Pen Or Keyboard – How Do You Write?

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Last week, my grandmother (who knows I do a lot of writing) asked me, “Do you write straight onto the computer or do you write by hand first?”

I explained that I write almost everything on a computer now – but six or seven years ago, I used to draft fiction, in particular, by hand. My grandmother (and my mother) both write everything with pen and paper, then type it up onto a computer.

In part, I’m sure this is a generation gap – I was using computers from the age of three, so typing feels very natural to me. I prefer to write straight onto the screen in most cases, as – for me – it’s faster than drafting by hand. (The opposite is true for my mother and grandmother, who are two-finger typists.) Even when I’m drafting fiction and doing a lot of rewriting, I work straight onto the computer, print out the manuscript, then start again with a blank document.

I expect Daily Writing Tips’ readers will fall into both camps – those who write most naturally on paper and those who find a computer easier. However, I suspect we may have more of the latter amongst the readership (you’re all reading this online, so you’re a pretty computer-savvy lot).

I want to consider some of the differences between writing with pen and paper and writing with a keyboard, and encourage you to occasionally revert to “old fashioning” writing.

Your writing style may change

If you write fiction in particular – though bloggers might also find this an interesting experiment – try drafting your next piece by hand. Do you find that your style is any different? You might feel more creative when writing in pen-and-ink, without the starkness of formal-looking type on a computer screen. Or you might feel that writing on paper makes your work awkward or stilted.

You can doodle and mind-map on paper

I know there are lots of great computer programs for mind-mapping, but when I’m generating ideas, nothing beats pen-and-paper! It’s incredibly easy to switch between text, doodles, diagrams, drawing lines and boxes, even using different coloured pens. Especially if you have an artistic bent, you may find that doing some of your planning on paper helps you to generate some new ideas.

You can’t delete on paper

One of the reasons some of us (myself included) feel less inhibited when writing on a computer is that it’s very easy to delete mistakes or false tangents. But the lack of a “delete” button on your sheet of paper can be an asset. Maybe you keep that crazy idea in which sparks off something else in the redrafting … or maybe you just take a bit more time over your sentences and word choices.

You can take a notebook anywhere

Even if you have a light, portable laptop, it’s not always convenient to carry it around with you. But getting comfortable with writing by hand means you can just pop a notebook and pen into your bag when you go out – and when you’re waiting for a bus, or having a coffee, you can add to your latest article or story.

You’ll force yourself to do more rewriting

If you habitually draft pieces on the computer, it’s easy to get lazy. Whether it’s an essay for school, a short story for a magazine submission, a poem, a blog article … you might tell yourself the first draft will do. Because editing is so simple and clean on-screen, we sometimes end up just deleting a few words or shifting sentences around, when what the piece really needs is a total rewrite. If you draft using pen and paper, you’ll have to type the whole thing up – and you’ll probably end up making a lot of changes in the process.

Why not give pen and paper a try for your next piece of writing – and let us know what difference it makes to you! (If you already plan and draft everything on paper, try working straight onto a computer instead.)

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49 thoughts on “Pen Or Keyboard – How Do You Write?”

  1. I write with paper and pen because there are so many distractions on the computer. I’ve tried working with a computer, but as you say, it looks very formal and shuts down the imaginary part of my brain.

    The computer saves a lot of space though. Ctrl + F is also easier when you want to change a word/sentence/paragraph than manually searching for it.
    And I guess for us lefties, computer is better, we won’t get the whole underside of our hand smeared with the gray pigment from a pencil. But I solve that by writing with a pen instead of a pencil!


  2. Though I am extremely computer savvy and can type over 70 words a minute, I still write fiction by hand. There is something artistic in the flow that does not occur when typing.

  3. I generally write my articles directly on my computer but if I’m working on something really creative or a little more involved, I tend to scribble my ideas into a notebook. I do a lot of crossing out, circling, drawing arrows, etc. It gets messy… but it helps sort out my thoughts.

  4. Ever since I started blogging which is last year, I never used pen and paper simply because my hand sweats when I write. I also hold my pen very tightly, and I may have already arthritis.

