Getting back to basics: The benefits of writing by hand

A new year, a new plan. 

Last year, I had a big goal in regards to my writing career. This year, I just want to stay on track, write regularly and keep moving forward.

In recent months, the thought of sitting at my keyboard and having to produce a word count felt utterly overwhelming. The more time I spent away from my manuscript, the more pressure I placed on myself to produce.

A lot went on last year. I wrote the first 25,000 words of my WIP and then shelved it when the edits came in for my complete manuscript, Secrets That Bind Us. I reworked the manuscript and started pitching to agents. Submissions went out in the latter half of 2018 and while I was awaiting a response, the plan was to get back to the writing. Only, I just couldn’t get to the desk.

There were things happening in my personal life (not to mention my daughter dropped her day sleeps!), so when it came to writing in the evenings I just felt so exhausted. I didn’t have the mental energy to work on my manuscript. In my day job, I have to be emotionally available for my clients, and as a mother and wife, I also strive to be emotionally present. So when it came to giving myself over to my story and characters… well let’s just say there wasn’t much left in the ol’ emotional cup.

With the prospect of my daughter starting preschool this year, my plan for January was to start writing again and getting familiar with my story so that I can hit the ground running from February.

With life settling down a bit, I found I could focus a little better in the evenings so once my daughter was off to bed I sat down to write. I changed the setting, my home office has been too hot in this weather anyway, and I’d sit in the sitting room by the window and open my notebook and tell myself I just had to jot something down.

Anything that kept my story moving forward and kept me in the headspace of my story.

And it worked!

basics writing by hand

I tend to come back to hand writing when I’m feeling a little stuck, but writing for a whole month has led me to a few discoveries. The following six ways is how hand writing helped my overall writing process:

  1. It’s relaxing. Writing by hand is actually really relaxing. I’ve managed to write every day this year (that’s four weeks!) and that’s a huge achievement for me. Given I have a young daughter, a part-time job and a business— and a family to see occasionally! I’ve enjoyed the process of writing by hand and it has a calming effect on me too. I feel like I’ve achieved something at the end of the day before I switch on Netflix and zone out.
  2. It slows down the process (in a good way). It also means that I’ve slowed down. I’m a very fast typer and when I’m on a roll I can write 500 or even up to 800 words in a thirty-minute sitting. But sometimes I’m typing faster than I’m thinking and when I took the time to slow down and write by hand it meant I could align myself with my character more readily. Sit and ponder a scene, think about what she may feel, see, do.writing a novel by hand
  3. It stops the distraction. When hand writing, I wasn’t distracted by getting a sentence right, or emails or word counts.  I’m not much of a perfectionist, but I do tend to fiddle around with sentences and when you handwrite, unless you want to scribble it all out over and over, you’ve just got to write it down and move on. I’ve liked this. It has meant I could just write ‘insert blah here’ and move on. I know that I can fix it all up later when I type it up. I know now that I’ll have a stronger first draft. Once I type up what I have I’ll already have words that I can work with and I find when that’s the case I’m more likely to take the time to flesh out the scene in more detail, something I don’t tend to do in the first draft typing as I just want to move forward and keep the words up.
  4. It eases the pressure. It has taken away the pressure of a word count. When I hand write I’ll write anywhere between 2-4 pages and I have no idea how many words it equates to. Sometimes I’ll just be jotting down notes for things I’ll have to go back and address in the story or things I’ll have to keep in mind for upcoming scenes. It’s like keeping a diary for my story. The best part of all is that I know I’m moving FORWARD, I don’t need a word count meter to tell me so. I have 30,000 words of typed words from last year and I know that I’ll be adding a lot more by the end of the month.
  5. Regular writing forms a habit. It has reminded me how important a writing habit is. When I’d been away from my manuscript for so long I felt so overwhelmed when I thought about sitting down to write. I’d talk myself out of it and think oh there’s no point I only have thirty minutes I won’t be able to get back into my characters headspace. This was such a change in mindset for me as I’d previously been able to work in 15- 30-minute bursts while my daughter napped. So I kept telling myself I needed a whole day to get started, when in reality I know that’s not the case. On the 31stDecember I looked at my last scene and I started to write the next one. This carried over into the New Year and now I can see how important it is to write a little every day rather than write a big chunk every few weeks (which isn’t really practical for me anyway).
  6. I’m excited about writing again. It has sparked my obsession. While I’ve been thinking about writing for months, and thinking about how I should get back to my novel, I haven’t really been thinking much about the story. I’d lost a bit of the passion. But now that I’ve switched my brain back on, it’s constantly running at the back of my mind. On the down side, it means I’m a little distracted when I’m with my family, but it means I can jump back into writing so much easily than when there have been long breaks in between.

So what’s next?

My daughter starts preschool this week and I have a couple of days off from my day job for this transition (for the both of us!) and it allows me to have some much needed ‘me time’ before we settle into a new routine. So my plan is to use those couple of days to start writing up my notes and fleshing out the scenes further. I may even continue handwriting in the evenings in the interim so that I can keep the word count pressure off until I’ve got a handle on how it’s all going to work- life, work, family and writing.

So there you have it. Feeling stuck with your novel, not feeling connected to your character or need to form a new writing habit? Try handwriting- or if you already do- let me know how it works for you!


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