Since we live so attached to our technological conveniences like keyboards and phones, it may seem strange at this point. But honestly, writing freehand is one of the best ways to solve writer’s block when I get it. It may not necessarily have you writing five hundred words in half an hour like a keyboard will, but it’s one of my favorite ways to reconnect to whatever I’m writing and inspire me all over again when I transfer my notes or scenes to my computer.
I still suggest writing on the computer in the end to save your scenes (or notes or chapters). Computers still win in that regard.
But let’s go over 6 reasons why you should write free hand when you’re stuck (other than just having a new excuse to buy new notebooks and pens).
You remember important information better
Studies show that writing things down actually help you remember details easier than if you just typed them up. It definitely comes in handy when you’re outlining, in the brainstorming stage, or jotting down important research notes.
I can be extremely scatterbrained. I actually have very good long term memory, but my short term memory is terrible. The lyrics to a song I heard ten years ago? No problem. What I had for breakfast this morning? Eh…
A lot of times, in the middle of writing, I’ll completely forget my original thought. Yes, in the middle of typing. This can be the reason why I’ll drift off while I’m writing. I’ll forget where I was going with a sentence, with a plot development point, with a character. But for me, it really helps ground me to write handwritten notes. I’ll forget a lot less, and therefore stay concentrated longer. I’ll be more likely to remember all of the important details I want to get down, and since it takes longer to actually get down, I have more time to actually come up with new ideas on what to do afterward.
You’ll concentrate more on the words
When you’re writing by hand, you have to concentrate. You can’t just write anything, erasing is a lot harder to do, and each letter isn’t just the press of a button. You have to move your hand, make each stroke, move on to the next one, it’s a process. There’s no spell check to make it easier for you, no margin tools to keep everything in line. You’re doing everything.
For me, this makes it a more intimate process than when I’m writing on the computer. Like I said before, it gives me time to think in between each word, allows me to more carefully contemplate, is this really the word I’d like to follow with? I’m making more purposeful decisions, and I’m not writing willy-nilly because I know that with pencil I can only erase so much before I start tearing up the paper, and with pen I’d better have white-out handy, or be willing to scratch out entire sentences or paragraphs.
While jotting down scenes and chapters quickly might be faster, I really recommend writing neatly. For one, it makes transferring back onto your computer a lot easier, and for two you’ll spend more time thinking about what you’re writing, and generating ideas even as you put words down. Rather than focusing on finishing, you’re focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. One line after the other. One word after the other.
Don’t rush the process!
Different parts of the brain are used in free hand
Writing by hand is a more complicated process than typing, and it uses more part of the brain, as well. Just writing by hand, you’re making yourself use visual, motor, and cognitive skills, so it’s actually good for your brain! Handwriting may be slower, and it’s more challenging to remember grammar, punctuation, etc. when you don’t have technology to help you out. But that’s why writing your thoughts down on paper may help flex those brain muscles and get your creative juices flowing better.
So get your brain in shape and pick up a pen!
You let go of perfection
Whenever I write freehand, I usually use a notebook specifically reserved for such an occasion. It’s notebook I use often enough, but it’s not the main manuscript. I don’t know about you, but something about making mistakes on the main manuscript feels different than if I just jotted down a scene on a notes app, and even more so when it’s a handwritten note on paper. Ink lines are hard to erase, but paper is easy to crumble up and throw away. If I don’t like something, I can physically see it disappear, and start anew. There’s no pressure to make it look or even sound right because I can always just leave it out of the typed out version.
I do still want the scene to look good enough, but you’re going to make mistakes! There’s going to be a typo, a word missing, a character with the wrong name. And it’s perfectly fine. I feel like writing freehand sometimes allows me to accept my mistakes, because even if I crumble up the paper and throw it away, I can always go back to it if I realize there was something good there. And sometimes there will be bits I where made clear mistakes, while the rest of what was written is completely fine. Since I mainly write with black pen, those mistakes will always be there, and I just have to accept it. No backspace, no choice.
But I feel like this allows me to be freer to get crazy with my ideas! I can incorporate something I was scared to do before, because there’s no fear of messing anything up. It’s not even attached to the manuscript yet, so there’s no use fretting about sounding ridiculous.
Things will feel different, and that’s a good thing
Simply writing in a different font can totally change the way you see a manuscript. So can line spacing and letter spacing. When you have to do all of that by hand, well suffice it to say, it’s not going to look as good as a computer does. But that’s a good thing!
Seeing my manuscript in a different light also inspires new ideas for what I’m writing. I notice my writing style even changes when I’m writing on the computer versus when I’m writing freehand.
Do you ever look at the size of your paragraph and wonder if it’s getting too long? So you start figuring out where you can cut it off and make that paragraph on its own.
Well on paper, you don’t have as big a screen as your computer, so you’re going to see small paragraphs as much bigger than you’d normally see them. And you’re going to see long paragraphs as reaaaally long. Not to mention your handwriting decides a lot of things. First of all if it’s legible, haha. Second, your handwriting decides how you read the text, how fast you read through the page, etc. All of these things are new elements you’re adding to the process that aren’t usually there when you’re writing on a never-changing computer, and you might discover another side to yourself as a writer!
I’ve definitely uncovered new story facts, new prose ideas and styles, all kinds of things, just by getting a fresh perspective from writing free hand. No pressure, no formatting to keep me in line. Just me, the ink, and the page.
Copying it down is tedious, but might actually help
It has happened so many times to me. As I’m transferring notes from my notebook to the computer, I discover all kinds of things in the process. It might be tedious, but writing down each word for the second time forces me to edit as I get it down. Whether to help it make more sense, or to reword something I felt like I could have worded better. Either way, it’s a great way to edit.
Not to mention, the biggest factor for my writer’s blocks is usually the flow. Not being able to picture what happens next. But when I’m copying down from a notebook, all of the events have happened already, all I have to do is type it down. And as I type, and the story is left off wherever I finished writing in the notebook, a lot of times I’m finally inspired about how to continue from there!
Something about typing already having the words to say helps me to just keep typing. At that point it’s just letting the muscles in my fingers work on autopilot while transferring my thoughts to the computer. After typing for so long, my fingers are kind of already warmed up to do so!
Either way you decide to write, I hope you try picking up a pen and going back to the basics. Bust that writer’s block!