8 Ways Longhand Writing Frees Your Muse

NCWA blog welcomes K.M. Weiland!

Whenever I crack open a hefty volume of Dickens, I’m inevitably overwhelmed by the realization that this entire 800-page novel was written by hand. The writer’s bump on my middle finger throbs just thinking about it.

Without doubt, our 21st-century technologic additions are a decided blessing. But we’ve also lost some things along the road to the future. We’ve amped up distractions and made it far too easy to stifle creativity by editing and tweaking before a thought is even half-formed.

Returning to the caveman technology of pen and paper can have a surprisingly freeing effect on our muses. Although I write my first drafts on the computer, I’ve learned to free my imagination in the first rush of creation by writing my outlines longhand in a notebook. In the process, I’ve gained a number of benefits.

Writing longhand…

1. Discourages the tendency to censor or edit. Removing the temptation to glance up at a previous paragraph and switch out words and phrases allows my raw thoughts to flow onto the page. I don’t judge them, I don’t edit them, I don’t censor them. I just pour them out.

2. Brings writing down to a primal level. There’s something about the tactile experience of ink on paper that is inimitable. It presents a return to writing in a purer, more instinctive form, without the intercession of complicated electric tools.

3. Removes us from our notes. Moving our writing away from the computer also means removing ourselves from our notes. Instead of relying on old scraps of inspiration, we’re able to produce what the story needs as it needs it from the well of our subconscious. The results are often startlingly cohesive and powerful.

4. Provides a change of pace. When we’re stumped by a tough story problem or even general burnout, changing our location and our methods can sometimes be just the trick for jumpstarting our creativity.

5. Frees imagination by allowing sloppiness. Something about the near illegibility of my handwriting seems to break down my need for perfection. Instead of toiling over word choice, I’m able to dash down my thoughts as quickly as they come to me. I find this particularly vital in the early creative stages.

6. Frees us from distractions. Pen and paper physically remove us from the computer and all its distractions, including the siren song of the Internet.

7. Allows a critical editing during transcription. The necessity of transcribing our notes onto the computer allows us the opportunity to apply a critical eye to what we’ve written, once the first rush of creativity is past.

8. Gives us an instant hard copy. Unless your house burns down, your handwritten hardcopies aren’t likely to randomly self-destruct as computer files are known to do. Even if you lose your notes after you’ve typed them up, you’ll always have a hardcopy as backup.

I love my technology. I love typing. I love the clean look of my Times New Roman letters appearing on the virginal white of my screen. Sometimes I even love that taunting blink of the cursor. But writing longhand is an invaluable technique my writing would suffer without. In a recent Writer’s Digest article, freelance author Dick Dickinson agreed:

“In today’s stream-of-consciousness world of e-mail, text, Facebook and Twitter, initials become sentences and words take flight before thoughts are well-formed. What to do? Well, are you ready to turn the clock back, oh, a few centuries?

To hone concentration and put consideration back into your writing, and for a striking change of pace, try using a … pen. Consider the advantages: There is no insert, spell check, cut and paste, or delete; just your words drawn on paper with an ancient technique.”


This post first appeared May 30th, 2010 on Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors. Reposted by kind permission.

K.M. Weiland is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, editing services, and her instructional CDConquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration.

5 thoughts on “8 Ways Longhand Writing Frees Your Muse

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more! I started out writing every single one of my novels longhand (still have many of those first drafts). When typing them into the computer, it afforded me a fresh look and the first opportunity to do some editing/adding. Now I do most of my writing on the computer because I simply cannot write fast enough! But when I am struggling with a scene, I pull out the spiral and the pen/pencil and just let the story take me. It is the best way to fly when you’re longing for a connection with your inspiration.

    Excellent post!


  2. Thanks for having me today, Connie!

    @Nona: I like the raw, sloppy creativity of writing longhand when I’m crafting my outlines, but I generally switch back to the clean precision of the computer when I’m ready to start the first draft. It’s a happy balance that allows us to utilize both tools.


  3. Excellent reminder, thanks. Been thinking about that too in relation to letters to my family, especially one person I’m having trouble connecting with again. You’ve given me the boost I need. Thanks, Sharon


  4. Email is so easy that letter writing is fast becoming a lost art. A few long-distance friends and I have decided to communicate via letter, rather than email, both because we enjoy the experience of writing longhand and because it offers a personal connection that Internet communication can’t.


  5. Pingback: The Pen Is Mightier Than The Keyboard | Bloggo Schloggo

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