Why I'm choosing to Handwrite My First Draft

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I’ve never trusted computers. I mean, they are great. I love that by owning a smart phone I have access to the vast majority of the world’s information. However, there is also something intangible about computers.

In college, I would always ask if I could turn in hard copies of my assignments to my professors because emailing didn’t seem concrete enough. Where do emails go, anyway? What if it got lost in transmission and floated off into space? (Okay, obviously I know nothing about how email works, but you get my point.) If I walked into their office and handed them a physical copy of my paper then I knew for sure it was turned in and anything that happened to it after that was the professor’s fault.

Even now, after four years of successfully emailing papers to professors, something about computers still feels impermanent. I’m working on the first draft of my novel and no matter how many pages I type into my computer, I still feel like I’ve made no progress. No matter how much I write, my computer never gets any thicker. Aside from the small number in the corner of the screen telling me how many pages I’ve written, there is no physical evidence of advancement.

This is why I prefer to write my first draft in long hand (and also probably why I don’t like reading EBooks). Maybe it’s the romantic in me who longs for the days of handwritten correspondence and dusty notebooks full of poetry and prose. Maybe I want to feel a connection to the long line of authors who came before me and had no other choice than to handwrite their books. Regardless, computers just don’t fit the bill. (Plus, I write in cursive, and the cursive font on most computers is ridiculously fancy and very hard to read.)

Here are four reasons why I am choosing to handwrite the first draft of my novel:

1) Minimal Distractions

My notepad and pen don’t have internet access. (And everyone who has ever fallen into a cat video YouTube hole says, “Amen.”) I can’t do a “quick” Google search—which, by the way, doesn’t exist—for background information about my character’s job or for setting information. I have to make it up on the spot and then look it up later, which keeps me from getting distracted by Facebook or Instagram. People rarely want to admit it, but the internet is a huge distraction. Sure, it is also INCREDIBLY helpful in so many ways, but it is a really good way to waste several hours of your day.

2) Instant editing

Barring deleting (which is discussed below), there isn’t a convenient way to edit as you type on a computer. You can add a comment (Insert à Comment) and have a red box with your notes in the right margin, but it isn’t as satisfying as physically crossing through a sentence with a red pen or drawing an arrow to move one sentence to a new paragraph. Handwriting gives you the option to physically manipulate your own writing, to mold the words like clay until they create the shape you want.

3) No deleting

I understand why writers primarily use computers, but I also see how they are polluting the writing process a bit. When revising a draft on a computer, you can delete words, sentences, or whole paragraphs with the push of a button, and a deleted sentence is a sentence that can no longer be considered. Do you know how many times I’ve crossed out a sentence from my journal and then re-written it later because I realized it worked? Too many times to count. That option is gone as soon as you press delete. I, for one, would like to be able to look back at my first drafts and see all of the crummy sentences that led to the choice of the perfect one.

4) Sentimental Value

Once, while in college, I went with my creative writing class to the special collections department of the library to look at the first drafts of author’s books. We were able to see handwritten pages of novels complete with crossed out words, commentary written in the margins, and arrows rearranging sentences and entire paragraphs. Seeing these handwritten pages made me consider what our archives would look like in fifty years. Stacks of printed manuscripts with no markings whatsoever? Identical looking typeface rather than personal handwriting?

It was a sad image.

Authors have been handwriting pages for an incredibly long time, and it seems like a shame to completely do away with it now that we have computers. I know that times change and the world is all about efficiency, but some things are sacred. If the relationship between an author and their book isn’t sacred, then I don’t know what is.

So Long,

Mallory