Kickin’ the Block, OldSkool #amwriting

OldSkoolOur #1 Daughter was telling me her book club had a Skype chat with an author, and the author said she composed on a computer unless she got blocked. If she got blocked, she wrote with pen and paper.

I said, “So do I!”

She said she had read somewhere that you engage different parts of your brain or different skills in writing by hand than you do in typing. So I looked it up.

I found this article from The Guardian, particularly this quote:

“Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought,” says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva.

and this one, by Claire Bustarret, a specialist on codex manuscripts at the Maurice Halbwachs research center in Paris:

“With a pen and paper, it’s all there. Words crossed out or corrected, bits scribbled in the margin and later additions are there for good, leaving a visual and tactile record of your work and its creative stages.”

Although most of the article is about how writing by hand assists learning, I found those two quotes helpful in understanding why moving from the keyboard to pen and paper busts writer’s block for so many.

Typing can become automatic, if you do it enough. Writing is always an act of conscious will. Odd that this would free creativity, but think about it: Your inner editor is busy making sure you connect those letters, dot those i’s and cross those t’s, leaving your subconscious room to sneak past it.

Writing by hand, with all its cross-outs and inserts, both gives you permission to make a mistake and recover from it AND gives you the ability to recover exactly what you said before that wasn’t a mistake after all. It’s a lot easier to view different variations all in one place on a scribbley piece of paper than it is to compare fifteen windows of identical-looking typeface.

And, something else referred to in the article in the context of learning, handwriting is actually art. You wouldn’t even have to be literate to copy a manuscript if you were good at drawing; you actually draw the letters, after all. Again, you can fool that pesky inner editor into thinking, “Oh, she isn’t trying to write anything; she’s doing art.”

Excuse me, now — I think I’m going to go shopping for a fountain pen. With royal blue ink. Yeah, I think my muse would like that.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Do you write by hand, in cursive or print, or do you write on the keyboard? Or sometimes one and sometimes the other? Why?



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Kickin’ the Block, OldSkool #amwriting

  1. Dan

    September 7, 2015 at 8:04am

    what I like most about paper and pen is that I can mix doodles with words. I find that I can leave myself clues about what I am thinking in the doodles. This was very interesting.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 7, 2015 at 8:18am

      Ooo! I love the idea of mixing doodles with words — Thank you, Dan; that’s a great block-breaking and rough-drafting aid!

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  2. Jane

    September 7, 2015 at 9:38am

    I like to rough draft by hand in a notebook that’s almost as long as regular paper, but rather slimmer. It’s easier to bundle thoughts on about that size canvas. I always leave the left side of the open book clear for notes; i.e., hair colors, etc., first time X happens, “check out what so and so actually said,” figure this out later, etc.

    I also do addendums this way.

    All this goes digital pretty quickly, and any extensive revisions are pretty much done in the word files. I like to use yWriter5, because it’s extremely easy to reorganize scenes and chapters. It also has good reports, great character, place, and thing organizers, with the ability to observe this info in several ways: Scene by scene, item by item, etc. Obvs, easy to track word counts are included. It’s swell, and it’s FREE!!

    Sorry, had to plug the wonder writing tool of the century. Aside from the pen and hand, that is.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 7, 2015 at 10:09am

      I’ve never been able to master yWriter5. Maybe you could give me a tutorial sometime. I like your notebook method. T. Lee Harris uses that method, too, with her initial rough draft being pretty much stream-of-consciousness. The reason I do NaNoWriMo every so often is to grab some of that spontaneity, since my inner Adrien Monk wants me to groom my rough draft as I go — which is SO NOT the point!

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      • Jane

        September 8, 2015 at 8:42am

        Well, of course! yWriter5 tutorial coming up!

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  3. Holly Jahangiri

    September 7, 2015 at 10:03am

    I have PURPLE ink in my fountain pen, of course. You’ve seen the image on my blog; that’s my pen, not a stock photo. 😉 The pen is Lamy – about $20-$30 on Amazon. The purple ink is Waterman, also available on Amazon.

    People will see me taking notes by hand during a meeting and always comment on what gorgeous handwriting I have – which is funny, since much of the time I’m not making any real effort at writing well. My grandfather studied penmanship, and had the most beautiful handwriting – it truly looked like art. I believe that may be a “lost art” – you look at old documents, and you see a lot of writing that looks similar. You never see that kind of writing now; it seems to have fallen out of fashion.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 7, 2015 at 10:13am

      Holly, there WERE styles of penmanship taught in schools back in the day. I may have been among the last generations in which penmanship was taught. I remember that our oldest grandson said the teacher said as long as their letters were readable, she didn’t care how they formed them. The result is that writing is physically painful for him and his penmanship is … not beautiful. There were reasons we were made to make this stroke this way and then go this way and then that way. Variations could come later, but ease of writing and ease of reading were the results of guided practice — which I LOATHED at the time, of course!

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      • Holly Jahangiri

        September 7, 2015 at 6:50pm

        Didn’t we all? Like memorizing times tables or spelling lists. Still useful.

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  4. KatFrench

    September 8, 2015 at 11:20am

    I brainstorm with pen and paper (and doodles)! But I draft on a keyboard. When the words are really flowing, I can generally type fast enough to keep up with my brain, but I could never write that fast longhand. Also, I’m lefthanded, so aside from inevitable smearing, my hand cramps up after about a page. I just got a Neo, which hopefully will help me stay on task and turn off my inner editor while drafting.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      September 8, 2015 at 11:45am

      I saw that Neo! That seems so weird to me, to not be able to see what you’ve written. But the people who use them LOVE them. Tell me about how it works for you.

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      • KatFrench

        September 8, 2015 at 12:11pm

        You can see *some* of what you’ve written. There’s a small screen that shows 2 – 6 lines of text (I have mine set to the default of 4). And you can scroll up and down, but having such a small window makes you focus on just the sentence or possibly paragraph you’re writing.

        Not seeing anything would make me nuts worrying about typos.

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        • Author

          Marian Allen

          September 8, 2015 at 12:22pm

          Makes sense. I know about three people who use it now. Let me know how it goes.

          Permalink  ⋅ Reply

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