When I was a little girl, I would put a pillow on my lap, balance a notebook on top, and write stories. There was something magical about pencil-on-paper. When I speak to young people, I tell them how powerful it is to create something that didn’t exist before. Imagine having a blank sheet of paper in front of you one minute, and a new creation the next.
I’m not so little anymore, but I still love the magic of paper. When people ask about my process, I tell them there are only two things about it that are disciplined: I always have a fluid outline, and I write all my first drafts in longhand.
Writing in longhand gives me a tactile relationship with the words.
Writing on paper provides a tactile response that doesn’t happen with a keyboard and computer screen. You can feel the words moving under the tip of your pen. You can feel the pages turn between your fingertips. You can see the journal sitting in your bag, ready to be conquered. And if you’re a true nerd like I am, you can even smell the paper.
Writing in longhand is deeply personal.
Each of my novels required a different type of notebook or journal. Most of the time, a simple spiral notebook will do. But then I have to consider the color. The number of pages. College- or wide-ruled? Each work has a different personality. The notebooks do, too. For my current WIP, I went in a completely different direction, because the book is its own departure. Rather than the spiral-bound notebooks I used for my realistic contemporary novels, I wanted a personalized hand-stitched leather journal for my first fantasy (!) Buying a notebook for your WIP adds yet another level of experience to the first draft. Same for pens. Yes, I’m also a nerd for pens. I must have the right pen. Luckily, I don’t have expensive taste. All I need is a smooth-glide or felt tip and I’m good to go. Traditional black ink is my first go-to, but it’s nice to have other options. The type of pen I use also depends on what kind of journal I have. The two need to complement each other.
It helps me keep the right pace.
I’m more deliberate when I write with a pen. I take my time. This is another individualistic writer trait. Some writers throw everything on the page and worry about the rest later. I tend to edit as I go. Writing with pen and paper helps me do that. It also allows me to make notes in the margins for elements that I want to revisit later.
I want to write at a moment’s notice—without the distraction of the internet.
I’m not a scheduled writer. I don’t block off certain hours of time solely for writing. For some reason, that never works for me. Instead, I write when I’m compelled to. Sometimes it’s in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or the middle of a bookstore. I never need to haul around my laptop, which also means I won’t be distracted by the endless and beguiling rabbit holes of the internet.
Two drafts for the price of one.
When it’s time to shift it from page to computer, I have the opportunity to read my words again and add (or take away) the necessary flourish.
It’s not as intimidating.
There’s something scary about a big, blank computer screen, with its accusatory cursor. Paper isn’t as judgemental. You can draw a doodle of a hipster with a mustache and still feel like you accomplished something.