Posted in Writing

Why I’m Writing My Books By Hand in Fountain Pen

photo of vintage Parker Lady Pen
My favourite fountain pen – a vintage classic

This post was inspired by my author and editor friend Belinda Pollard, who posted on her Facebook page recently that she’s trying to write by hand rather than direct on to her computer, and asking for other writers’ experiences. Here are my thoughts on the topic.

“You write your books by hand? Are you nuts?”

That’s the typical reaction when friends discover that these days I’ve reverted to old technology to write the first draft of my novels: fountain pen and A4 wide ruled file paper, as we used at school and university.

Technology – Mightier than the Pen?

In this golden age of technology, when we have so many labour-saving alternatives at our disposal, why am I not typing straight onto my computer? After all, I am a very fast touch-typist. (Most useful skill I ever learned! – read my post on that topic here.)

And why, when I have a digital hand-held voice recorder and Dragon Dictate voice recognition software on my PC, am I not sitting back and dictating my stories? Especially as I have rheumatoid arthritis which restricts the mobility in my hands.

Dictation has its attractions, eg it encourages you to write more fluidly in natural speech patterns – especially helpful when your books contain a lot of dialogue, as mine do.

I’ve tried all of these routes – though I’ve yet to have the luxury of dictating to a real person, Barbara Cartland style! (I don’t have the requisite little dog either!) I dictated my second novel, Trick or Murder? in its entirety, (boy, did that speed things up!) The other novels have been a mix of typing and dictation.

Back to the Fountain Pen

But now I’m writing my seventh novel entirely by hand, and I’m loving it, especially since I discovered some interesting justification: that writing by hand connects with the brain in a different and more creative way.

Why fountain pen rather than ballpoint pen, fibre tip or pencil?

Fountain pen is easier on the hand as you don’t have to press hard. Use a good quality ink and pen and it flows effortlessly across the page, which is a pleasant experience aesthetically, and has a calming, meditative effect, no matter what you’re writing.

Sample of handwritten manuscript with pen
The story so far… the current manuscript for Sophie Sayers’ sixth adventure, Murder Your Darlings.

20 Reasons to Write by Hand

If you’d like to read more about the benefits of writing by hand, click this link for a blog post listing 20 reasons, Although it is primarily talking about handwriting at school and college, many of the reasons apply throughout your writing life, as point 5 in their list makes clear:

In 2009, researchers at University of Washington found that elementary aged students who wrote creative stories with a pen on paper far exceeded the performance of their peers. Not only were the writers able to complete their assignments faster than the typers, they also wrote longer compositions with more complete sentences. Perhaps this is why so many novelists prefer to compose their first drafts in longhand form – that is, with pencil and paper – despite having access to a computer of typewriter.

I especially like their final point: that pen and paper aren’t connected to the internet and all of its distractions! Increased productivity is definitely a plus point.

On the Other (Inky) Hand

Of course, there are downsides – not least, if you’re using a fountain pen as I do, inky fingers, and the blue scar on the pine floorboards beneath my desk where I dropped a bottle of ink, having lifted it up by the top, only to discover it wasn’t screwed down tight!

photo of floorboards stained blue with ink
The inky floor beneath my desk

And the manuscript still has to be typed eventually. If you type it up yourself, you can count that as the first round of editing, as you’ll inevitably make a few tweaks and corrections as you go along. As I’m currently short of time, I’m using an author services company, Zedolus.

Over to You

How do you prefer to write whatever you need to write? I’d love to know!

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English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

15 thoughts on “Why I’m Writing My Books By Hand in Fountain Pen

  1. I know this is a Johnny-come-lately comment (two years late), but here goes. I just recently went down the fountain pen rabbit hole. In November of 2020, I did an internet search for something that I don’t even remember what was, but in so doing, I stumbled across some articles about authors and screenwriters who write/wrote their first drafts by hand. And that led to articles about fountain pens. So in January of 2021, past my half-century mark, I bought my first ever fountain pens, along with a few accoutrements.

