composition book in my lap, the pages falling backward/forward, the constant looking down/looking up. Made me better at touch-typing, though.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami August 9, 2014 - 4:15pm

It just a shame the mechanical typewriter is out of production. Like I said, I generally prefer longhand for research and poetry. I'll sometimes use it for a short story if it's only like a couple of pages (1 page of type.)

iambrendabren's picture
iambrendabren from Oxnard, California August 10, 2014 - 7:12pm

What SW2 said. If it was easy for me to maintain even a vintage mechanical typewriter, I'd love to be able to write this way. If I do it on my laptop, like someone else mentioned, I also tend to delete more than I actually type. Great article. Great points. My main beef about longhand is my hand getting cramped.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami August 10, 2014 - 8:04pm

I also use a stand alone word processor. Its pretty good, though to get any writing done I have to be away from the computer for a month, to get into a "yes you can, yes you can" sort of mentality. Aftr I've drawn fantasy maps.

nathaniel parker's picture
nathaniel parker from Cincinnati is reading The Dark Tower ~ King August 12, 2014 - 2:17am

I love writing longhand. Just the physical time it takes you to write out a word or phrase gives your brain some time to mull and roll over their importance or even alternaitve ways to express something.

I just can't imagine a better way to get out a first draft of anything.

Alfio Rottoli's picture
Alfio Rottoli from Italia is reading Mr Mercedes October 11, 2014 - 10:13pm



I always start writing using my fountain pen(what is that?????).

I love the sound of writing with such an old device!

I also love the right paper to write, the smell of ink, ebonite fountain pen...



I fully agree your words!