    So if I am not in front of my PC (I only have desktop, though) but think of something to write, I add more ideas until it is easier for me to finish a post when I type it.

    But then, I like your idea of having no DELETE button on a paper to remind us to be careful before we write. That makes sense.

  5. I find I start out with pen and paper, especially if I’m on the couch watching TV.

    By the time I’ve booted up our ancient laptop and it has gone through its startup convulsions, any initial umph I had to write or create is long gone.

    I use pen and paper to grab the first spark of an idea and maybe a thought or two. I rarely think of things the same way twice, so capturing the original raw sentences is important.

  6. I’m a teen, so You’d expect I type – I don’t 😀 My notebook is holy.
    My creativity is drained once I touch the on button 😉
    My first book is hand-written, I don’t really feel like typing the whole lot out X]
    Also, laptops are an absolute no-no at my school

  7. Well, you can have the best of both worlds.. I haven’t written anything on paper for years now, but that does not mean I type when I am taking notes.
    I use a tablet pc with a stylus to take notes, draw relationships, jot ideas and generally feel creative just like on paper, only with an undo option…
    Programs like Onenote, Evernote (free) and Inkseine (free) are a lifesaver. And it is indeed more creative than a keyboard.
    For portability I have a UMPC which I carry around everywhere, also with an active screen.
    When I need to write, I type of course… You simply cannot trust the text recognition just yet.. An of course, it’s faster.

  8. I MUST write on paper first–no exceptions. Like Zeke mentioned in his comment, there are entirely too many distractions on the WWW to sit down, allow free-flowing creative thought and type away…. Staying current with relative blogs can be a full time job in itself…much less maintaining content for three blog posts per week, as I do. You add new content I have to write for my second novel, and suddenly every minute spent writing counts!!!

    Being a perfectionist in nature, I find it easier to write free-hand before typing any drafts, as those silly squiggly lines MS Word prompts every time you type a word wrong or sentence fragment, distracts from the creative flow…so I let the story take place on paper, and the editorial side of me, well he works better with a computer and spell-checker…

    Great post!

    ~Bobby Ozuna
    Drawing Stories…With Words

  9. Though I carry around a special diary for my writing, I only write ideas and titbits on that. For my blog posts, fiction, stories and poetry, I use the computer.

    I understand the importance of using pen and paper with which one can improve the editing process; however find it difficult to practice.

    But I’m sure, all youngsters like me are more inclined and used to using computers.

  10. Pencil & paper first!

    Doing an art column for two years meant a lot of research on the subjects. You can print out info from the Web, but you have to hand write notes from book and periodical sources. You can jot into sections and then cross off when you type the actual column.

    Also words and phrases can be jotted on the pad in the appropriate section and used as ticklers while fleshing out the final product.

    Hand to paper seems to make the mind feel more creative and alive, even if the keyboard is quicker on getting it in a neat format.

    I also prefer fountain pen and paper for writing letters. A bit more personal.

  11. I have always struggled with pen and paper- especially with morning pages, but as the article suggests- they are ‘go anywhere’. That was until i invested in an Aspire One 9″ laptop. This has chanaged my writing life as it goes everywhere with me and makes writing far simpler. I haven’t picked up a pen for days.
    For me using a keyboard doesn’t hinder my creative energy- in fact the opposite.

  12. I think it really depends on how fast you can type and your style of writing. For me, the quality sentences come from that handsome, gravel-deep narrator in my head that tells the story, so being able to type fast is good when he decides he’s on a tangent. On the odd occasions that I have used ink to jot down some words, it’s usually when Narrator is asleep and leaves all the ideas to me. If there’s nothing inparticular to flow about, its good to have that blank piece of paper in front of you to play with, rather than having that paper-clip guy annoying the life out of you. It is male, isn’t it?

  13. I use both.

    I use a pen and notebook for my private journals. Coz then I can write and think whenever wherever I want.

    I use the computer for everything else.

  14. Typing, exclusively. Writing by hand will do me no good, because I cannot write legibly at any respectable speed, but I can type faster than I can compose, and that’s as legible as Courier New ever was. It also acts as a sort of filter: While I’m out walking around and good ideas pop into my head, I have until I get back in front of a computer to decide if they really are that good; if bad ideas pop into my head, I forget them*. Far better than writing them down and deleting them later.

