If you follow along, you know I’ve been hosting daily writing groups at A Very Important Meeting. If you’ve attended any of my recent meetings, you’ve probably heard some discussion of writing longhand.
On the downside, anything written in longhand is difficult to share. Before handwritten work can go out into the world, it must be translated into text. This means you either type it up yourself (ug), pay someone else to do it (because, you know, as writers we have all this extra cash we don’t know what to do with) or try to use some form of dictation software (which I think might actually be a viable option at some point, but I haven’t found a version that works for me yet).
In November of 2019 I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month and, just for kicks, decided to do it longhand. It was a new project idea and I thought that working away from my computer would free me to be more creative and keep me from editing myself. I just wrote. And it worked. I hit the goal and ended up with about half (two-thirds?) of a novel in a beautiful stack of scribbles.
I knew I would have to type it all up later, but I figured when I did, I would edit along the way and end up with a pretty good “first” draft on my computer. Well… it didn’t really work like that. I did type it all up (that was how I kept busy when the pandemic hit and I couldn’t really concentrate), but I edited very little. So now I have a crappy first draft that I’ve written twice. It’s hard to feel like that’s not wasted time.
I’ve heard rumors that Lauren Groff writes whole drafts longhand, throws them away, and then types them up from what’s in her head. This version of writing a first draft longhand actually makes a lot of sense to me.
Because what I’ve learned about writing things by hand is that it’s great for generating ideas. Scenes take shape more completely in my mind with light and gestures and all the things that build a world. I remember things better when I write them out. I feel more creative with a pen in my hand. When I get to a point in my work that I’m stuck, I find the best way to get unstuck is to pull out my journal and start writing about my writing. Works every time.
But whenever I’ve tried to pull something from my journal, to type it up for public consumption, it falls flat. I don’t know why or how that’s the case, but it’s happened enough times now that I should probably stop trying.
But when I think about writing a WHOLE BOOK longhand and then throwing it away to rewrite it from memory, I just can’t get over the loss of all that work. I mean, yes, most of that first draft is crap. Like, 99% probably. But what about that 1%? Those couple of lines that landed right the first time?
Then again, there wasn’t a single line in the first draft of my first novel that remained untouched in the final draft. Not one.
Maybe when I do finally go back to that project I started for NaNoWriMo (the project that may or may not be my third novel) I’ll read through it and then throw it away and retype it from memory, just see what happens.
But for right now, I’m focused on finishing novel two. My goal for 2021 is to get it done. Done, done. Like, hand it off to the agent and let him run with it, done.
Do you write longhand? I’m curious to hear how other people shift between paper and keyboard? Or maybe you don’t. If you do, do you have a system for it, or do you just go with your gut? Do share.
I hope you enjoyed this piece and learned a little something. If you found the content valuable, tips are hugely appreciated.