Writing Advice

Why I Love The Magic of Pen and Paper for My First Drafts

26 Oct , 2017  

There is a lot to be said for great writing tools like Scrivener, Evernote and even Google Docs.

I personally love Scrivener’s flexibility for simplifying nearly all stages of my workflow, from planning to character outlining, location notes and more. When I’m prepping a story for completion I switch between Scrivener and Google Docs to ensure I catch mistakes that I would otherwise be blind to and for sending out scenes to my beta readers.

But there’s one area in my writing workflow that I don’t let the digital world touch: my first draft.

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Why I hand write first drafts of my stories

I remember the first time I ever wrote a longer piece of work. I was sat in the freezing dining room at my dad’s house, a cup of tea in one hand and a pad of paper under the other. I was playing Nevermind by Nirvana on a loop and using a death grip on my favourite pen, a fountain pen my brother had brought me from one of his trips to China.

It must have been one in the morning, and I had found that sweet delirium where everything else falls away and the writing world is all there is. The scratch of the pen over the paper sounded to me like the breath of my characters as they ran for their lives. I remember the glare of the yellow light above bouncing off the paper and hitting me like the dawn that I was weaving on the page.

I wrote well into the night and felt the most free I’ve ever felt.

You might have been expecting me to tell you that there was a productivity tip in why I write first drafts physically rather than digitally, but no.

I mean, I would argue it comes with the benefit of not having digital distractions, meaning you can lose yourself more deeply in the work. Notebooks and pens are also really portable and accessible in a way laptops and even tablets haven’t quite mastered yet, in my opinion at least.

Really, though, that’s all just a happy bonus to my habit of hand writing.

The real reason is, after just a few moments of pushing and pulling the pen nib, my brain’s inner eye opens and I begin to perceive the story I’m desperately trying to transcribe. I return to that state of flow where it’s just me and the story. It’s slower, more methodical, and I feel every second of it. And that, I think, is what I need on a first draft.

So why does this matter for you?

If you love hand writing your first drafts (or maybe all your drafts!) for the same reasons as me, or for any number of different reasons, that’s great.

If, unlike me, you prefer the clack of keys beneath your fingers and long for the steady rhythm of typing, wow I certainly get that too!

The truth is, we’re all looking for that same thing. That special magic of writing discovery when everything just clicks. What we’re really talking about are rituals, aren’t we? Rituals that put you in a state ready for creativity.

I have a few other things I like to do besides writing with pen and paper. I like to have a cup of tea to hand. I like to listen to classical dubstep, specifically anything with a strong strings component, and I like to calm my breathing so I can find the quiet space I need to let the stories in.

That’s how I find the creative flow. I think this experience is different for everyone though.

If you want to give hand writing your drafts a go, I have a couple of quick tips:

Get a pen that puts down ink in a consistent way. There’s nothing worse than a pen that you have to fight with in order to make a mark. Recently I’ve been loving the Bic Grip Roller. They’re a bit chunkier than Bic’s normal range and are specially made to be more pleasant to hold. They also lay down really great, consistent black lines. I love them so much I might try drawing with them, too.

I also recommend not writing in a notebook. I prefer A4 lined paper of a decent quality so that, when it comes to redrafting, I can pull out scenes if I need to and reorder them in a way that doesn’t risk ruining the rest of my pages.

But that’s just me. Do you hand write your first drafts? Or do you have a different ritual? Let me know in the comments below! 

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