I read a forward by Piers Anthony in the midst of his bestselling Incarnations series about how he used two drafts on paper then one on the typewriter and shebang. He admits to switching to a laptop by the midnineties.

I think 1995 was the last time I did any kind of significant chunk of fiction on paper. Using a computer allows me to get a lot of words down, and it's easier to not forget what I want to say; however, I struggle with endless revisions.

It almost seems like, if I put more effort in and slowed down the first time, then it would save hundreds of hours of edits downstream. Assuming the dog doesn't eat it.

Two-part question:

1) Is there anyone out there who does their rough draft on paper (specifically because they feel it is time saving in the long run)?

2) Is there something practical (other than pay someone to edit work) to cut oneself off in the revision process?

  • 1
    You might find it interesting if you whack "writing a novel longhand " or similar into Google and browsing the many lists of authors who do -- many go into some detail as to why and how it works for them (tho u may have done this already ofc)
    – Mac Cooper
    Feb 19, 2016 at 11:56
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    No, I actually hadn't tried that. Maybe I could convince one to leave a post!
    – Stu W
    Feb 19, 2016 at 13:29
  • @StuW , Could I ask you to split your second question into a separate post? I see why you've combined them, but they do seem like different questions, and de facto people seem to be answering the first part only on this page :)
    – Standback
    Feb 22, 2016 at 20:30
  • Agreed. I'll add a new question when I have a chance.
    – Stu W
    Feb 22, 2016 at 21:09

4 Answers 4


This is actually a really interesting subject. I used to only write on my laptop and never on paper - the thought sounded ridiculous to me, especially since I type 100 WPM - but lately I've been writing on paper. I wanted to write outside and the sun kept glaring on my screen so I grabbed a notebook. I was surprised by well I wrote when I wasn't distracted by the internet.

For me, it's not about slowing down because I tend to write super fast when jotting my thoughts onto paper (to compensate, I guess, since I'm used to getting my thoughts down faster).

The advantages of writing on paper:

1) No distractions (like the internet)

2) No glare (if you want to write outside)

The disadvantages of writing on paper:

1) Don't get your ideas down as fast, may forget thought process or ideas.

2) Not neat or organized, especially if you're writing fast.

3) Could lose your papers/notebook.

4) You have to retype everything you've written onto your computer (although this does allow for some editing).

I find it easier to write on paper when I know exactly what I'm writing and have the scene planned out and have already researched all of my information. That way I can just sit down, no distractions, and write.

I find it hard to plan out plot on paper because when I'm planning, I constantly shift around scenes or come up with new ideas. On paper that's hard to fix without scribbling out things and even then it gets to be very messy and sometimes illegible.

So, I personally plan on my computer and write first drafts on paper (sometimes). Then I edit a little when I type it up.


I think the essence of your question is actually “should I write with a writing tool or an editing tool?”

If you are using a typical word processor on a typical computer, that is not a writing tool. It is actually an editing tool. It’s a digital printing press, not a digital typewriter. That is why it is easy to get into doing revisions when you are not done writing. That is a productivity killer in many cases.

The solution is to use a writing tool. But you don’t have to use longhand writing or a paper typewriter. There are many writing tools today. There are specialized apps like iA Writer (Mac, iOS) and others that basically present you with a digital typewriter with one endless page loaded into it. They run full-screen and are optimized to not distract you from writing. You not only don’t have editing tools, you don’t even have WYSIWYG — you write in plain text and do italics with Markdown syntax. (Put asterisks around a work to italicize it.) You don’t even have to Save because that is done automatically. That keeps your mind in a writing mode, not an editing mode, and not a computer mode.

So you don’t have to switch to writing by hand or use the 1983 version of Wordstar on an MS-DOS PC like George R. R. Martin. You can use the same computer you are already using, but you have to run an app that is as distraction-free as those tools. Once you are done writing a story or chapter or book, you can then open your manuscript in an editing-oriented tool and do some surgery-like revisions or editing or spell-checking and so on.

Another thing is to make sure to turn off Wi-Fi and notifications when you are writing. Don’t let the computer run interruptions while you are writing.

You may also want to run your distraction-free writing tool on its own computer with Wi-Fi and notifications turned off. Maybe your old computer. Maybe an iPad with Bluetooth keyboard. Even a second-hand iPad. Maybe in a quiet room on a little desk with comfortable chair, and you go in there to write and it is all optimized to be distraction-free.


This isn't technically an answer to your question, but for me, as a new writer, I am concerned with getting my thoughts out as fast as possible i.e. Before I forget them. It's not pretty and requires reworking. But if I spend the time to focus much on how I'm presenting the thoughts, I sacrifice in raw creativity.


The easy answer is: Do what works for you. The computer is a marvelous tool, but that doesn't mean it's the best way to do every possible job.

Personally, when I'm working on a book or an article, I always write on the computer. It's easy to back up and rewrite a sentence, re-arrange text, etc. I often change my mind as I go along, so I like the way on the computer I can delete a few words or a sentence, type the new thing, and it's all clean and neat.

But there are many tasks that I COULD do on a computer but which I find easier to do on paper. For example, for my job I have to keep track of how many hours I spend on each project each day. I used to do this with a piece of software that includes a feature designed for this. But then I noticed: On the computer: Start up the program. Navigate through the menus to the place where you enter hours. Select the appropriate project. Set the status to "in work". Set several other irrelevant fields that are required by the software. Scroll down to where I can enter the number of hours. Type in the hours. Click OK. Click Save. Shut down the program. On paper: I keep a piece of paper on the corner of my desk. When I finish working on a task, I grab the piece of paper, scribble an abbreviation of the project name and the number of hours. Done.

If you're spending a lot of time wrestling with the mechanics of doing things on the computer, or if you're not a very fast or accurate typist, the computer may be more trouble than it's worth.

It is often more difficult to go back and forth between things on a computer than on paper. On the computer, you may have to scroll around, search, and generally press a bunch of keys. On paper, you pick up the pen and put it down in the new place.

While computers are getting lighter and more compact, if you want to sit back on the sofa and write it's more comfortable to hold a pad and pen than a laptop. Or to put a desktop on your lap.

Et cetera.

As I say, it's what works for you.

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