Posted in Writing

The Pros and Cons of Writing by Hand

pile of screwed up handwritten manuscripts
With apologies to the trees who laid down their lives in the cause of literature…

Lately I’ve been finding that I am much more productive and the words flow more naturally if I write my work-in-progress novel by hand. This is despite being a really fast touch typist. Part of the reason may be that I associate my computer with work and am more averse to sitting down at my desk to type than curling up in bed or on the sofa with a beautiful notebook and pretty coloured pen.

Of course, this adds an extra step into the writing process. I then have to type  each handwritten chapter into the computer afterwards. On the plus side, I do a few extra edits as I do that, so the first typescript becomes the second draft.

Enter the Dragon

I can speed up that process by dictating the manuscript via my Dragon voice recognition software, which then types the words on the screen for me. I definitely recommend this process, but at the moment post-cold hoarseness is limiting the amount of time I can comfortably dictate. But at least I’ve stopped coughing now, which always confused my Dragon. You think with its fire-breathing heritage, a Dragon ought to be more sympathetic to throat problems.

Productivity Plus

Two further plus points:

  • I’m fast eroding my stockpile of notebooks (couldn’t fit any more in my notebook drawer)
  • I’ve just worked out that since Christmas I’ve been averaging more than 2,000 words a day

Go, me! And now I’m off to plant some more trees…. *

Useful Links

*And about those trees – the paper I use is always from sustainable sources, purposely farmed for this use. I’m sure none of it comes from ripping up rainforests. To my mind, complaining about responsible use of paper is like protesting about the destruction of wheatfields to make bread. And I am VERY mean about my use of paper – if I don’t use both sides, I tear a sheet into pieces and use the clean side for notes. Then all the waste is used as firestarters for my woodburner. While trying not to think of burning books. Just saying. 

Author:

English author of warm, witty novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Staffroom at St Bride's School series, both set in the Cotswolds. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors and for the children's reading charity, Read for Good. Public speaker for the Type 1 Diabetes charity JDRF.

11 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Writing by Hand

  1. Oh, that’s a great idea to use voice recognition. When I write for work, I only use my laptop – writing by hand and then retyping everything is just a bad idea. But when it comes to my personal notes, it’s only pen and notepad. It’s my kind of meditation; writing by hand helps me get my thoughts together.
    By the way, going a little off the topic of handwriting or typing convenience. Did you know that writing by hand has many benefits for cognitive abilities: https://stephenslighthouse.com/2021/01/21/infographic-20-ways-handwriting-is-good-for-you-and-your-studying/ I know this applies more to children and the need for them to learn to write by hand. But doesn’t it work the same way for adults as well? To me, it’s a great argument that I train my brain and develop creativity this way.

    1. Yes, I’ve read a lot about the benefits for studying too – it irks me that there is a certain expectation these days for high school kids in particular to write essays on their laptops. Whenever my daughter has got stuck, she’s found it helps to set aside the computer and pick up a pen instead. I wish they’d teach them to do that from the start, only typing up the final content when they’ve done the creative part of the task!

  2. I write all my first drafts by hand. On the computer it’s too easy to keep fiddling with the beginning rather than move on with the story. Don’t use a Dragon, however.

    1. I think that’s a very good point, Audrey – computers are a mixed blessing, making editing much easier, but also making it too tempting to edit when you should be writing!

  3. Good to find myself in such good company! I too have to hand write my work, for the simple reason that my brain only comes up with the good stuff when I have a pencil in my hand. I also use Dragon too…

    1. Thank you! I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that the brain works differently when physically writing rather than typing. Which makes me wonder how the world and literature are going to change now that people hardly ever write by had any more…

  4. Here’s a woman whose Dragon knows her voice! I’ve been using the same method recently – but my Dragon can so easily mishear and garbled rubbish get included in the text … I find my Dragon loves non-fiction but finds novel writing far more difficult with its unpredictable word use – e.g. profit and prophet, there and their, and many more besides … he is a real whizz at management-speak – but has now forgotten ‘Brexit’!

    1. Would that we could all forget Brexit, Mari! I found investing in the latest version of Dragon made a big difference to accuracy – I’d more or less given up on the first one I bought a few years go, but having paid extra for the Premium edition 13 (so that I can also use a handheld dictaphone with it) has got me hooked on it again. Once I get my voice back properly, that is…

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