Home > Writing > On writing: slow down to speed up

On writing: slow down to speed up

September 18, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Write slower to write more. Yeah, didn’t seem reasonable to me, either … at first. But, after reading The Secret to Writing Faster, I thought a bit more about the proposition. And you know what? It makes sense.

If you didn’t go and read the article, I can summarize it by saying the author, Karen Dionne, believes that writing longhand can actually be faster, in the end, than using a computer. Pretty outlandish, huh? Well, not necessarily. Many years ago, I wrote a fair amount of my first novel by hand (I mention this briefly in an old blog post My first novel: a retrospective – part I) Though I didn’t expound much on the experience in the older post, I can say now that I did see some of the two main advantages Dionne describes in her article. She said that

My sentences are also cleaner. Because I write more slowly by hand than I can type, I give more thought to what I’m writing, and am thus more careful about what I put on page.


… that’s the corollary to writing faster. Slow down. Think about the words before you put them to paper, and the words you write are more likely to be ones that will stay.

Looking back, I can say I think this was true for me as well. Yes, I bemoaned the need for typing in all those well-crafted words after having already written them in notebooks, but I think overall the sentences and the story were better for having been written by hand. Now to be fair, even though I believe what I just said, I haven’t, as of yet, given up my MacBook and Scrivener.

Where I write

My Desk

It should be noted that the idea of writing slower can also be applied even when sitting in front of a computer and keyboard. It’s just harder, that’s all 🙂

So, anyone out there like to do things old-school? Done it before and hated it? Loved it? Never going to give up on the computer?


  1. September 19, 2013 at 4:33 am

    I love writing in longhand, Dave. I have a thing for fancy writing tablets and pens. 🙂 For me, it definitely slows the writing process, but the writing is better. Since I type fast, entering it into the computer isn’t a big deal for me, but it would be nice to have someone type it for me.

    • September 20, 2013 at 9:05 am

      So you write all your stories by hand? At the time I was doing it, I had a couple of cheap notebooks and a pencil. Of course, if I was going to try it again, which I probably will at some point, I like the idea of using a nice tablet and pen. I can see how that would make the experience much better 🙂

      • September 20, 2013 at 10:35 am

        I always begin my stories by hand and as the story progresses I’ll switch it up a bit. I love fancy pens…I have hundreds of them!

  2. September 19, 2013 at 5:02 am

    I would to love to write longhand if my hand didn’t cramp up after only a paragraph 🙂 But I have found that the few times I written poetry, I always start with writing longhand. And I still have plenty of notebooks that I write in because my computer is not always available or convenient to use. I can actually be pretty slow with writing on a computer. The only I’m really fast at writing is during NaNoWriMo when I’m more focused on making word counts than on making sense. Otherwise, even writing this comment is probably taking me more time than it would most people. Slow reader, slow writer. I need life to slow down so I can catch up 🙂

    • September 20, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Ha ha … well, for being so slow you sure do get a lot done! I feel the exact opposite, like I’m getting nothing done. Writing stories longhand is definitely not for everyone, as the physical requirements on the hand can wear you out pretty quickly. Perhaps that’s a benefit, though … you know, time to think about your story while you wait for you hand to stop hurting 🙂

      It’s funny … I tend to be the same way. I write everything very slowly. Seems like it takes forever to write an email, or a response, or a blog post. I’m with you on NaNoWriMo. That’s when I write fastest, with plenty of extra words thrown in. Sloppy, but effective 🙂

  3. September 19, 2013 at 6:07 am

    Hi Dave- I love writing scenes by hand. Most of my stories are crafted on paper first. That way, when I type them, they are like a second draft. I never used to enjoy hand writing. Now I do. Don’t know what changed but I find it incredibly satisfying and, ironically, faster. Great post and thanks for sharing your idea.

    • September 20, 2013 at 8:47 am

      Hi Sue – glad you enjoyed the post. There really is something special about taking the time to slow down and write by hand, though it’s not for everyone. I like how you consider typing in your stories to be the second draft. That eliminates the feeling of having to do something all over again … you’re actually editing on the fly. Good to hear from you, Sue!

  4. September 19, 2013 at 6:31 am

    I get frustrated writing longhand, because the ideas come faster than I can write them down. It’s not relevant for me anymore because the joints and tendons in my writing hand are so messed up I can’t hold a pen for more than 5 minutes without pain. My big worry is how I’m going to manage all those autographs at my book signings.


    • September 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

      That’s a legitimate concern, and perhaps part of what writing by hand is supposed to address. You necessarily have to slow down because it’s impossible for our hands to keep up with our brains. Presumably, with all that time thinking through your prose, you come up with something better. I think this is true in some instances, and I did see this when I tried it. I’m not even sure how well I’d do these days … after many years of being a programmer, my hands aren’t what they used to be. Tell you what, though, they’ll definitely work well enough to write some autographs 🙂

  5. September 19, 2013 at 7:42 am

    This is a great idea! Seriously, I’ve thought about writing long hand before, but I never gave much thought to any advantage. I just thought of how crampy my wrist and hands would get, but this gives it a different twist. Thanks for a great blog post!

