The Pen Is Mightier Than the PC

I enjoy writing longhand. Let me qualify that. I enjoy writing longhand if I have my favorite pen and the perfect notebook. Few things are worse than writing with a pen that doesn’t flow with my hand. And the quest for the perfect notebook results in a time consuming trip to the local Target or office supply store. I’m never sure what kind of notebook I’m looking for, but it’s like love at first sight, I know it when I see it. I once dropped twenty bucks on a Moleskine because I had the brilliant notion that a quality notebook would inspire quality writing. It didn’t.

A touch of weird writer OCD going on here?  You bet. But I’m not alone. These guys have it too:

Amy Tan, Neil Gaiman, Tom Wolfe, Jhumpa Lahiri, Joyce Carol Oates, John le Carré and J.K.  Rowling.

JK Rowling

They write at least some portion of their work longhand, eschewing keyboards, delete buttons, and copy/paste clicking for ink pens and paper. There is something about writing longhand that fosters creativity and bashes the dreaded writer’s block.

Many studies link movement, especially hand movement, to increased problem solving. It also creates new ideas and stimulates the imagination. (Sorry, wrist movement over a keyboard doesn’t quite do it.) But for a writer, there is more to the muse of longhand than firing up neurotransmitters.

Sublimely Sensual: The Writer’s Tools

Chris Hilton says some writers prefer longhand over electronic technology because “…they feel there is an intangible relationship between mind, hand, implement and creation.”

J.K. RowlingFor some reason, I prefer a black pen to a blue one, and in a perfect world I’d always use narrow feint writing paper.

Neil GaimanI’m writing my novel with two different fountain pens (a Lamy 2000, and a regular Lamy) filled with two different coloured inks (a greenish one and a reddish one), and I’m alternating pens each day….

Quentin TarantinoMy ritual is, I never use a typewriter or computer. I just write it all by hand. It’s a ceremony. I go to a stationary store and buy a notebook – and I don’t buy like ten. I just buy one and then fill it up. Then I buy a bunch of red felt pens and a bunch of black ones, and I’m like, ‘These are the pens I’m going to write Grindhouse with.

John SteinbeckFor years I have looked for the perfect pencil. I have found very good ones but never the perfect one. And all the time it was never the pencils, but me.

The famous Blackwings of John Steinbeck: Courtesy of Pencils.com

The famous Blackwings of John Steinbeck: Courtesy of Pencils.com

The Pace

Writing in longhand is obviously more time consuming than typing. The slower pace of writing by hand gives us time to contemplate and consider before we commit anything to the page. There are advantages to this. Many times, the scenes I’ve written in a notebook need less revising than usual first drafts. If they do need revising, those revisions flow easily as I type what I’ve handwritten into an electronic file. But again, there’s more to it than mechanics. Lee Rourke sums it up perfectly (he was probably writing longhand) when he says, “For me, writing longhand is an utterly personal task where the outer world is closed off, just my thoughts and the movement of my hand across the page to keep me company. The whole process keeps me in touch with the craft of writing.” Exactly!

I have lost the sense of rush with which I started, and that is exactly what I intended to do.
Steinbeck on writing longhand

The next time inspiration eludes you, power off the electronics and take out a notebook and pen. Then get out of the way while your brain tells your hand what to write. You may be pleasantly surprised. As for me, I’m off to check out Rhodia notebooks. That name comes up often among the longhand big hitters. Could be that they’re the perfect notebook.

Gavin Zanker 
Mike Shea 
Psychology Today 


21 comments on “The Pen Is Mightier Than the PC

  1. I know exactly what you mean — I use a 0.55mm needle point pen and can’t stand using anything but that. Do you use a particular type of pen?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It actually depends on my mood. I like Uni-ball rollers, sometimes the fine points, sometimes micro. I just discovered the Uni-ball Signo 207 needle which has become my very favorite no matter what mood I’m in. The problem is my kids keep swiping them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I used a few Uni’s many years ago — they were a bit bulky due to this gel-like material covering the pen. I think it was to make it more ergonomic, but it was difficult to write with. The needle point I prefer is made by Pilot…I think it’s called a Razor Point — very helpful if you have tiny handwriting!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “This would have been a lot better if only I could have found one of those Blackhawk pencils.” – Jim Kimsal

    Seriously, I went through the same thing with pens, then early on went through the same thing with computers. I like the longhand first-draft idea, though. I may try that on the novel. Great post.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never really been taken with the whole writing-implement-fetishism that seems so prevalent. I have a fountain pen that I enjoy using, and I prefer certain notebooks to others, but in the end I’ll happily scrawl across any scrap of paper with any pen that contains ink.

    I guess I’m just not that fussy since I know anything I write by hand will eventually be tossed aside when it’s transcribed to a word document anyway.

    Thanks for linking me as a source, glad you enjoyed the article.


    • I’m fussy about everything, although I have scrawled on napkins and old receipts in a pinch. Of course, I promptly lose them which is okay because they’re too small to hold much. I lost an almost full notebook last summer. That was painful.

      I enjoy your blog, especially the post on NaNo. Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Always love the paper and pen experience. It so timeless.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m like you – I enjoy shopping for a new notebook and I know what I want when I see it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a slow enough writer that the difference between typing on a computer and writing longhand would make no difference in my productivity. That’s not the slow part for me. Sometimes I do write things out in longhand, but I generally prefer the keyboard because I move sentences around so much and retype them so often that having cut and paste keeps me from going insane..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Always interesting and thought-provoking…The quest for the perfect writing implement and notebook is a journey in itself. Sometimes I think it’s a way for me to postpone writing. Then I get caught up in my penmanship. Talk about OCD! I have to use a pencil so I can erase messy areas or mistakes–it’s a problem. Of course, I have to correct my mistakes on the computer, too. But the computer has an autocorrect and the pencil does not… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I do love a nice fountain pen although I do not actually own one. I do remember some calligraphic genius giving me a small cheque for his share of some mutual expense and his handwriting was so good I decided to keep the cheques as a piece of art rather than cash it in !

    Liked by 1 person

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