Drafting Longhand

Joe Hill


A few years ago I wrote the first draft of a story called “The Devil on the Staircase,” working longhand, and had a great experience. A while later I wrote the first draft of a Locke & Key script, “Open the Moon,” also working longhand. At the moment I’m just finishing a new story which was likewise handwritten. It fills two small notebooks. I can’t remember the last time I was so happy – so content – working on a thing and I’m beginning to think maybe this will be my new default way of creating a first draft.

David Foster Wallace


The writing writing that I do is longhand. . . . The first two or three drafts are always longhand. . . . I can type very much faster than I can write. And writing makes me slow down in a way that helps me pay attention.

There is something almost magical about drafting longhand. Because I’m an application developer I can type fairly fast. I’m no 1950s secretary, but if I wanted to aim for wordcount alone I could hammer out at least 2-3 thousand words of fiction an hour. For me, this is not ideal. Hemingway is famously quoted for stating that all first drafts are shit. However, there’s a difference between the sort of shit you want to flush down the toilet and the sort that you spread over your garden. When I write my first few drafts and story notes longhand, I get the fertilizer draft. Writing by hand connects me intimately with the words. It’s also far easier to get into the ebb and flow of the prose.

If you haven’t tried writing a few drafts of your story by hand, I suggest you give it a try. I love that it gets me away from the computer, allows me to sketch ideas in the margins, and is highly portable.

Happy writing and thanks for reading.

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