The Benefits of Writing Old School by Eden Mabee

I have a confession to make…

I love WriMos (something about a month dedicated to writing that just delights the muse). For this July CampNaNo, I took things one step further. I decided my WriMo would be a month of actual writing. Pen on paper writing. I was going to commit myself to the pen and the notebook and a few tapes (yes, cassette tapes and occasional LPs). I went full ‘Old School’.


I wanted to see if it really was the distraction of ‘instant access’ to all the world had to offer that was slowing me down and keeping me from meeting my goal of writing every day.

Now a few weeks in, I can say for certain that yes… this is the stuff. Even getting up to cross the room to flip a tape (or fix a skipping record) hasn’t proved as great a distraction as email, Facebook messages and notifications, Candy Crush, comments on my blogs…

I wrote so much more when I didn’t sit in front of this electronic box.

This shift has made me reconsider what it is going to take for me to be a writer, to seriously reconsider more than what makes me a writer, but what makes me productive in general.

But let’s stick to writing–writing and simplicity.

WritingBrainThis experiment won’t work for everyone, but perhaps we could all benefit from at least trying to handwrite again. Not just for a day or two as a whim, but for a week, or two, just to see what happens. Try to just write, wherever you are (in the last two weeks I’ve written in shopping lines, in the truck, at the truck dealership, yadda yadda… basically, in a lot of places). You don’t have to go at it as hard-core as I did. Try handwriting for just a short period of time each day… say 10 minutes. If you have more time or want to try something more involved, you could follow Julia Cameron’s idea of morning pages (The Artist’s Way) and freewrite with pen and paper in hand until you’ve filled up three full notebook pages. You may find you can get more words written faster without the keyboard, or you may not. For me, it takes about 25 minutes to type the equivalent of morning pages (750 words), where it takes me about 20 minutes to put the same number of words in a notebook. (I’m not the fastest typist in the world.)

Why?” I hear you ask. “Why would I make you waste your time doing something that you’ll have to either store, throw away or spend extra time typing into the computer later?”

Because I truly believe it will help you become a better writer.

I don’t believe this solely because the research says that writing things by hand is good for your mind (though it does, just search online for ‘handwriting brain affects’). I also think history speaks for itself.

When we think of all the ‘great’ authors, do we think of them all tap-tap-tapping away at their bluetoothed iPhone keyboards? Or dictating their stories to the microphone Yes, some of them had typewriters. Some of our modern greats use wordprocessors… But classics have been handwritten on napkins (Ernest Hemmingway, JK Rowling, etc), the insides of unfolded envelopes, in the margins of other author’s books…

We don’t need anything to create stories beyond our imaginations. To create stories with permanence we need some way to record the fruits of our minds, and the tools we choose are…just tools. We may have tools we like better than others, and while many tools, especially power tools, may increase our efficiency, but… just as some of the most enduring (and beautiful) buildings weren’t built with nail-guns and circular saws, wonderful writing does not rely on the latest version of Dramatica Pro or the newest MacBook or… anything except you and your creativity.

Since science is starting to show that handwriting can increase creativity over time (even if it slows you down in the short run), isn’t it worth trying?

6 thoughts on “The Benefits of Writing Old School by Eden Mabee

  1. Plenty of food for thought!

    I usually do carry a notebook, since I find it more convenient for writing than a phone; but if I’m a a computer, I tend to default to typing without really thinking about it.

  2. I also take a notebook, but since I type so much faster than I write (creeping arthritis), I’m not sure about this experiment. Except . . . sometimes when I write by hand, I start drawing and discovering unexpected connections. A post with lots to think about. Thank you, Eden.

  3. It makes me happy, you and a notebook, and your LPs and cassettes. =D

    I’ve been writing in various journals nearly every morning since May. I often jot notes or impressions in other journals, especially when traveling, because that seems to work.

    Like Beth, I sometimes have painful. arthritic hands, and I have gotten a lot faster at typing over the last few years,so the bulk of my creation is by computer these days (and I bet a lot of those famous writers might’ve used one, too, if such a thing had yet existed.

    I think it’s a good thing to try – but it might not be for everyone, for a variety of reasons. I like the blend I have now, for me, and for now. I’m glad you’ve got something that works for you! Great post!

  4. I always handwritten in the morning and sometimes if I’m stuck withy story I’ll whip out the notebook, but I confess, reading that you’ve been doing this for a long time is intriguing. Just thinking about it seems to reduce writerly stress in me!

    I think I’ll give it a shot, Eden. At least for a week or two. Thanks for this.

  5. well writing can be painful with wrists that hate me:) typing also some days so I use dragon then – I mix them up – this summer I have done more writing than typing – trying to sort the WIP into some kind of order and have found it very liberating – its more visual with circles – arrows and doodles – those doodles are very creative for me and for connections:)

    I have always had notebooks to jot down ideas and odd ‘fantastical sentances!!!’ but I have found this summer that hand writing has helped no end in getting this muddle of a book back on the tracks:)

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