Writing by hand

As I have often said, the only thing I write by hand anymore is my signature. Like everyone else of my generation we didn’t have computers in school so I did all my schoolwork and exams in longhand (anyone else remember massaging the palm of your hand in the middle of a Leaving Cert. exam because it was cramping so much – it’s called hand dystonia, trivia fans) but when I got to college that was the end of it. From then on it’s been computers all the way: in 9-5 jobs, in recreation time and of course when writing.

I read an article on Flavorwire last week about the writing tools of 20 famous authors. I was surprised to see that some of the contemporary writers featured use pencils and notebooks rather than a computer. Many of them say that writing in longhand forces you to think about what you are writing and refine the sentence before you commit it to the page. Neil Gaiman says: “I discovered I loved the fact that handwriting forces you to do a second draft, rather than just tidying up and deleting bits on a computer. I also discovered I enjoy the tactile buzz of the ritual involved in filling the pens with ink.”

I’m toying with the idea of doing the first draft of my next book in longhand. I reckon it’s always a good thing to shake up the creative process and any way of doing this is worth a try. I can certainly see that you would become less slapdash as you won’t have the simple option of hitting the delete key or cutting and pasting text. You would have to think about every sentence before writing it down and perhaps you would end up with a better novel in terms of style. It’s certainly a better option when traveling abroad: a pen and notebook are far more portable than a laptop, and you can hide away in a corner of a cafe and write rather than creating a fuss about WiFi passwords and broadband connections.

Any other writers want to weigh in on this? Would love some other feedback or opinions!

Mark Twain working in bed (Photo Credit: Corbis)
Mark Twain working in bed (Photo Credit: Corbis)



4 thoughts on “Writing by hand

  1. The Mowl

    I find the witnessing of a person writing in longhand somehow more romantic and old-fashioned a sight when I’m out and about, as opposed to the cold indifference of a multitude of heads staring down at the tiny screens of mobiles and laptops.

    There’s something rather isolating about seeing a person engaged with their digital device, where a person with pen and paper seems somehow more approachable in general.

    Kids these days have terrible writing skills. Spelling and grammar appear to be at an all-time low since the dawn of the text message and it’s infuriatingly retarded language. It reflects yet another all-pervading and accepted dumbing-down of the intellect.

    A hard copy script of an article or commentary, the first draft of a potential novel, or a simple old-fashioned letter to a loved one? Priceless.

    1. You’ve hit on a very important point there: handwritten letters are becoming very rare. It’ll be interesting to see in years to come if there are any volumes of collected correspondence between writers or other people. Who the hell prints out emails? I personally love getting letters in the post but it never happens any more.

  2. The Mowl

    I lost my first and closest childhood friend to cancer recently. A wonderful guy, he left three kids and a young wife. Very sad.

    But I found out two weeks after his passing, which hurt all the more. I wasn’t there for his cremation, and I missed his wake.

    I wanted to reach out to his aging Mother to explain and console, but both the telephone and the internet were out of the question.

    Instead, I sat down and wrote her a long letter, recounting so many happy – and sad – incidents from our past all the way back to our first day at pre-school. I found it extraordinarily cathartic, it healed so many hurts and slights, and brought back so many vivid memories I’d buried away.

    Later I found out that she’d passed the letter around to all of our mutual friends and neighbours, it had moved her so much.

    The mere though that written words on paper could cause so much happiness in a bleak place is worth diamonds.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your friend. Writing that letter was such a wonderful and thoughtful thing to do. She’ll have that letter for many years too, which will be a comfort.

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