    *Exceptions being ideas so good that they’re bad. But I’m not Chuck Norris and this isn’t Walker, Texas Ranger, so I should really try to avoid the things.

  15. Lately I’ve been writing on the computer, because it’s very slow with pen and paper.
    But before that, I wrotewverything by hand, so I experienced both sides.
    Unfortunately both lack some of the other’s advantages. I lack my speed when writing by hand,cause I can’t follow my thoughts instantly, but editing and rewriting is much more comfortabel on paper, you said that very well…

    I hope I’ll get used to the comuter-style. Maybe a bigger screencould help…

  16. i typically write on the computer…certainly for convenience and when writing a piece i do so…

    but i am very fond of my journal -for that, there is nothing like a notebook and pen. i have tangible things that i can go back to and look forward to and i see the changes in my writing over time more often. it’s fantastic.

  17. I totally agree with Kirsty! I’m a teen too, but I still prefer Pen and Paper as opposed to Paper because:-
    1) My flow of thoughts becomes restricted on the computer.
    2) I tend to type more in text language rather than full words (‘u’ for you, nm for ‘nothing much’, you get the picture) on the computer. But one of the guys in my class, Julian, actually WRITES ‘u’ and stuff like that in written essays! XD
    3) There are too many distractions on the computer.
    4) If I write something I don’t like at that moment, I can
    a) Cut it out, then read it and re-read it to make sure I understand what went wrong and make myself feel so stupid that I ACTUALLY wrote something so dumb that it inspires me to write better next time, or,
    b) I can improve on that idea, then use it later!
    5) I can draw pictures and settings easily in my notebook for references.
    6) Laptops aren’t allowed in our school either.
    7) Writing in italics is FUN and somehow my handwriting looks prettier and neater!
    8) It’s easier to write in the backs of school journals (especially Physics journals XD) and look inconspicious (sp?)


  18. I’m a pathetically perpetual dinosaur. I love technology, but hold to older habits for the most part. I journal and blog, and have found that one feeds the other for me, and I STILL love my pen and paper most. 😉 C.

  19. It depends on what and where I’m writing. Most of my creative work is done on the computer as I close my eyes and let myself watch the story unfold, looking around and describing the details as I discover them. This is the work that gets the best feedback and delivers the most satisfaction.

  20. Wow — this topic’s clearly struck a chord with lots of people!

    It’s very interesting to see how many of you like to draft on paper. I wholeheartedly agree that the www can be a big distraction (I used to write without my internet connection on, which helped).

    Also great to hear about the teens using pen and paper (Kirsty and MidnightMaurauder) — I wrote my first novel (very bad, now consigned to bottom drawer) in my lunch hours in the school library, aged 15, in a lined notebook … the one drawback is that it’s hard to do a wordcount and see how much you’ve achieved in a writing session. (I figured out I got about 250 words to a handwritten page.)

    Thanks for the brilliant response, all. It’s definitely good to know that the pen and paper method isn’t quite dead yet!

  21. For a long while now, I have done a mix of both. Well really I have done more of a 70/30, with writing on a computer and writing on paper. Mostly I write my ideas on paper, and in a notebook, and just go straight to a computer for all of my main writing and editing (this includes my fiction and recently blogging.)

    I think I will try to use a pen and paper more for initial writing and first editing. I have always liked that, but the convenience of a computer has made me shift to that. Plus, its nice to lean back and relax on a couch or out somewhere not at home.

    Blogging I’ll still do all on computer, but fiction writing I think I will attempt to pull away from the computer for the first stages.

    Thanks for the good post!

  22. What if you type on the computer, print your first draft out, and edit it by pen? I usually do this, since for some reason editing by pen seems to help me focus better. I agree though, a computer for a first draft works really well because you can keep up with your thoughts.

  23. By the way, I disagree about being able to delete on paper. You can in a way. I’ve taken markers / Sharpies through lines and lines that happen just not to be working for me.

