Writing by Hand vs. Typing: Is There a Difference?

Photo credit: LOSINPUN on Flickr
I hadn't paid much attention to it before, but I noticed recently that I've developed a particular writing habit that I wouldn't have expected from myself: I like to write by hand.

Now, before the groaning begins let me clear something up — when I'm not fighting with my keyboard, I'm pretty decent at typing. I'm not claiming to be superwoman over here, but I usually type at about 80 wpm-ish, give or take, so as you could imagine when I'm doing writing sprints or going for speed, there's no question that I choose typing over writing by hand. In fact, most times when I'm writing, I’ll sit down in front of the computer rather than picking up a pencil and pad of paper.

However, when my fast drafting round is complete and the time comes to begin rewriting and editing, speed is no longer my goal, and in those instances I've found that I really enjoy writing by hand.

The reason I like handwriting my revisions is simple — I'm more careful when I write by hand. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but my guess is that it has to do with the process of typing versus handwriting itself. You see, typing is largely an automatic thing — your fingers jot down the first words that come to mind and allow you to keep up with the flow of your thoughts relatively well, which makes it a really good instrument for fast-drafting.

Writing by hand, however, is a completely different animal. Unless you're Flash or otherwise ridiculously fast, hand writing takes more time — you can't just tap a button and watch a letter appear, you have to write the letter out by hand, and although it doesn't take very long, it certainly takes longer than typing. When writing by hand your thoughts often race ahead of the actual writing, and as a result of that, you have a little more time to think about the words you're actually putting on paper. In addition to this, there isn't an easy backspace button to press if you write a word or sentence you don't like, which for me at least, causes me to be more careful with what I commit to paper.

In short, writing by hand forces me to think about the words I write as I write them, something that has proven invaluable while working on revisions.

Now I'm not suggesting that you attempt to rewrite your entire WIP on paper — although more power to you if you do — but what I've found is that for those scenes that I want to scrap and relive entirely, writing by hand has proven to be an effective way to get my thoughts in order and really focus on the words as I write. My handwritten work tends to be more poetic and thoughtful than what I come up with in fast-draft mode.

So in my experience at least, the difference between writing by hand and typing is more than just the speed at which you can write — the shifting of the process itself changes the result in ways that I wouldn't have guessed had I not tried it out.

So now I'm curious — do you prefer to write by hand or type? For those of you who have done both, have you found a difference in your handwritten work versus your typed writing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

36 comments:

SusanKayeQuinn said...

Very interesting! I love writing by hand for select times when I'm struggling creatively - as you say, it helps me to slow down and access the more creative side of my head. It's especially good for working through plot problems or character motivations. But most of the time when actually drafting (or editing) my fingers are too impatient for the pen. :)

E.J. Wesley said...

I would seriously love to write by hand more, but I'm way to slow for it to work. Plus, I wouldn't be able to decipher half of what I'd written. :-) Think you're probably 100% correct, though. I bet it changes what comes out a little. Sort of like reading on the computer Vs paper. You just catch different things.

Ava Jae said...

More times than not I find myself typing, especially while drafting because yes, it is faster and it also saves me the trouble of having to translate what I wrote on paper to the screen. However, it can be very helpful when I'm having trouble and I need to jump-start my writing (which tends to happen more often during revision, as I'm much more careful with my writing then) for many of the reasons I mentioned.


But I definitely understand impatient fingers. :)

Ava Jae said...

It's definitely much slower to write by hand, but sometimes I find that slowing down is just what I needed to get the right words down.


I have neat handwriting though, so maybe I'm a tiny bit biased. :D

Yesenia Vargas said...

Similar to Susan. I enjoy writing by hand in the planning stages. Fleshing out characters, plotting, languages, etc. But my thoughts come way to fast to write the draft by hand. I get impatient so I just type :)

Rhiannon Frater said...

It's not a viable choice for me. I wrecked my wrist years ago writing books by hand. I have an ergonomic keyboard and I couldn't write without it.

Courtney Privett said...

I've done both and the book I had wrote has a far different voice from any of the ones I typed. It is primal, emotionally raw, and often stream-of-consciousness. It worked perfectly for that particular book because it I wrote it the same way the narrator was relating it, a confession scrawled by candlelight. My other books were typed with segments hand-written as I thought of them when away from the computer. The plots are more complex, but the writing is less poetic. I wanted to write my work-in-progress by hand, but I have a movement disorder and my hands are no longer cooperating so it's too fatiguing. I think my readers noticed a difference between the hand-written book and the others, but may have attributed it to the way I voiced the first-person narrator.

