Thursday, November 17, 2011

Writing Longhand: Tips and Tricks

I talked last Thursday about why I write longhand.  Today I'm sharing my tips and tricks for effective longhand writing.

Now, writing longhand can get kind of messy.  Especially if you're making changes later in the book that affect earlier sections.  Also, formatting.  Dialogue and such can all be formatted as you go, jumping down to the next line on the page, etcetera.  Italics (for inner thoughts, writings, dreams, etcetera) gets tricky.

Here are some tips for writing longhand, if you're wanting to take the plunge and try writing longhand first.

Tip #1: Use college-ruled paper.  Okay, maybe this is more of a personal preference, but the narrower lines allow more lines per page which equals more space in each notebook to write.

Tip #2: Use a notebook that feels right in your hands.  For Oracles Promise (I won't let this project go), I used spiral notebooks you can buy at Barnes & Noble or other stationery stores.  These one have hard fronts and backs with pretty designs and aren't always 8 1/2"x11" paper formats.  Pretty, but expensive.  For Mirror, Mirror, I used 70-sheet college-ruled spiral notebooks you can buy for cheap in the grocery store's school supplies aisle.

Tip #3: Find a good pen.  I like to use Bic Ultra Round Stic Grip.*  But that's only because Pilot stopped making my favorite writing pen ever.  *sniff*

Tip #4: Learn BBC code to help with your formatting notes.  The main one I use is the [i] and [/i] combination.  (Using preview to see if that went wonky on me...sweet, using spaces worked.)  This sets off passages as I transcribe so I know what needs to be in italics.  If you need something bolded or underlined (I can't imagine) use the brackets with the letters b or u in them.  This will help your transcription, I promise.  (Unless you're typing late at night.  Then you might just inadvertently literally transcribe your code and have to fix it several drafts from now.)

Tip #5: Do not transcribe as you go.  The entire point of this is to focus on the narration and action not the word count number.  If you transcribe at the end of each day, it sort of defeats the purpose.  Sure you'll figure out what you can average per set number of pages and estimate that way, but try not to think about it.  I do recommend transcribing when you finish a notebook.  (My latest WiP took a little less than two spiral notebooks.  When I finished #1 I typed it out and then wrote the rest of the story in #2.  Now I'm typing it out.)

Tip #6: Enjoy your distraction-free writing time. The beauty of writing longhand is that it allows you to take your lightweight notebook with you wherever you wish so you can squeeze out some words while you wait somewhere on someone.

*No one paid me to say any of this or anything. I just like these pens.

That's it for now, folks. I'm taking a blog break next week because of the holiday but I'll be back at the end of the month. Happy Thanksgiving to all my US readers who celebrate. Happy rest of November to those outside the US or who don't do anything for Thanksgiving.


  1. Man am I impressed by your dedication to longhand. I used to write that way as a kid because I didn't have a choice, but I'm addicted to my netbook now. I actually end up carrying it with me everywhere like a book :). I feel like Penny from Inspector Gadget with her book computer. If someone made a computer that looked like an actual book when you closed it I would be ALL over that!

  2. Great advice. My preferred notebook is the Mead five-star advance. Durable vinyl covers and a covering sewn over the binding, plus a little elastic to hold a pen on the front. Perfect! I get five subject notebooks for the novels. I used two on the last one. I see your point about transcribing, but I feel so overwhelmed trying to type a novel all at once, that I've been doing it as I go this time and for me that works a lot better.

  3. Jem, I've seen something like it online. But I can't remember where. (That's the problem with the stumble button.)

    Angie, LOL. It can feel overwhelming but just do it in batches. It's all about what works for you. Like I said, I started transcribing one notebook just as soon as I finished it and started filling the second.

  4. Good tips! I am super picky about notebooks if I am going to write long hand.

  5. I happened upon Piccadilly Journals in the discount section of the former (sobs) Borders Bookstore. An inner voice told me to stock up on them, so I have a reserve. There's something freeing about writing longhand. The smell of the ink, your hand gliding across the page. I use the colored Mead Marble notebooks for longhand writing of Morning Pages, blog titles and rough drafts and film shorts.

    I'm particular about pens as well. The ink has to flow and settle onto the page as if it were invisible at first.

  6. I find that I write differently when I write long had versus on the computer. When I want to write in a freer, stream of conscious format, I will use the pen and paper route. I think after writing all those college essays, I look at the computer in a formal manner. Plus with al the spell checking and editing features, the computer forces you to edit as you go along, thus disrupting your thought flow.

    I like using the pen and paper route. I always carry a notebook with me. I tend to buy in bulk during sales time. This last batch are covered in handmade paper that I got from a going out of business sale. Very pretty and since they are hard bound, very sturdy. Makes writing enjoyable. And isn't that the point?

    Thanks for the great tips on transcription. I will definitely start using them!

  7. I so admire you for all of this. Nice tips!

  8. When I google "longhand novel", your post is near the top, Stephanie. I am going to try my 'hand"--hee hee--at longhand writing. I've hit a roadblock with the Mac, and it's labyrinth of "save as" and "file" commands, nevermind the lugging it to the library every few days.

    Many other famous writers, such as John Irving (Cider House Rules, Garp, etc.) write longhand. Many have hired typists to enter the longhand into the computer. Heck, some--like the late Sidney Sheldon--transcribe their novels. Yes, he literally dictated them. Barbara Cartwright, romance queen, used to have a courtroom stenographer write down her novels. Barbara sat on a couch and stroked her cat and dreamed up the novel No joke!

    And should we forget about all the fabulous authors--JD Salinger, Gertrude Stein, FS Fitzgerald, Hemingway, some of the best ever--who had to type directly into a Smith Corona typewriter, one peck at a time. That was before White Out! No wonder the few modern typing writers, like Cormac McCarthy and director Woody Allen, savor their typewriters so divinely: they're almost irreplaceable.

    Longhand, by pen, is slower, but more thoughtful. Longhand can be input with Dragon Naturally Speaking v.11, and even if it gets one in 20 words written like alphabet soup, we are going back and editing the entire thing again, right? If you've not tried it, at about $60, it's much better than prior versions, and one can read their longhand into a desktop $20 microphone and save boatloads of keyboard time. That is one tip I might suggest to you, my fellow free-hand writers.

    John Irving writes his first drafts in fancy $35 Boorum and Pease bound journals. For the rest of us, stenographer's pads--the kind with spiral bound at the top and flippable for a flat lay on the desk--work wonders, and can easily poise on a monitor side stand for easy transcribing. Try that with a leather bound journal.

    Many, from my online search this morning, espouse freehand writing as a remedy for computer snags and viruses. But, don't forget, although computers get the sniffles with a virus and might lose our hard work in one massive "ka-choo", paper is not forever.

    Just ask my neighbor down the way whose house is now cinders after their cat, Jinxy, kicked over a tea candle.

  9. Beautiful post! I have just switched to writing longhand and am enjoying it. What I've found different about writing longhand is that there's a flow! I've finally said bye bye to writers' block! Thanks alot for these tips Stephanie!!!


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