Creativity and Writing by Pen


I’ve started writing my drafts in longhand. If you’ve taken one of my workshops, you’ve probably heard me advocate for putting pen to paper. You may have even argued with me about how ridiculous it sounds in this day and age of computers. Pfft! Writing by hand (eye roll). It takes too long.

I was skeptical and resisted the advice for a long time. And then one summer, I decided to create a mini writing retreat for myself. I rented a place in Gloucester for the weekend and when I awoke that first morning to the light coming in so gentle and the birds chirping, I didn’t want to disrupt the ambience with the garish glow of an electronic machine, so I decided to sit with my coffee and pen and notebook. To my amazement, I wrote nonstop for three hours. Not only that, I didn’t hate it.

It’s true that my hand is not always fast enough to keep up with my brain. But slowing down can be valuable when it comes to crafting prose. I ask you: Why are you in such a hurry? I’ve attended and run many workshops and frequently I hear feedback on one person’s manuscript or another that a certain scene goes by too fast or that we as readers are not inside a character’s head enough.

If you’ve received this kind of feedback on a story or a chapter, it might be time to slow down. It might be time to linger on moments, explore the character’s point-of-view and emotions, dwell on the experience, the physical setting, the interaction with the other characters so that you can render it more richly and deeply.

I can’t prove to you that writing by hand is the way to accomplish this. There’s no conclusive research on the connection between longhand and creativity. But using your hand, as opposed to typing, does activate parts of the brain responsible for sight, language, motor skills and cognition – areas not activated when tapping on a keyboard. More is better, some folks say. And I swear by it.

But don’t just take my word for it:

Joyce Carol Oates
Writing is a consequence of thinking, planning, dreaming — this is the process that results in ‘writing,’ rather than the way in which the writing is recorded.” via Salon

Amy Tan
“Writing by hand helps me remain open to all those particular circumstances, all those little details that add up to the truth.” via The Atlantic 

Stephen King
“It slows you down. It makes you think about each word as you write it, and it also gives you more of a chance so that you’re able– the sentences compose themselves in your head. It’s like hearing music, only it’s words. But you see more ahead because you can’t go as fast.” via Youtube 

Neil Gaiman
“I was trying to write a story that I wanted to have the rhythm of something that might have been written in the 1920s, and I loved the idea of how writing by hand might affect the story being told. That’s when I got hooked on writing by hand. To me, typing is like work. Writing with a pen is like playing. And you can write on planes when they’re taking off and landing.” via Tulsa World 

Mary Gordon
Writing by hand is laborious, and that is why typewriters were invented. But I believe that the labor has virtue, because of its very physicality. For one thing it involves flesh, blood and the thingness of pen and paper, those anchors that remind us that, however thoroughly we lose ourselves in the vortex of our invention, we inhabit a corporeal world. via New York Times

Joshua Ferris
Writing longhand allows me to sit and think without a screen blinking at me. I need that. The long blank page reminds me that I’m not likely to write an entire novel in a day, so why not just calm down and concentrate on the sentences. Why not try to make the sentences — a few of which I can finish in a day — as good as they can be? via Book List Reader 

Kat Howard
Even before I became I writer, I always wrote things longhand — I even wrote all the drafts of my dissertation longhand. I have always felt like a blank page is comfort and possibility, whereas a blank computer screen, with that damn blinking cursor, is judgment: “Have you written anything yet? Now? How about now?” Ugh. Book List Reader

I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

Credit: Scott Akerman/Flickr Creative Commons

1 Comments on “Creativity and Writing by Pen”

  1. Hi Tracy, I just saw your hilarious comment over at “Goddard’s” blog.

    “You can’t just link to random graph and make a claim and say it’s science. What study is this from? Whose research? What satellites? Please elaborate.”

    And, the reply you got:

    “Do you have difficulty following links to the NOAA web page?”

    You should do a “science” post here. You could really get the numbers up.

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