On Pen and Paper

Every writer knows how he or she writes best, and he has discovered their method through trial and error (or maybe the first attempt worked and he never strayed away from it). In this series we’re going to look at some different physical forms of writing and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each one. The three criteria I’ll be looking at are: Location (how free are you to write where you want to write?), Duration (can you write as long as you want, or are there physical limitations?), and Completion (once finished with the first draft, how hard is it to move on to draft two?)

You can follow these links to get to the different articles:

Pen & Paper

DSC01902I’m definitely biased towards this method. I’m currently working on a novel using pen and paper, which simply means that it works for me. I’ve been at it for about a month now, and I have about 30 pages completed (I just started a new job, so the writing has kind of fallen off a bit). I’ve written quite a bit of material with pen and paper, so I feel confident telling you that it’s an extremely mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks, so let’s just jump right in.

LOCATION: Go Anywhere!

Seriously, anywhere. I have yet to find a place where I can’t pull my journal and pen out and get writing. No waiting for a computer to start or load a document, just open to your bookmark (or the first blank page) and write.

This isn’t to say that all places are equal for pen and paper. A flat surface definitely improves speed and clarity of handwriting (which will be important later, but we’ll get to that point soon). Trying to balance a journal on your lap while writing feverishly can be a difficult challenge. Getting a journal with a stiff cover will help negate this issue. Finding a flat surface usually isn’t too hard: head to any coffee shop, a library, the break room at work, set up a TV tray, lay on the floor… the options are endless.


DURATION: Fatigue Immanent…

This is probably the singular biggest drawback to writing with pen and paper. Your hand is going to hurt. A lot. Depending on how long It’s been since you’ve written by hand you may only be able to write for a couple minutes before the pain sets in. The more you write by hand, however, the stronger your hand will get and the longer you can go.

Depending on your writing style short spurts of writing may not be a bad thing. I’ve known people who could only write good material for about 15 minutes before pouring forth junk. For them anything written after the 15 minute mark was usually re-written or simply trashed. If that describes you, pen and paper may be a benefit as the fatigue will keep you to short spurts of writing instead of a longer period.

The biggest plus to duration with pen and paper compared to computers is that you can continue as long as you want regardless of your location, no need to worry about your remaining battery power or needing to find an outlet.


COMPLETION: Complete Transcription…

This is by far the biggest drawback of pen and paper. When you’ve completed your story you’ll be forced to completely transcribe the work in order to edit and finalize for submission/self-publication. This is where the clarity of your handwriting will matter a lot. If you have poor or outright terrible handwriting then transcribing your work will be very difficult, possibly forcing you to re-write large segments of the work from memory. Needless to say: this sucks!

Now, just to play devil’s advocate (and because this is a plus for me), if you’re anything like me you absolutely hate editing. HATE it! If that’s the case, the transcription process will be a benefit. By its very nature you’re going to be forced to revisit your entire work, so you’ll be able to spot continuity errors, plot holes, glaring spelling mistakes, and other such things with ease. The important thing is to not get caught up on fixing them all as you transcribe, just figure out a way to mark the sections that need help as you do. I use Microsoft Word for transcription, so adding a comment to a section with my thoughts on it are a great way to easily return to it. If you’re using a more basic program, try changing the font to something drastically different, change the color, or highlight the section; do anything that will make it jump out at you as you go through the document.



Pen and paper will give you the ability to write anywhere, any time. You’ll have to be able to deal with your own handwriting, so if you can’t read what you write don’t even bother (or practice that handwriting, it’s not too hard to change it). Depending on your editing process pen and paper is either going to be a major positive or a major negative.

Unfortunately there is no best option for writing, it’s all about what works best for you.


If you have never tried writing with pen and paper, I’d suggest giving it a try. If nothing else it can be a great way to work through troubling sections of your story. There is little more satisfying that crumbling up a page that is frustrating you, throwing it across the room, and starting fresh. Whether you use it for your entire first draft or for small segments, pen and paper will always be a great tool for you as a writer.

Pen & Paper:

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