Writing Rough Drafts by Hand – like Hemingway

I write the rough draft of almost everything by hand: fiction, client work, this post, all my notes.

This week, after watching the first episode of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Hemingway, I reread some of Hemingway on WritingIn it, he says that writing by hand makes it easier to improve your writing.

He writes:

When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is that much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so you can better it easier. (Source).

Writing by hand slows you down (in a good way)

Hemingway’s style was a product of endless rewriting and revision.* He found that the process of typing what he had written by hand gave him a chance to improve it.

He worked on a typewriter, but his advice is maybe even more relevant in the laptop age.  Rewriting, content editing and line editing are three distinct steps in the writing process. Writing by hand forces you to go one step at a time. A computer lets you skip to the line edit and convince yourself that whatever you’re working on is ready to show the world.

Even if you take the time to make substantial changes to the content and structure of your draft, that’s not the same as having to re-type the entire thing and make improvements as you go.

Rewriting is effective because it sucks. When I have a stack of legal pad pages to type up, I’m interested in getting through them as quickly as possible. That means not wasting time typing up lines that should be cut. The act of typing works as a b.s filter.

*Epic sidenote: I once got to read the original manuscript pages for his 47 endings of A Farewell to Arms. 

Writing by hand gives you a break from digital distraction

If you work at a computer all day, writing by hand is a way to change it up. Pen and paper pair well with working outdoors or in a reading chair or any place other than your desk.

Sometimes a venue change is all you need to burn through the brain fog.

Austin Kleon works at two desks: one is for analog work,  the other is digital.

Writing by hand just feels good

Handwriting is tactile. You form a bond with the writing instrument and the page as you shape every letter, every word.

You’ll end up working on your later drafts on a screen anyway.

Writing by hand gives you time alone with your words and your thoughts.

I’m convinced that this intimacy somehow translates to the reader in a way that a digitally-native text doesn’t. There’s a reason we write “thank you” notes and love letters by hand.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Love Letter

Official music video for ‘Love Letter’ by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.Download or Stream https://ncandtbs.lnk.to/nomoreshallIDWatch Bad Seed TeeVee https://www…


Need something written for your business?

You can hire me, my pen, and my yellow legal pad. 

-Charlie