Earlier this month Ann Kroeker, writing coach, podcast host and co-author of On Being a Writer, took a Twitter poll: “This #writingcoach is curious: What’s your favorite word processing tool?” Although the sample size was small, the results came back with Microsoft Word at 63 percent, Scrivener at 38 percent, Google Docs at 0 percent, and pen and paper also at 0.
If Ann had asked about pencil and paper, it would have won my vote. Because that’s where my writing always starts. Later I move on to Word or Scrivener, depending on the project.
Writing by hand is slower. It’s clumsier (as my handwriting degrades). But its limitations somehow release words. I’m not the only Tweetspeak person who finds writing longhand liberating; Glynn Young wrote about the same subject this week at Christian Poets and Writers.
My writing day starts with drinking tea, reading a poem, and then putting pencil to paper. Maybe something good emerges, and maybe it doesn’t. But I have never written anything good that did not first start as something written longhand.
Prompt Guidelines and Options
1. To write longhand does not require a Moleskine and a Montblanc; you can just as easily use a number 2 pencil and a $1 composition notebook. Try writing a journal entry, a book review, or a letter you’ll never send.
2. If the summer sunshine has fried your brain, start by writing a list: grocery list, menu list, to-do list, list of routes walked with your dog, list of places you’d like to visit on vacation. While your fingers are writing a longhand list, a quiet, shy thought might emerge. Your pencil is already there, so write it down.
3. When Maurice Sendak was having trouble with the story that would become Where the Wild Things Are, he wrote several versions of the story—one every few days—in a spiral notebook. Try writing your own wild thing in longhand and in multiple ways.
4. Try writing a tanka using our new infographic. Tanka only has five lines and starts with a haiku, so it’s a poem that’s easier on your hands than, say, a ballad.