    • September 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

      Yeah, when thought about for the first time, it doesn’t seem like such a great idea, for exactly the reason you mentioned. You’d be surprised, though, at how you feel when you sit down with a pen and notebook and just start writing. Doesn’t feel bad at all … actually feels good. If I can get over my need for speed, I’d like to give it a shot again. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  6. September 19, 2013 at 8:33 am

    I think it’s safe to say I won’t be joining you on this one. I don’t even like handwriting my grocery list. 😉 Needless to say, my penmanship has grown terrible from years of misuse…

    • September 19, 2013 at 9:58 am

      Ha ha … yeah, well I’m not sure I’ll be joining myself either, even though my handwriting still look pretty good.

      I suspect my son, who’s making his way through his intern year, will see his handwriting deteriorate to a scrawl over a time 🙂

      • September 19, 2013 at 10:19 am

        Is your son a medical intern? What’s he doing his residency in? My writing was always very neat on prescriptions–no room for error there. But then electronic prescribing came on board, and my one neat hand-writing outlet vanished!

      • September 19, 2013 at 10:33 am

        Yes, he’s in La Crosse, Wisconsin this year, then he’ll be heading over to Vanderbilt for his residency in radiation oncology. He’s not so thrilled at the moment because he’s in his surgery rotation 🙂

        I’m sure his writing is great when it needs to be (I hope). I was referring to the crappy signature all doctors seem to have 🙂 I guess everything going digital does eliminate the whole handwriting issue, doesn’t it?

      • September 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm

        That it does! I wish your son the best of luck. Great field.

  7. kirbyp
    September 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Interesting post! I often write structures and outlines on paper before I start writing, a habit I picked up in Grade 10 History. Not sure if I would give up the laptop for first drafts, but I’ll definitely consider it after reading your post.

    • September 20, 2013 at 9:15 am

      I think it’s worth a shot, even if only for a short while, just to get the feel of it and see how it affects your writing. You might be surprised. I think writing outlines by hand is a great idea, and one I hope to try out soon (as in, I’m currently a pantser who thinks outlining might be a good thing to try 🙂

  8. September 24, 2013 at 12:08 am

    Thinking? Who has time for thinking 😉 I was born way too late. It is my firm belief I was meant to be sister of Emily Dickinson. Or someone else born then. Technology dizzies me. Yet here I am typing. Why? Because even if I had my old Underwood back, I can’t buy ink tapes for it any more. And it was a clunker to lug around, lol j/k. You are so right about being more thoughtful with handwriting. I once hand wrote a story that one a local literary contest when I awoke one morning. I know for sure it would not have been the same had I ventured down the hall to the then office. Convenience of tools/techy tends to lead us away from thinking jmo. Thanks for bringing me back to it.

    • September 25, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Ha … yeah, there are times I think that way, that perhaps I should have been born in a simpler time, where all the technology that sucks away our life and our brains didn’t exist yet. Yeah, I could deal with that. At the same time, though, I’ve never written a book using a typewriter. That sounds really hard for a number of reasons. But I guess it would be no harder than writing by hand, and I’ve done that 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post!

      • September 25, 2013 at 1:52 pm

        It’s the same as typing on a keyboard but you are more thoughtful in what you say… less corrections that way lol

  9. September 24, 2013 at 11:59 am

    For me writing longhand can be a mixed bag. There are times where I experience what you and Karen Dionne describe, where my sentences seem cleaner and the scene more solid (I rarely write an entire story out by hand nowadays), but there are other times where I find I get hung up on one small part (a sentence or paragraph) when I write by hand. I’m one of those writers who can lose a whole story when that happens, not because the ideas fade but because my brain refuses to let me move on until I find the right wording/structure. But if I try to ‘edit as I write’, which is what that starts to become for me, I never finish anything! I have to get the first draft of something done before I can go back and edit even one sentence.

    But I find if I get stuck when I’m typing, I’ll insert a note in brackets to myself, like [fill in more description here; set the scene], and then I can move right along, satisfied with the placeholder. I don’t know WHY I’m not satisfied with that when writing by hand, but the placeholders only seem to work for me when I’m typing.

    • September 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      I think it’s similar for me. While I did have some success with it a while back, I’m not really sure how well I would do today. I plan on trying it again for my next book, but then I’m telling myself I’m also going to try outlining for the first time. Yikes! Knowing myself, I’ll quite likely end up ditching both and pantsing my way through using my computer. But we can hope, right? 🙂

      I know what you mean about editing as you go. In some ways I like it, because my story reads very well right from the beginning. But the tradeoff is that your writing creeps along at a snail’s pace. These days I do try and just write the first draft then go back and edit. I’ve got to admit, though, that editing the first draft is really hard for me. It’s what I’m stuck in at the moment.

  10. September 25, 2013 at 11:14 am

    I can never give up my computer. I’ve tried handwriting shorts and for some reason, I freeze up – my brain seems to shut down and my limbs stop working. It’s very bizarre. But once I get my laptop out, the ideas start flowing and I can write again. I barely even write grocery lists by hand anymore, lol.
    – Elle Chambers

    • September 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      Yeah, it’s not for everyone. Not even sure if it will be for me next time 🙂 Enough years have passed that I just don’t know how it will go. But I do appreciate that it does make me slow down and think through what I’m writing. Not only does it help with words and sentences, but it also lets my mind think through the story at the same time. Very helpful since up ’til now I’ve been a diehard pantser. Though I want to try formally outlining a book, I’m not yet convinced I will like it, or even be successful at it.

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