Pen Or Keyboard – How Do You Write?

By Ali Hale

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.)

49 Responses to “Pen Or Keyboard – How Do You Write?”

  • Tesla Lynn

    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.

  • Matt

    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.

  • Jade

    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…

  • maria gabriela

    how do you write? Also, we sometimes… or Also, sometimes we….

  • Nemo

    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.

  • Julian

    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.

  • MidnightMarauder

    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?


  • Nig

    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:)

  • TheMidnightMarauder

    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!

  • Nig

    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 :))

  • MidnightMarauder

    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 🙁

  • TheLostTreasure

    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!

  • Racheblue

    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 😀

  • MidnightMarauder

    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


  • Racheblue

    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!

  • Britt

    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.

  • Bobby Ozuna

    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

  • Mari Adkins

    @Ali I think its spelling/grammar check probably does more harm than good for many writers. I agree.

  • Ali

    @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.

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