Putting Pen to Paper: My Outdated Writing Process

Crazy as it may seem, I just cannot write on a computer. I have never been able to. I mean, sure, I can write nonfiction stuff like blog posts, personal emails, lists of good names for goldfish (Fluffy being my favorite), but I absolutely, positively, cannot write anything in the way of fiction on a computer.

When I look at the blank page, I feel this overwhelming sense of panic. The blinking cursor is mocking me. “There is no way for me to fill up that screen with text!” I think, getting more frantic by the minute. Finally, I just give up and post something obnoxious on Facebook instead.

So how exactly do I go about writing? The good old pen and paper! The actual pen type has changed a few times over the years, but it must have black ink and a fine point. The paper must be in a notebook. Specifically, it must be in one of those old school black and white marble notebooks.

There are some definite pros to writing a first draft in this manner. It’s very portable, and unlike a computer, you don’t need to worry about it losing charge. Also, a person scribbling frantically in a notebook looks slightly crazy, so if you are writing in public, other people tend to stay away from you. Another benefit is that you will have the satisfaction of seeing a stack of full notebooks by the time you are finished with your book.

Of course I only write my first draft by hand—I’m not completely crazy! Once I get to those magical and often elusive words, “The End,” I am then free to use my computer to go back to the beginning and type everything in. Because I’m already done with my first draft, I don’t get panicked using to computer to type in my second draft. In fact, I feel this process is very helpful, as I get the bulk of my edits done at that point.

So what are the cons to writing longhand? Obviously, at some point your hand will get cramped, and you will be forced to take a break, whether you want one or not. I even went through a period in my early twenties when I tried to teach myself to be ambidextrous to deal with these hand cramps. Another drawback is a decreased word count per day. When I hear fellow writers tell me they wrote 3,000 words in one day, I am somewhat jealous. My poor right hand would never be up to that task.

Yet, I continue to write longhand, even if it slows the process somewhat. The truth is that I’ve always loved the physical process of writing. Someone once asked me why I became an editor (the paid job I have in my real life). My reply was: “I like writing on paper with a red pen.” Except for the somewhat demented glee I feel at catching a spelling error, the act of writing on paper is one of the only true joys I feel as an editor.

But taking a momentary step back from my own particular peculiarities, many writers do still carry a small notebook with them in order to record ideas for future or current projects. Plus, I have heard it mentioned that both Neil Gaiman and Stephen King both write by hand, so I am in good company. And this article (http://theweek.com/article/index/207846/how-writing-by-hand-makes-kids-smarter) talks about the importance of writing by hand in the learning process.

So until the day comes when the technology exists to transmit the thoughts in my brain directly onto my computer, I am not ready to give up ye old pen and paper.  At least I use a ball point and not a quill!

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