  24. as those silly squiggly lines MS Word prompts every time you type a word wrong or sentence fragment, distracts from the creative flow

    Bobby made a good point. I’d also like to add that often times MS Word gets words wrong and their grammar checker is completely sub-par.

  25. Thanks Mari!!!!

    I believe in the power of the PC as much as anyone, but I have learned–by years of trial and error–that if I allow myself free creative form in relation to drafting a story, it must be done with the pen and paper…and later, once the ENTIRE story is written…I begin (draft one) typing the story in the appropriate format–as the editorial Bobby–and start taking away, adding to and editing the story as I go.

    I have a proof-reading team of about five people, each who bring a different perspective to the table, that help me proof and edit my work before final edit–with an editor. We work together, after I am done with the manuscript, one chapter at a time. Then, the final manuscript is submitted to an editor and the corrections are made or not..depending upon how I feel as the writer/narrator of a story.

    Great posts…great responses everyone!!! Wish I could get this many people to yell at me on my blog!!! haha…

    Oh and I will discuss this concept for writing my stories…tonight, LIVE and UNSCRIPTED, via blog talk radio’s “The Odd Mind” podcast show… stop by and see (or listen to me) Mari!

    ~Bobby Ozuna
    Drawing Stories…With Words

  26. Thanks Mari!!!!

    Any time. 🙂

    once the ENTIRE story is written

    I did that exactly once. I’ll never do that again. I will allow myself to go as far as 50 sheets of paper, then I simply must start typing. Otherwise I end up overwhelmed. Too, the arthritis has set in something horrible in my hands, and some days I have a heck of a time pressing the keys. 🙁 Although I do agree with your adding to and taking away from the story as we type; I do that too – and sometimes if I don’t feel something is right for that particular story or place in story, I’ll type it in a separate document and keep it anyway. I have a hard time “throwing away” unused materials – they can very often be reworked and used elsewhere. I learned that lesson the hard way!

    Wish I could get this many people to yell at me on my blog!!!

    You and me both. lol

    We’re supposed to have friends over for beer and trivia tonight, Bob, but if that doesn’t play out, I’ll definitely head over to listen!

  27. @Ted, Willis & Mari — I too like to print out first draft and edit on hardcopy. Jane Wenham-Jones (UK chick-lit/short story/article writer) says her agent insists she should edit on paper. I do find I catch a lot more mistakes that way!

    @Bobby I wish I had your proofreading team! 😀

    @Mari Yes, MS Word really should be ignored much of the time. I think its spelling/grammar check probably does more harm than good for many writers.

  28. Ali:
    I found my proof-reading team the same way you have found us… by talking to people and asking my friends…
    My proof-reading staff is nothing more than 5 VERY close and personal friends–people who believe in me as much (or more) than they believe in my writing. As I said before, each one brings something different to the table–from good grammar skills, to ideas on storyline to mishaps on small things like–the character had a red shirt and now they have a blue one…

    Find some people close to you and ask them if they would like to be a part of your next/current book project. You will be surprised how many people will say yes. Then, be sure to acknowledge them in the book, as I did my “pillars.”

    Keep in touch…we can collaborate ALL DAY…

    ~Bobby Ozuna
    Drawing Stories…With Words

  29. Michael’s handwriting sounds like mine. LOL

    When I bought my laptop last year, I thought all my years of blogging had prepared me to actually write at the computer. HA HA HA No. I’m still way more productive with my clipboard and inkpen – away from the computer. A lot of that has to do with not knowing when to turn the wireless off and get away from the Internet, honestly, but also even though I type fast (80 wpm), my stories come out of me better/faster with a pen. Typing, I get all fingertied – the words just don’t flow was well or something.

    I must say that sometimes I do have exceptions. Sometimes depending upon what’s going on in my head, I compose fairly well at the keyboard.

    But I still must edit via hardcopy with a pen. I simply miss too much when I try to edit at the computer.

