Why I Handwrite First Drafts (and why you might consider it)
Do you prefer handwriting or typing?
When was the last time you wrote something by hand? Was it a grocery list, a reminder sticky-note, an entire first draft of an essay?
There’s a lot of discussion among writers around handwriting vs typing. I write my first drafts, beginning to end and all the brainstorming and research notes in between, by hand. I’ve always written by hand first, except for the few times I didn’t, which happened to be when I wrote a book or story. From the age of eight, when I typed my ghost-ship pirate story on an old-fashioned typewriter (blissfully unaware there was such a thing as “editing”—I thought writers typed up a story and that was that, badabing-badaboom…if only it were so easy!), through my teens when I typed a fantasy novel on the computer, to the last novel right before this one that I wrote beginning to end—all of my Big, Serious Writing got the computer treatment.
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But whenever I got stuck, I turned to handwriting, as though the physical act of running the pen across the page would coax the words out of me. I do my best thinking by hand. Plus, I’m a very fast typer, so as soon as I’ve formed a thought, down it goes—which can make for lots of wordy paragraphs and unformed ideas. Yet, once they’re on the typed paged they seem “official,” making the editing process even more abstruse. Handwriting gives me just the right beat of time to rethink the word or idea and write it a little bit better, a little more succinctly, the first time.
So this time around, I decided to handwrite my novel, telling myself if it proved ineffective or slow, I’d go back to typing and no harm done. It turned out I preferred it so much, I stuck with it to the end.
This is why I prefer handwriting the first draft:
Handwriting has a built-in editing process. Not only do I slightly edit my thoughts as I write them down, but I read the draft over and hand-edit, then make changes as I type up the edited version. I’m already on Draft 3 the first time it’s inscribed in my computer’s memory!
The blank page is less scary than the blank Word page. Promise you. Try it out—if you’re finding it difficult to face the screen, start by writing just the first three sentences on paper (or however many you want!) and then transfer over to the computer once you get going.
I like the evidence of thought: my scribbles, additions, cross-outs are all on the page to see.
I don’t like the prospect of staring at a computer screen even more than I do already, all day long, for my job.
Writing on the go or while traveling is easy. I don’t always travel with my laptop, but I do always travel with notebooks.
Do you write in cursive or print? Shorthand, longhand, or a combination? Messy or neat?
How much of what you write is a text, an email, or something longer?
Does your hand cramp up after very long, or does it stay flexible?
Do your o’s connect fully; are the dots directly above your i’s; are your t’s crossed high or low?
When I was 13 or 14 I read in an article on handwriting analysis that if your o’s are fully enclosed, that means you’re an honest person. I quickly checked my o’s. Whew! Perfect circles. Handwriting analysis has about as much usefulness as personality quizzes in capturing Who We Are, though plenty of sources contend that it is legit. Anyway, like any Buzzfeed quiz, it’s kinda fun whether or not it’s useful. See for yourself:
How large are your letters? Large, rounded letters indicate an open and friendly personality, where smaller writing indicates a detail-oriented, technical person. Seems like that girl who wrote in big bubble letters in high school was showing her personality!
Do your letters slope? If they slope backwards, this indicates introversion; forwards is extraversion. Perfectly upright shows you’re balanced in between.
How much space is between your letters? This indicates your sociability: large spaces show you’re comfortable being alone or are distrustful of others, where close letters show how much you like being with others—but beware! Too close and you’re clearly crowding people.
How do you cross your t’s? If the bar is high, this represents high self-esteem and goals; if it’s long, you’re enthusiastic. And if it’s a star, YOU’RE a star: this apparently means you’re resilient and will bounce right back in the face of obstacles. If you cross your t’s too low, on the other hand, shape up.
Where do you dot your i’s? If your dot is high above the letter, you have an active imagination; if it’s close, you’re organized and detail-oriented. If it’s ahead of the letter, you’re a visionary; if it’s a bit to the left, you’re a procrastinator. If it’s a little circle, you’re playful with childlike qualities. I have to wonder what it means if the playful little circle is not fully enclosed, however…
What do you think—could a person modify their handwriting to change their personality? I wrote that facetiously, but a quick Google search shows there’s such a thing as graphotherapy! “When you write, your brain sends message through the nerves in your arm to your hand. Graphotherapy, on the other hand, is a reversal of the normal writing process where your hand sends messages to your brain.” Sounds like we’d all better start writing our t’s like stars.
Stuff I like:
Pens: Like all writers, my love for the right pen is just as important as it is for the right notebook. I haven’t gotten into sexy, expensive fountainheads—but the everyday rollerball has benefits those pens don’t have.
Uniball Jetstream 101 Rollerball is smooth-writing with dark ink, though they tend to get used up more quickly than other pens.
And a good ol’ fashioned Bic rollerball—Round Stic or Cristal (the ones you see everywhere)—in black or blue is amazing. Every once in a while I’ll come across one that stutters, but they generally flow very well and the good thing is they are pretty much America’s Pen—you can always find them, so your writing style won’t be cramped by the wrong pen.
Typing test: Google it and you’ll get a zillion options, but I used Key Hero to see how I’d do (114.55 wpm and 100% accuracy, for the record!).