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.
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. Rowling–For 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 Gaiman–I’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 Tarantino–My 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 Steinbeck–For 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.
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.