On Writing Long Hand

“You don’t need more notebooks.”

Of course I didn’t need new notebooks, but the stationary shop beckoned regardless. It doesn’t matter how many blank pages between beautiful covers sit on the shelf I have dedicated for such things. There’s always a need for more.

But I had an actual purpose this time: I wanted a spiral bound notebook, specifically. So many notebooks now are perfect bound (or glued up the spine) which does make them very aesthetically pleasing — especially when displayed on my shelf. But as I’d discovered, they weren’t actually very practical for writing. For brief journal entries, for to do lists, even for a few paragraphs they are okay. But trying to hold a perfect bound book flat and write on the left-hand page is a nightmare. Wrestling the notebook you’re trying to write in isn’t generally conducive to great creativity.

I needed a spiral bound notebook. In uni days I took all my notes in plain notebooks from the newsagents: Spirax A5, 500 pages, and a cardboard pocket at the end. I procrastinated at the beginning of each semester my creating a collage cover for the notebook and then laminating it with clear contact, the way we laminated readers in primary school. For a long time I collected scrap bits of paper that I found pretty or interesting — pages torn out of magazines, business cards collected from stores, the free postcards you find in small town tourist centres. I can’t draw but I can take other people’s art and reshape and reimagine it. Each semester was granted its own notebook, and I kept all of those lecture scribbles for years, even though I was a conscientious student that typed all my notes into Word documents weekly. I had no reason to keep the handwritten notes, no need to refer to them. But it was only when I moved house that they didn’t make the cut into a moving box. I guess I liked keeping those memories of intense learning and thought, the margin scribbles that didn’t make it into the typed notes but felt important all the same. Or maybe I just liked my handmade covers.

I bought two new notebooks, with covers already so beautiful I wouldn’t dream of covering them with clumsy cut outs and crinkled contact paper.

I wrote Spearfishing completely on my laptop. There were advantages to this. I was working to a (rough) 1000-word-a-day goal, and I could clearly see the numbers going up. I was jumping between characters and points of view, and I could orientate myself with a quick scroll. I kept track of timelines using different font colours (all changed to standard black on the final manuscript).

But this time I’d like to return to longhand. It slows you down and makes you think differently; it forces you more into the character’s head. I hope it will improve the voice in this next project. Of course it will be more laborious: the words have to make it onto the screen at some point. But uni days have made me adept at copying from the page to the keyboard, and this has an advantage in itself; when you’re writing your own words again, you can see them more clearly than when reading them over. In theory, my self-editing will be better than ever. And first drafts and awkward paragraphs won’t be lost with a touch of the delete button. I’ll hold onto those early words for as long as I can justify keeping the notebooks on the shelves.

2 thoughts on “On Writing Long Hand

  1. As someone who journals every day, and is very picky about their paper, I enjoyed reading this piece. I’d actually written an entire novel longhand once. I wonder if you’re into fountain pens, because if not, that seems to be the next logical step.

    Loved this piece, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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