    Mid-November I had begun writing my newest book by hand, with a ballpoint. 50+ pages in, I switched to my new fountain pen. I had written and self-published eleven books previously, all on my laptop. This newest one is one of my favorites simply because I wrote it all longhand. And then I inked another FP with Diamine’s Wild Strawberry red to do my edits. I felt so much more connected to this book than all the others. Also there’s the fact that, like you, a fountain pen is so much easier on my hands. I can write for hours with no cramping. Not so with ballpoints or rollerballs. Anyway, I will be writing as many of my future books by hand as I possibly can.

    1. Hi David, and thank you for commenting – better late than never! I’m so glad to hear your success story with fountain pens – and with Diamine ink too. I just treated myself to a bottle of Diamine Sepia which is just gorgeous. I hadn’t thought about getting a red one for edits, but that is in excellent idea. I shall go and look at the Wild Strawberry myself now. Good luck with all your books – I’m sure they’ll all be the better for being written with a fountain pen. I know exactly what you mean when you say you feel more connected. With very best wishes, Debbie

  2. I think this is so neat and a great endeavour, best of luck to you!! I write letters, journals, poems etc with my fountain pens too 🙂 Fun fact: one of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman, also writes his manuscripts with a fountain pen- Google will show you some of the drafts of his books 😉

  3. I love writing by hand and am thrilled you’re doing this. I write a lot by hand in note books, especially back stories, notes and ideas. I write a lot of short stories by hand too. I also have several penpals who share my passion for long hand. I agree it stimulates a different part of the creative brain and for me it creates a special relationship between me and the story with the shape of the letters forming under my pen. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Sarah, and I’m delighted you’re already doing this too. Thanks for the excellent summary. And penpals! Gotta love penpals! I had some when I was in my teens but sadly didn’t maintain contact. Handwritten letters are so special – it’s like receiving a handknitted sweater instead of a manufactured one. I have boxes and boxes of handwritten letters from friends and family stashed away in my study, and can’t bring myself to get rid of any of them!

  4. Debbie Wonder Woman,
    How do you write in pen with your arthritis?
    You’re right – it lives more on the page but I can’t do it. Would be 100 before I get all four novels edited 😀

    1. I find fountain pen rather than biro or penciil makes all the difference, Mary – and it has to be a good quality nib and ink to flow well. Writing by hand is a much more natural process than typing, even with my lovely new ergonomic keyboard, which is curved to suit the shape of the hands and wrists. Smooth paper helps too, so that the pen doesn’t stick. Another useful tip for anyone else with arthritis is to try chunky fibre tip “handwriting” pens, including those with triangular barrels, as these make it much easier to grip if your fingers are stiff. I must admit my hand was seizing up a bit after a marathon 6,000 word stint the other evening – I certainly couldn’t do that every day!

    1. That’s very interesting, Bjorn. Just demonstrates how we all have to do what suits us best as individual writers. I never self-edit as I’m writing the first draft, I just get on with the story – which might be one reason I do numerous rounds of self-editing afterwards! I might also read the chapter I wrote the day before (when I’m in writing mode, I try to write a chapter a day – mine are short chapters), and scribble a few edits on before I start the next session, but the self-editing mainly comes at typescript stage. I certainly couldn’t manage a second draft by hand!

  5. Although I primarily type — both Scrivener and Word — I am also a big fan of fountain pens and pens in general. Current favorites are Lamy’s see-through fountain pen (blue ink!) and the Pentel black roller ball. I recently treated myself to a big day in the office supply store and bought a few new fountain pens to compare. Faber-Castell came in a close second. That vintage Parker looks fab!

    1. A splurge in an office supply store – every writer’s dream! I haven’t tried Lamy pens or Faber-Castell so will take a look next time I spot them. I know the latter is one of my daughter’s preferred brands for art materials. If ever I sell enough books to justify it, I might go mad and try a Mont Blanc! It does feel right writing with a Parker, though – their traditional feel ((they supply the Queen, you know!) feels right for the very English nature of my books! Just took a peek at their website and am sorely tempted now by the blue one with the map of the world on the barrel…

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