  30. Personally, I prefer the computer. For some reason, whenever I try and write, the flow of my ideas just stops. Or my hand hurts and then I start doing something else. Or I get tired of sitting in front of a notebook trying to make letters and then I go to my computer… ^.^

    I’m on the computer so much it’s just more convient for me to open up word proessor and start typing. Also, it’s much easier to edit that way. If I don’t like the order of sentences in a paragraph, I just copy/cut and paste until I’m satisfied. I’ve turned off spell checker, so it doesn’t higlight words as I type, and I can have my music playing in the background. As is the case right now.

    Also, I keep inpiration folders on my computer with pictures that remind me of a mood or something I wanted to put into a story, and I have a bunch of documents that are bios of all of my assorted characters. It’s just easier for me to have five or six documents open then having to keep fliping between pages in a notebook.

    Really, the only time I use pen/paper is for my school assignments and when I’m bored. I end up doing more doodling and crossing-out than I do actual writing.

  31. This is fascinating! I write my blogs straight onto the laptop primarily because this is where I am when researching material so it makes sense to post information and comment straight here. However I am an edit freak and will republish several times if I spot a typo or grammatical error!

    For freelance pieces I write on paper first as this helps me to focus and come up creative ideas that flow easily. I then leave the draft article for a few days, preferably a week before typing it up, editing as I go. This ensures that my original creative ideas are enhanced by editing rather than lost behind poor production.

    My creative writing is almost always written by hand and usually left in a collection of notebooks for many weeks, months, often years before being typed up on the computer (saved file) or internet (blog post).

    I totally agree that pen and paper are most conducive to creative thinking particularly if I have a wonderful calligraphic ink pen and an inspiring notebook cover preferably with beautiful handmade or recycled paper inside – what is life without these things! Conversely, for speedy spur of the moment commentary and opinion blogging is deliciously perfect!

  32. To Racheblue:-
    This is just to make you jealous, but…I have a REAL Ostrich feather quill and inkpot set, PLUS a pretty green notebook with handmade papaer inside it! And its spiral bound; my FAVOURITE type!!! MWAHAHA


  33. Thanks Midnight. I am truly jealous! Ostrich quill? Wow! You must run out of bed every morning to write something, anything huh!

    Does your notebook have jewels and sequins embroidered on a turquoise/green/aqua fabric cover and a beautiful satin ribbon to encircle it? Mine does – it makes me very happy, sigh!

    Hoping Santa brings you and I lots more pretty handmade and recycled paper notebooks and an inkpot set would be lovely too.

    What colour ink do you use mostly? Does it depend on what you’re writing and to whom?

    Rache 😀

  34. Oh I definitely think computer writing is easier! As much as I agree that having the capability to click onto the web in an instant is a VERY hard urge to resist when you’re stumped on a writing piece; as already pointed out, being able to hit backspace as opposed to having to find a ‘anti-smudge’ eraser to expunge your work is so much more convenient – plus you don‘t have to worry about wasting paper! That, and the fact I benefit greatly from the thesaurus on my microsoft works when I’m in need of looking up a better word alternative. On paper you have to try and locate a dictionary and hope to hell your word or phrase is listed. *deep breath* Yeah, that gets me ALL the time – FRUSTRATING. Although, I have to say when writing poetry, oddly enough I write on paper more. I think its because I am in the privacy of my bedroom as opposed to sitting in the living room or in an area with a lot of people. It makes it easier to relax without having to worry about a pesky person – like a younger sib – peeking over your shoulder (it’s much easier to sit on your journal than on your computer screen) LOL!

  35. Haha thanks to you as well Rache!
    Well…actually I’ve just kept it on my shelf…I’m too scared to use it and make it dirty. Plus I’m not even sure about how to fill the ink in it 🙁 OMG HOW DID YOU KNOW! Well, it’s actually mainly a handmade papr cover, but its got a big triangle of brown fabric which has sequins and jewels…whoa thats kinda freaky! Haha but no satin ribbon 🙁 Yeah I hope so too!
    As for ink, We use blue gel pens in school, so I use black for my writing (my favourite colour!) and then I use red for editing. I’ve not really designated a specific colour for each type of creation, because I carry my journal everywhere with me. So then carrying different colours of gel pens with me gets tedious, because I write short stories, poems, songs, parodies and I’m working on a total of 6 novels right now (all at the same time!)

