Writing with pen and paper

Pen, paper, tea, go!
Pen, paper, tea, go!

I’ve been meaning to do a few blog posts that look at the writing process, so I thought I’d start this series of Writer’s Room posts with my latest writing experiment – pen and paper.

I’m currently working on a short story for a collaborative short story collection and I must be on the fifth or sixth draft by now… I’ve lost count. It’s called The Flood and it explores a number of different themes, but primarily it sets out to look at the connection between rain and memory. I’ve always thought that rain has very strong associations in my mind with particular events or times in my life and I wanted to write a story that explored that connection. It hasn’t been going too well though because my trusty editor keeps sending back my drafts with the same comment – I’m rushing through things and I need to elaborate more.

I decided part of the problem is that I’ve been writing on a laptop. I’m able to type faster than I can properly form a sentence, so when I get going I don’t take the time to carefully craft my writing. That’s probably fine for the first draft, but at this point I need every word to add to the narrative and I want to have a final, polished piece.

Attack of the red pen
Attack of the red pen

The other problem with a laptop, of course, is the constant distraction that is the internet. So, I decided to turn off my laptop and give the old tried and tested pen and paper method a go.

For the past few days I’ve been writing away in my notepad and I think the experiment is paying off. My story isn’t quite there yet – I’m just going over the first handwritten draft with a red pen – but it’s much longer than any previous draft I’ve written. The act of writing by hand is much slower than typing and that slower pace seems to give the writing time to breath. It also gives me time to think. I’ve found myself pausing if I’m not sure what word to use next, instead of bashing out the first thing that comes to mind on the keyboard. I’ve done a lot of scribbling out and editing as I go along, something I don’t really do when I’m writing on my laptop. It’s as though the extra effort of writing by hand gives each word added value.

It has also been a much more relaxing experience. Without emails and Twitter to break up the process I’ve been able to focus wholly on the writing and it has become much more therapeutic as a result. Also, instead of reading a blog post or article when I get stuck for ideas I’ve been pausing to look out of the window, which is much more illuminating than The Guardian online has ever been.

I’m not advocating all writers throw out their laptops and after the second paper draft I’ll probably have to return to mine – I’m not sure my editor has time to wait for my story in the post! You’ve probably also noticed that I didn’t write this blog post with paper and pen. However, I think I might be using it more in the future and I’d recommend giving it a go if you’re struggling with a piece of writing.

There is one downsides though – hand cramps!


  1. I loved handwriting but then I have always been pissed off by my relatively nice (readable) handwritten text became ugly even by the smallest error. This is what is not happening when typing. 🙂 Anyway a good idea.

  2. Fascinating to read of your experience with writing by hand here! I can’t imagine writing on a laptop for anything other than the shortest of pieces. For me writing is a physical process as much as a mental one, tactile and connected by the shape of the words as my hand moves across the paper. For whatever reason, the sense of the body being present in the writing just doesn’t happen for me with a computer. And editing comes alive with a handwritten work – even if it’s then typed up and scribbled on all over again. Though I understand Gyorgy’s thoughts above, for me it is the actual messiness of the handwritten text that makes it beautiful. The underlining and scored through sentences, the notes in the margins, small additions squeezed above a phrase, reminders to self. Those pages feel like living things to me. They record a process, so that I can see each and every change and alteration, where a story or an essay took a sudden shift or found a new path to follow, charted over innumerable drafts. I find myself looking a lot at those small details and transformations, the original idea beneath the scribbles of the next. The pages are a palimpsest, telling me of the journey a piece has taken and what I might learn from the process, visibly recorded.

    1. I agree, I do think the messiness, crossing out and red pen is beautiful, which is why I included the photographs of my notebook with the post. I hadn’t thought of it, but you’re right, it’s much easier to chart the progress of the story when it’s written on paper. On a computer you delete and change so you never have that messy in between stage and all previous drafts are erased. I think I’ll definitely be writing in a notepad more in future, although it really does make my hand hurt after a while!

  3. Samlucsmum says:

    This really strikes a chord with me because whenever I have to do some “real” writing I simply cannot do this on the computer (laptop is even worse in my experience…). It is just as you describe it, Naomi, it is the slow process of thinking, writing, crossing it out, starting again… all the stop and starts of my thinking.
    If I write on the computer I simply don’t give it the same love and attention. Then, I simply write, copy and paste. It is for the times when I simply don’t have the time to craft a piece of writing but simply have to put something together to meet a deadline or where the sound of the words don’t matter as much.
    And here’s something else: make the physical and aesthetic process of writing count. Get nice paper but, at least for me, more importantly choose your writing utensils with care. Ever since I started using a fountain pen I enjoy the act of writing so much more…
    Better get back to writing my assignment 🙂

    1. Yes, I definitely agree about having nice paper and a good pen. I hate writing with any old ball point. I got a really nice wide notepad at Christmas as well and I find that helps because I’m not crammed into a small space and the notepad lies open flat on the table rather than having to awkwardly hold it open.

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