Elemental Ink

“I prefer the pen. There is something elemental about the glide and flow of nib and ink on paper.” -James Robertson

Why Would Anyone Want to Write By Hand?

While much of what I’ve written over the years has been with a keyboard, recently I’ve been writing more by hand.

Writing by hand – whether a letter, part of a story, a blog post, or something else – feels more personal than tapping on a keyboard. Either way, you’re putting together words that didn’t exist in exactly that combination before. But writing those words by hand strips away the unconscious barrier between your ideas and that blank page.

When faced with a clean sheet of paper or a blank screen, the mind recognizes the endless possibilities. It can become paralyzed by them. They’re overwhelming. You need a bit of structure or purpose or whatever to give form to those ideas. Then you can transform them by way of that blank page into a window onto another world. If you can do that, you can take someone from their own reality into yours via the words you choose.

How did I discover this? What made me pick up that pen in the first place?

I had a deadline to meet, and my laptop died on me. My husband was using his laptop, and it was too frustrating trying to write on either my Kindle or my phone. So I grabbed a pen and journal-style notebook, a gift I had never used, and squirreled myself away in our study. It has lots of bookshelves and a reading nook with a comfy chair and floor lamp. It was the perfect venue for a rainy afternoon.

With that as my start, I wrote an entire novel for a client using pen and paper. Talk about old school! It shocked me how much story I could tell in one sitting. It was nothing more than lines and curves and dots on a page. In a way, it was very much like drawing (I was once a Fine Arts student with a major in Drawing and Painting). It was a startling discovery that setting pen to paper would toggle some invisible switch in my brain to the “on” position, allowing the words to flow.

I can hear you now: “Okay, that’s great for you, but why should I bother? My laptop works fine.”


Writing By Hand is Effective

Have you ever experienced writer’s block?

What about procrastination? Do you ever sit down to write and then find yourself diving into that rabbit hole we lovingly call “research?”

Or you tell yourself it’s time to write, but oh, I forgot I have to answer that email or get that load of laundry started.

Writing longhand is an effective technique to combat both writer’s block and procrastination.

I can procrastinate with the best of them. If there was an award for procrastination, I’d be a serious contender. When I sit down at a computer to write, even if it’s something I want to write, I end up doing anything but. I’ve even caught myself getting up to file, which is a dangerous occupation for me. If someone could die from paper cuts, it would be me.

But when I sit down with one of my colorful gel pens and a 5″ x 7″ spiral-bound notebook, in under a minute — maybe even under 30 seconds — the words spill out across the page. This post is a perfect example.

I initially sat down at a computer intending to write about my growing love of writing things by hand. Alas, I couldn’t even get myself to work on an outline. The closest I came was to play with another distraction. I’d installed a mind-mapping app on my phone, miMind by Cryptobees LLC. I don’t know if I was doing it right, that mind mapping, but I did end up with a sweet little flow-chart-looking thing with lots of colors. When I tapped “outline” on the menu, lo and behold, it produced something that looked remarkably like an outline, complete with headings. I promptly emailed it to myself.

Ever hopeful and armed with my favorite writing software (Scrivener) and my nifty outline, I managed to eke out one paragraph. It was excruciating. I kept poking at it, but two of the cats wanted attention, and my husband wanted to talk. (How dare he?) It wasn’t until he removed the biggest distraction by going to bed that I could drop into my recliner with my notebook and pen and BOOM! I wrote 600 words for this post.

Crazy, huh?

That tiny change from blank computer screen to blank page removed the last bits of writer’s block. Without the endless distractions, the last conscious excuse for procrastination fell away. It left me relaxed and, apparently, ready to write. The words were there all along, blocked by those unconscious barriers. Without the stress of others wanting me to do things, they dissipated like so much smoke. The ideas raced to escape by way of that purple ink that looks so satisfying on that blue-lined, white page.

The fact that I could edit what I had written by hand as I typed it into Scrivener is a bonus.


Writing By Hand Is Easy

Not only can it be more effective to write things using pen and paper, but it’s easier to get to that point. There’s no need for technology in the first place. Yes, the use of technology perfected the production of both paper and pens. But we’re not talking about manufacturing those writing implements by hand, just producing the words.

Once you have that pen and paper in hand, you’re good to go. You don’t need an internet connection. You don’t need to sit somewhere with easy, close access to an electrical outlet. You can write anywhere. You don’t even need furniture, so no desk, no chair. Or if you have to sit in a chair to use your compact, low-tech tools, you’re not constrained to the proper use of that chair.

For the most part, you don’t need any special training or a user’s manual to use pen and paper. If you change your mind, you don’t have to worry about cutting something only to realize you cut the wrong thing once it’s too late to fix. You’ve got your backup copy close at hand.


Writing By Hand Is Comfortable

There’s something comforting in the susurrus of pen gliding across page. There’s satisfaction in the cadence of the swishes and strikes as the words flow and sentences grow.

You can curl up in the corner of your sofa and still write. You can sprawl across your chair, one arm as a backrest and your legs hanging over the other arm and still write. You can have a cat in your lap and rest your notebook on the arm of your chair so that you can — you guessed it! — still write.¹ And if you get so comfortable you fall asleep while writing, your work is automatically saved. You won’t wake to find 30 pages of nothing but the letter “M” repeating at the end of your document. Not that that’s ever happened to me. Ahem.

Writing with pen and paper in the summertime, there isn’t a laptop dispersing its heat into your lap. You don’t have a desktop computer cooling itself and in the process warming your writing nook.

One of my favorite places to write is in my backyard. When the weather warms up, my husband sets up a plastic kiddie pool on the patio for me. It even has a spitting-frog fountain. I can sit poolside to write. Every once in a while, one of the dogs (we have two) will come over and drink out of the pool. The only time that’s an issue is when Minie (named for Claude-Etienne Minie of mid-19th century ammunition fame)² slurps up a face full of water and then tries to kiss me. It’s quiet out on the patio but not too quiet. The distractions of dogs and birds and the woods behind our house are no match for that pen between my fingers, poised above the waiting page. They beckon me back to the task at hand. And if a bird flits by begging for inclusion in whatever I’m writing, I can jot down a note so I can look him up later.


Writing By Hand Can Be Fun

And on that note, besides writing with pen and paper being effective, easy, and comfortable, it can be fun, too.

You can doodle. You can draw.

You can choose from gajillions of funky notebooks. They can fit your personality or the atmosphere of the piece you’re writing. You can tell at a glance which character or world you’re creating by its cover. And you can buy a new notebook for each project or character, all for way, way, way less than buying a new laptop.


And in Conclusion…

I’ve seen stories on the news, read articles on the internet claiming that handwriting is a dying art. If this is true, then it’s a sad truth. I love my electronic gadgets; if I could afford it, I’d have all the latest and greatest computers and accessories. But I don’t need any of that to write. All I need is a good pen and a spiral-bound notebook. If I have that, I can conquer the world.

At least on paper.

What do you think? Have you written anything by hand? How does your experience compare to mine? Please, let me know in the comments.

1 That’s assuming you can convince the cat to leave the pen alone or not sit on your paper.

2 My husband collects bayonets and bullets. In addition to the dog Minie, we have a cat named Bayonette, Bayo for short. There’s a story behind how each of them got their names, but those stories don’t really work so well for this post.