Pen and Paper? Are You Kidding Me????

By Mark Stevens

I recently sparked a flutter on Twitter.

I mentioned that I write by hand.

Yes, full novels—start to finish.

By hand.

I mentioned this on Twitter and I could hear virtual jaws dropping from coast to coast.

Okay, in reality, I had five or six comments along these lines: “Are you KIDDING ME??????”

I also found a few like-minded souls.

Soon, we had a club forming. Men and women of the Pen & Paper Brigade will only listen to vinyl, take pictures with film and write books by hand.

It’s the only way to go.

First, a notebook is so damn portable. No hunts for electrical outlets in the coffee shops. Trains, planes, automobiles, canoes, rocket ships. Doesn’t matter. Got a place to sit down in the woods? In the park? A mountain cabin off the grid? You’re set.

Second, that sound. I’m addicted. That faint, dull scrape of ink going on a page. It’s visceral. It’s real.

Third, less time staring at a computer screen. Don’t we all need less? And no worries about outdoor reflections, moving around so the sun is just right. When you write by hand, it’s a non-issue. Have you ever headed to the computer and waited ten minutes while updates are installed? Non-factor.

Fourth, the process slows me down. My storytelling head is slow. Fresh copy goes on the right side and then the left is open and available for inserts and new ideas.

Fifth? Well, this is kind of a stupid reason but I dig seeing the notebooks stack up. I shoot for 500 words a day. That’s it, that’s all. I try to get in five days a week of writing. It never works out exactly. Some weeks fail, others get in a groove. But I recently finished a novel in about 14 months, including uploading the darn thing to a computer. Yes, at some point there is computer involved but then it’s a solid second draft.

Here are my tools.

  1.  College-ruled, 1-subject notebooks with perforated pages, 11 inch by 8 inch. I like 100 sheets per notebook. I’m not super fussy about my notebooks, but you get the idea.
  2.  A uni ball VISION ELITE. (I think the lower-case uni ball is official and I don’t want to be disrespectful so I’m going with it.) I prefer the “bold” tip. I like blue. Black is okay. I’ve tried many other options. Nothing comes close. (Dear uni ball folks: One case may be shipped to my home address in exchange for this endorsement. Email for shipping particulars.)

Any downsides? None that I know of, other than trying to decipher that gnarled-up penmanship. Man, that’s some wild stuff.


Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.
Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens is 2016 RMFW Writer of the Year. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series–Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011), Trapline (2014) and Lake of Fire (2015). Buried by the Roan, Trapline and Lake of Fire were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award; Trapline won. Trapline also won the 2015 award in genre fiction from the Colorado Authors League. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire “irresistible.” More about Mark on his website.

16 thoughts on “Pen and Paper? Are You Kidding Me????

  1. Nothing wrong with “low-tech”, Mark!
    I learned how to type on IBM Selectrics, and computer keyboards just aren’t the same.
    I often contemplate how I would now be able to bang out first drafts on a Selectric, then scan the pages with OCR. I would have physical copies of all my first drafts, and I would not have to correct minor errors while typing (since those would be fixed in editing, after the papers were scanned).
    In this day of hyper-tech, people forget that low-tech, or even combinations of low-tech with high-tech, can offer some unique advantages.

  2. You’re an inspiration, Mark! I’m heading for a retreat later this month, and I’m adding a nice new thick notebook to my supplies.

    Mike Befeler wrote his first novels by hand — three pages every morning before work and then typing and editing in the evening after work. I admire his determination and his productivity.

  3. Thank you! I find an added benefit is that the second draft, the one that goes on the computer, turns out much better because the process of transferring the draft from page to screen demands active rewriting.

  4. I’ll rat out Julie Anne Peters, who uses Big Chief tablets and yellow pencils and has turned out some amazing books 🙂 I do a mix of both – I always have notebooks with me (one for each WIP since I’m a crazed multi-tasker) but I do love the ease of editing on a computer.

  5. Me too! Even most of the editing passes are done on paper. I have a few redwoods worth of paper in my file cabinet-lined study. I find my creativity comes out on paper and my dry and analytical side comes out on the computer. I like my pages to be a real mess, writing up the page and around in circles, if that is what it takes. My first drafts are also much cleaner since the process includes a type of early editing for sound/aesthetic.

  6. I have written 17 books. currently writing number 18 and all have been written in longhand, yes pen and paper. To me the words flow better this way.

  7. I alternate between the computer and handy notebooks that I carry with me everywhere. In fact when I get stuck in my plot I often find that going to lunch with a notebook can break any logjam. And yes, I am with you on those Uniball pens. Send me a carton too!

  8. I’m a uni-ball micro (.5mm) fan myself–black/noir ink (perhaps it looks more definite that way). To be honest, I can’t claim to write whole books long-hand. I use the spirals for sections of think-it-throughs, character sketches, and story ideas. Perhaps this switching back and forth is what makes me so slow…hmm. Thanks for a great post, Mark. I owe you a uni-ball!

  9. Mark, I’m impressed! I don’t think my right hand would survive a whole novel. I’m with Daven and his IBM Selectric. I love the sound and feel of a keyboard almost as much as I love the writing itself. But I also love the ease of editing on a computer. I’m a write-and-rewrite person.
    Maybe I should change it up a little, try writing in notebooks…

  10. I enjoy the creative flow when writing by hand. I’m switching back and forth between paper and computer, but I believe I do my best work when letting the natural flow of thoughts and ink mesh together. I love Zebra pens, but i am willing to try a uni ball. 😉

  11. Gel Pens, micro thin. And 81/2 x 11 notebooks with the spirals on top (hard to find), makes it so much easier to transfer to computer later.

    I do the plotting with Scrivener, write the first draft by hand, dictate it into the computer, then do the first general edit in Scrivener.

    don’t know that it’s efficient, but for me, it’s effective.

  12. I’m glad you wrote this post, Mark. I can edit on the computer but I can only compose in longhand. I often write while in a deli or coffeehouse. One day a waitress said, “You’re writing. I didn’t think anyone wrote anymore.” Her comment stunned me for a moment, because I write all the time and don’t think it odd. Then I realized that she likely sees most people texting.
    I like the old-fashioned Steno pads because they’re easy to stand up while I type my notes, and I prefer pencils because the tactile feel of graphite on paper seems to feed my Muse.
    Gotta keep that Muse happy.

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