How Writing By Hand Cured My Writer’s Block

29/08/2015 Discussions, Writing 14

How Writing By Hand Cured My Writer's BlockWriters tend to fall into two categories; those who swear by writing by hand (at least for a first draft) and those who almost never do it. Until last week I would have placed myself firmly in the latter category: as a younger writer I’ve always had access to a computer and word-processing software, and seen as I type faster than I can write I’ve always felt like my handwriting can’t keep up with my train of thought.

However, when I found myself a little low on inspiration last week I decided it was time to mix things up. Anything was worth a try to get those creative juices flowing, so I went out and bought a fresh new notebook (I always love an excuse to buy stationery!) and resolved to fill it with my untidy scrawling.

So how successful was my writing experiment? Very, actually! On my first attempt I managed to draft an entire 11 page short story in one sitting, which when typed up (and edited) came to around 1700 words. Not bad for a couple of hours work!

So what was it about writing by hand that helped me overcome my writer’s block? Here’s a few of my thoughts:

  • It was a change.

Personally, I think it’s so easy to get into a writing rut where you approach each piece and each session in the same way, and whilst I think getting into a habit with your writing can be good, it can also leave you feeling bored and uninspired. Therefore it makes sense that changing something about your routine helps to keep things fresh and get you inspired.

  • It pushed me to finish my story.

I have a very bad habit with my writing of starting multiple things, and never finishing any of them. The ‘My Documents’ folder on my computer is absolutely littered with unfinished stories and blog posts, and when they’re just files on a computer it is so easy to just forget about them and never come back to them. However, writing by hand means that you physically have the story in front of you, making it hard to forget about, and seen as I didn’t want to mess up my lovely notebook with half finished stories I ended up working on it until I finished (which is pretty incredible, because I rarely write anything, even short blog posts, in one sitting!).

  • It forced me not to edit as I went along.

I think the biggest reason writing by hand helped me finish a story is because it forced me not to edit too much as I went along. With a Word document it’s so easy to just go back and change things as you’re going along, and because I do this so much I never seem to make much progress, especially if I can’t seem to get the start just perfect. But to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, first drafts are supposed to be shit (Hemingway said it, not me!), and the important thing is to just get it down. Whether it’s good or not is irrelevant, it’s all about getting the words on paper and mapping out the piece of writing for your (hopefully much better) second draft.

  • It was easier to edit.

Now this one might come as a surprise, but I actually found editing my first draft easier when it was written on paper as opposed to on my computer. In theory it should be easier on the computer, because it’s already there and you can easily make the adjustments to the first draft, but in reality I found it easier to type up the story and edit it as I transferred it onto the computer. It made me feel less uneasy about cutting sections, adding bits, completely rewriting sentences, and all round changing things about, and because I had actually finished this piece of writing for a change it made it easier to edit because it was whole. I actually knew the ending to what I was editing, which was so much easier!

Overall I found changing my writing method to be a very positive experience. It definitely helped me get over my writer’s block, and I came out of it with a finished piece that with some polishing could be pretty good.

So do you prefer writing by hand or typing? And how would you feel about switching things up and trying the other way?

14 Responses to “How Writing By Hand Cured My Writer’s Block”

  1. Pamela Nicole

    Hi! Well I totally agree that oulining is so much easier on paper. I always considered myself a pantser, but had been trying to get into oulining, when I finally tried to do it on my notebook. Stuff just flowed and I was ecstatic!

    Now, about drafting on paper, that’s something I’ll definitely have to try. I’m having troubles finishing my current WIP, so I’m going to give it a try! 🙂

    • Laura

      Outlining is definitely so much easier on paper. I’d consider myself to be a pantser too, so that’s probably why planning and drafting by hand has actually been really beneficial for me.
      Good look with your WIP! I hope writing by hand helps 🙂

  2. Lii

    You just never know what’s going to happen when you put a pen in your hand and paper in front of you. I could never write that way, not even in the classroom. When the instructor would say that it was creative writing time, I would freeze. I had lots of ideas, but it was just weird writing on paper. I’d just look around the classroom. It seemed so easy. Anyways, thanks for sharing.

    • Laura

      I always thought I would struggle with writing by hand like this, so I was pleasantly surprised when it went so well. I understand why it isn’t for some people though. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  3. Kaja

    I write by hand a lot, mostly because I always keep a notebook/pad with me whenever I go somewhere and I can jot things down as I think of them (not just fiction writing, this goes for everything from review ideas to shopping lists). My notebooks are a bit of a mess and would probably look like I’m crazy to an outsider.
    I like writing in notebooks because I used to love taking notes in class (and buying new notebooks at the beginning of the year!) and I never feel that pressure of the blank, white Word page without lines staring at me from the computer screen.

    • Laura

      I keep a notebook for ideas too, but to be honest I tend to use Evernote on my phone more. I’ll have to try jotting more ideas down by hand, just to see if it helps me expand on them a bit.
      I can definitely understand what you mean about the pressure of a blank Word page though. Maybe that’s another reason why the handwriting went so well – a lined page is less intimidating.

  4. Jee Ann

    Totally agree with you! I have such a killer writer’s block right now, made so much worse by a killer headache, a job, and my studies. Writing characters and the events by hand on a notebook clears my mind and makes me focus better.

    • Laura

      I definitely found that it cleared my mind a lot too, and I think it was easier to focus when I didn’t have immediate access to the internet as well, otherwise I would probably just end up on Twitter or reading blogs or something! I’m glad this helped with your writer’s block too.

  5. Patrick O'Rourke

    On top of it all I’m superstitious. Except of ghost blogs or magazine/web articles for my clients I always start a new story with a clip board, blank copy paper and seven (don’t ask me why seven) Berol Black Warrior pencils. I outline my story and then transfer to index cards and from index cards back to the paper. First edit when I transfer to Word. Something about sharpening my Black Warriors that get the mojo working. Good post, thanks. PO

    • Laura

      I was surprised too that it was easier to edit, but I think it was just that I could edit it as I copied it up, so it was easier to catch typos and things that didn’t make sense, and add or take bits away.

  6. Inge @ Bookshelf Reflections

    I definitely prefer typing when I’m writing, because when I try writing by hand, my hand-writing just gets incredibly messy because my hand can’t keep up with my brain! But I’ve been in a little bit of a rut, so I might have to try this out. I do understand it being easier to edit — when I’ve finished a first draft, I print it out so I can read it on paper and make notes as I go along.

    • Laura

      Generally I would say I prefer typing, but now whenever I start something new I always write a rough draft by hand, and it seems to help me get it all down on paper. I think whether you write it by hand or print it out though, it’s so much easier to edit it if you have a physical copy. I always found when I wrote my essays for university that I would miss most of the typos until I printed it off, because for some reason I didn’t seem to pick them up as easily on the computer screen.

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