Today’s post is part one of a two-part collaboration with Julia at Lit Aflame! I’ll be talking about how fiction writers can use handwriting, and she’ll be talking about the benefits of typing instead. Her post will be going up on her blog tomorrow, so be sure to check it out!
I don’t often handwrite my fiction. I can type waaaaaaay faster than I can handwrite, so I do that instead. But there are aspects of story-writing that can definitely benefit from handwriting, and here are a few of them.
The Initial Idea
When I have a story idea, I almost always write it down in one of my notebooks, on a designated page called “Story Ideas.” I often have at least three of these to a notebook, and I fill them with snippets of dialogue, paragraphs of description, character names, plot ideas… When I fill a “Story Ideas” page, I start a new one.
You could also do this with a word document (I have a word document, too, which I migrate my ideas to either when I fill a “Story Ideas” page or when I fill a whole notebook), but it’s somehow more satisfying to me to write it on paper.
This can be brainstorming right after you’ve had your next big idea, or after you’ve been writing for months and you have no idea how to move forward. Find the next blank page in your notebook and start free-writing, anything that comes into your head. Write down questions (you don’t have to answer them yet), random bursts of inspiration, past ideas you want to incorporate, anything and anything that comes to mind for the story.
If you’re at a spot in your story where you’ve been writing and gotten stuck, start by figuring out what’s keeping you stuck. Did your character act out-of-character two chapters ago and throw everything off? Did a new secret organization pop out of nowhere that now you have to find a place for? Start by figuring out the problem, and then free-write to solve it.
The reason hand-writing is going to be good for brainstorming through writer’s block is because it gives you a new perspective. Instead of staring at a blank screen with uniform black letters, you’re looking at a piece of paper with messy handwriting. It’s more free and natural for brainstorming, and you have the added benefit of the fact that it’s more tactile than typing. Yes, typing involves your fingers, but in typing you don’t have to move your whole hand into specific shapes to make letters, you just have to tap plastic keys. Handwriting could be especially helpful for you if you’re a tactile learner.
There’s no way I would write an entire novel on paper. That would take me ages longer than it needs to. However, I do know some authors who are slower typists (or just slower authors in general) and prefer to write their novels on paper. Even for myself, I don’t frown on writing actual stories on paper.
Personally, I’ll occasionally write scenes from a novel I’m working on in my notebook instead of on the computer and copy it over later. It could be that I had a burst of inspiration and didn’t want to get to the computer, or it was the middle of the night and I wanted to write it down before I forgot, it could have been that I just felt like writing on paper. I’ve written numerous scenes from The Shadow Raven, among other things, in notebooks.
When I was younger, I’d write long sections of novels in notebooks. To begin with I wrote complete stories (they were short), and as my stories grew longer I’d continue to write them in notebooks because I didn’t feel like copying them onto the computer yet. A good half of The Half-Elves‘s first draft is in a notebook. Even up to just a couple years ago I wrote long sections of stories in notebooks, and a year ago I wrote almost an entire short story on paper while I was on vacation.
Like with brainstorming, hand-writing can be a great tool to change your perspective and get your creativity flowing again.
I think editing on paper is incredibly important. You can actually jot notes in the margins. You can color-code things if you have different colored pens more easily than you can on the computer. Most importantly, again, it gives you a different perspective. Getting a different perspective on your story is especially crucial in editing, because you wrote it, and chances are you’ve already read it a million times, too. After several read-throughs you’ll grow numb to the issues, and a great fix for that is to print it out and work on paper for a draft or two. (You can check out this post for more info on how I edit on paper.)