Writers 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?