Vicki Orians said...

I agree with you! Where I work, things have been super slow, so I found myself with a ton of downtime. To kill it, I started writing my most recent draft by hand. It was so much better than the last four drafts! Now don't get me wrong - I probably prefer typing on a computer (I can write a lot more in a shorter period of time), but it was pretty neat to see how much of a difference writing by hand made.

Margaret Alexander said...

It's something that's definitely crossed my mind before. I had a faint superstition that writing by hand somehow made my writing better because it slowed me down, but I stand by it merely being a figment of my imagination. Sometimes what I type is better than what I write on paper, other times it helps to slow down. I probably prefer to type when I can to save some trees and time. Plus it usually helps when you've got a flow of ideas going. Pretty much what you said ;)

Darth Lolita said...

I love writing by hand, but I really only started on the 8th grade. My father grounded me and took away my laptop because of my grades, but years before he had also told me that if I wanted to write, I didn't need a fancy typewriter, or epic computer, or fountain pens. I could get the most horrible pencil in the room, some paper, and just write. So that's what I did back then, and now I even like buying leather notebooks, even if I don't need anything fancy to write.


However, I've found I'm much better at writing in the computer, and I can go back and reread and edit to my heart's content, and I am much faster, of course. It really frustrates me when I'm rereading on paper and I see an error or a paragraph/word I didn't like, and I have to scratch and add tiny letters. That kind of editing frustrates me.


I guess for first drafts, and also when I'm nowhere near a computer, I write by hand, but when editing and rewriting, and maybe under schedule, I write on my computer.


Oddly enough, I love how they both sound like. I love how really thin fountain pens sound when they brush up against paper, and I love even more how the keys sound when I'm typing. It's calming.


I guess I've always liked both xD For different and similar reasons.

Ava Jae said...

I've also found that plotting by hand can be a great way to start--for whatever reason brainstorming on the computer feels weird to me (for now, at least).


I definitely understand the impatience, though--it's the main reason I fast draft on the computer, and while I do like to do more thoughtful rewrites on paper, I type a lot of it too for the same reason.

Ava Jae said...

Ah, well, fair enough. Glad to hear the ergonomic keyboard works well for you. :)

Ava Jae said...

There's only so much you can do when physical problems get in the way, but the most important thing is that you stay healthy.


On another note, I've often found that my typed fast-draft work ends up more stream-of-consciousness than my handwritten work, probably because of the speed at which I can write while I'm typing, so I find it very interesting that you discovered the opposite with your writing. Just goes to show how different everyone works. :)

Anonymous said...

Put me down under the handwriting tally. A good 90 percent of my writing is done, by hand, in a Moleskine notebook. I simply cannot have it any other way.

Ava Jae said...

I'd been hand writing segments while away from the computer for years, but it wasn't until recently that I started to pay attention to the differences between my hand written work and my typed writing. It's definitely interesting to see what a difference just changing the tools we use to write can make. :)

Ava Jae said...

I wouldn't say that either method makes my writing better--just different. I've found that each strategy works well depending on what your goals are and what kind of writing mood you're in. :)

Noe said...

I write entire first drafts by hand because I do a lot of my writing in strange places, and keeping a notebook with me is easier than trying to convince people to let me take my laptop everywhere. Yes, it does significantly slow me down, but I've found that the stuff I take the time to write by hand and then go over in type is higher quality than when I used to just type. The only time I don't handwrite everything first is when I do NaNoWriMo, but that's because I'm a fast typist, something like 95 WPM.

Ava Jae said...

I think there are definitely merits to both methods. I tend to do my edits of whatever I've handwritten on the computer--as you mentioned, it's much easier to move words around and change sentences/phrases/etc. while typing than it is on a sheet of paper.


Also, I don't think it's odd that you like how both methods sound. I can certainly see how the brushing of a pen against paper and the sound of clacking keys (particularly if you have a nice keyboard that doesn't make typing sound clunky) could be calming. :)

Ava Jae said...

Now that's impressive--I've never attempted to write an entire first draft by hand (nor do I imagine I ever will), but I think it's pretty interesting that that's your preferred method.


During NaNoWriMo, however, I imagine typing at 95 WPM is very useful. ^_^

Emily Mead said...

I wrote the entire first draft of my novel by hand - that saying, it wasn't very good. I noticed that I tended to write MORE when I was on my laptop, maybe because it was so much easier. I was missing out on a lot of description, instead using the bare minimum. Funnily enough, it did help me, because I could expand on that.