    To TheLostTreasure:-
    Pesky siblings are so ANNOYING! I’ve had to bribe my 7-year-old sister not to peek over my shoulder when I’m writing anything, because now that she loves reading, she has a habit of reading things out loud, even when she doesnt understand a word of them. And when you’re a teenager, like me, you’ll know how embarassing that can be at times 🙁

  36. Well i have another problem. I too favor pen and paper but i usually write my whole story on paper and than i’m basically too lazy to rewrite it in Word. Plus that i work fulltime behind a desk so when i get home i don’t feel like sitting behind the computer again. does anyone have any tips?

    thanks :))

  37. No problemmo Nig! Instead of rewriting it, you can buy a speech recognition software like my dad did! He doesn’t like typing stuff out over and over again (plus he’s a doctor, so imagine sayin the same medicines over and over again for bajillions of patients!) so he got this cool software called Dragon or something, and he “trained” it to recognize his speech, so now all he has to do is speak into the mike and the computer will translate it into English! Even better – it has a 95% accuracy!!! Only problem is that it’ll only recognize one person’s voice, so it isn’t much help to me ='( And it’s kinda weird to use if you’ve written something…well..meant to not be said aloud…Windows Vista has ts own speech recognition software built into it, but it SUCKS. Like ANYTHING. Trust me, I tried using, and I ended up having to scream at the computer only find that the computer thought that my speech was uncomprehensible…grr…
    Or you can even do what I do – type stuff out in between projects. I do this in school whenever we have a class in the Computer Lab, and it always works! But I guess if you’re working, then maybe this isn’t a good idea…
    Good luck anyway!

  38. Hey thanx for your tips. i did use that Dragon software but it didn’t work that smoothly. i had the same problems you did. i guess i’ll just have to take it step by step and start typing when i can.

    Thanx again:)

  39. You’re welcome!!!
    I also thought of another idea – what about using a Notebook? I saw this guy using one (at least that’s what I THINK it was) during Creativity a few days ago, and all he had to do was write on the screen using a stylus and the software would convert it into text. He said it was pretty accurate, and the screen twists and folds and everything, so it’s really easy to write!
    Plus I also have a problem one of the previous comments mentioned – my hands sweat a lot when I’m writing. I’ve actually been diagnosed with pompholyx; a condition when excess sweating results in thousands of tiny boils erupting on the hands. It’s kinda painful, and it itches a lot, not to mention it’s started coming up 3-4 times a year rather than just 1-2 times… Even typing this took me 15 minutes because I had to keep stopping to wipe my hands. I’ve tried all kinds of treatment but it just won’t stop. Does anyone have the same problem as me? Any suggestions?


  40. I dabble in both computer and paper. Over the years I have a need for both. For pen and paper I reserve concise creative writing (poems, short stories, songs). It is difficult to utilize full creativity when writing on computer. For research papers and longer stories I find it much easier to write everything out all at once and allow computer programs to help me edit.

  41. I use the computer for all writing, from my fiction to school papers. I’m dyslexic so what does end up on paper isn’t pretty.

    It only shows up when I rush, but when I get an idea my mind goes at a thousand words a minute. While writing I switch letters around, start words in the middle, and can barely spell ‘napkin.’

    With my little laptop though, I can bang out 1000 words+ in an hour nonstop.

    I still keep a notebook by my bed for when I don’t want to get up at four a.m. to type something up, but it only contains scenes and ideas.

    I love the romance of sitting at a desk or under a tree and scribbling away, but it doesn’t work for me.

  42. I suffer from major hand cramps, so I’m forced to use the computer. Typing is a lot faster but at times I wished I could write by hand…

  43. I used to write a lot with pen and ink until I developed shaky hands. I find it much easier to write on a computer.

  44. I used to write everything by hand, but I’ve started typing my writing pieces now.
    I use paper to plan the chapter/story, or just write a little idea and maybe expand on it, but generally any actual writing is on the computer.
    I find it makes me more creative actually, my writing style is greatly improved when typing since it allows me to get more thoughts out quicker than on paper.

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