Overall I prefer typing. I can type pretty quickly when I want to. If I've written some things down on paper I can transfer them to computer without having to look, which is helpful - being a teenager I guess being tech-savvy has been bred into me.

Ava Jae said...

I can say that by and large, I do prefer typing--I can write much faster, which in turn allows me to get more finished, and it also is easier as far as editing goes because I can easily move things around and the undo button is always there if I need it. However, when I need to slow down or I'm having trouble getting started, that's when I find that writing by hand becomes particularly useful (and being able to do the paper-to-computer transfer easily, as you mentioned, is very helpful as well ^_^).

James T Kelly said...

I find writing by hand creates more intimacy between you and the work. Writing with a keyboard and a screen is a much more utilitarian way of writing (at least for me; the speed and the ease make the technical process easier). But for plotting, planning and editting, when you need to be as close as you can to your characters and your story? Pencil and paper all the way!

Gill Wyatt said...

I write the entire draft by hand and then type it up. I find that I write more creatively by hand but I've never really considered why. Then when I type it up I read it aloud while I'm copy typing and edit as I go. Thanks for this blog. It made me think.

Ava Jae said...

Wow! I don't think I could write an entire draft by hand--I'd probably get too impatient after a while and my hand tends to cramp up if I hand write for too long, so I probably wouldn't be able to write quite as much a day. I think it's very impressive that you hand write your first drafts, though. :)


Glad you enjoyed the post, Gill! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Dana Delamar said...

I write almost my entire draft by hand. I worked as an editor for two decades, so I associate the computer with editing, and if I try to compose at the keyboard, it's very easy for me to get bogged down with editing what I've written instead of making forward progress. (Plus there are all the distractions of the Internet when I'm on the computer.)

When I write by hand, I tend not to edit because it's so much harder to do; however, as you noticed, the words are probably a bit more thoughtful, so I generally find that they don't require as much rework as the sections I've composed at the keyboard. Additionally, I can always carry a notebook with me, so I can take advantage of all the little lulls in the day (such as waiting at the doctor's office) that I couldn't have if I'd needed to have my laptop.

The bulk of my revisions are done on the keyboard, but for final edits, I like to print everything out and go over it by hand.

Dana Delamar said...

Try the InkJoy pens. They make handwriting so much easier. The ink flows with very little pressure or effort.

Ava Jae said...

I usually prefer pencils, however I can't say I've ever tried InkJoy pens. I'll have to keep a lookout for them. Thanks for the suggestion!

Ava Jae said...

That's a really interesting process! I have to say, I wasn't expecting so many people to chime in and say they write their full first draft by hand, so I'm rather impressed. I definitely understand what you mean by the distractions and temptation to edit while writing on the computer, however, and the ability to easily carry a notebook around for writing is also a nice bonus.


Going over the manuscript by hand (that is, printing it out and going through it with a pen) can be tremendously useful. For whatever reason, mistakes we don't see while looking at our work on the screen seems dreadfully obvious on paper.


Thanks for sharing your process with us, Dana!

Jamie Raintree said...

I love outlining by hand. I can't seem to do it any other way. Generally I type my story because I only have a limited amount of time to write each day and I type SO much faster.

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Jennifer M. said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately actually, b/c I'm starting out the Artist's Way workbook, which has you writing "Morning Pages" every day. I began doing them on my computer, not thinking anything of it, but come to find out that's a no-no to other Artist's Way people. Lol.


So that got me to wondering if there was an actual difference to the brain to write instead of type. It's been so long since I've handwritten a journal, so I guess that might actually be interesting to do it longhand. I too, type about 80 wpm, so figured that'd just be easier to type my pages out, but maybe fast is not the point. ;)

Ava Jae said...

I'm not entirely sure how the brain processes handwriting vs. typing, but as I discussed in the post, I did find that my writing is slightly different when I handwrite. I like to fast draft, so when I'm doing my first draft, I usually type nearly exclusively. When it comes to revisions, however, I'll occasionally switch over depending on the day and how I'm feeling at the moment. :)

Jay said...

Unless your a hacker who knows FORTRAN or c++ there is no way in hell your writing on a computer is going to mean anything relative. That's a fact...

Ava Jae said...

Er...I'm not sure how you mean?

icykarma said...

I'm not entirely sure what it means either but I'm guessing in terms of usefulness, unless you're using the computer to program, it doesn't matter if you're using it to write. At least, that's what I got out of it.

Ava Jae said...

Yeah...maybe he meant for programming? Which is...not what I was talking about in this post at all? lol

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