I am amazed thinking how people used to write before the computer ever came about. Before that, everyone was forced to write on paper.

I'd very much like to write on paper but my ideas come in a random order and I'd like to be able to re-organize sentences into paragraphs, dissect paragraphs and move things about after I've got all my ideas written out.

When writing on paper, how can I cope with the randomness of the order in which ideas appear in my mind?

  • 1
    This is the exact reason I moved to a word processor as soon as I could. I can barely conceive of trying to write without the flexibility of digital typing anymore. May 30, 2012 at 19:20
  • 2
    Ditto here. But I just think that staying at the computer for long hours is hazardous not only for the physical health but also for the quality of writing I will produce. I'd like to be free of that poisonous rays the computer emits. I'd like to go old style. I think that I think better when I am not in front of a computer. The computer just makes me stop thinking. I get very conscious of that rays.
    – Sathyaish
    May 30, 2012 at 19:26
  • I've edited this so it's less of a question polling the community - how do you do this - and more of a question that's asking how one can edit on paper. May 30, 2012 at 22:03
  • with this question we can learn more about process designing
    – Ooker
    Nov 12, 2016 at 6:13
  • @Sathyaish, I feel exactly the same, that's why I decided to move from word processor to handwriting (as a writer friend on mine adviced me), it feels more free, and I can write in any place, whenever I want without the obligation of turning on my laptop ! But then the question of rearranging the paragraphs came... and I found your question !
    – Koblenz
    Apr 28, 2017 at 21:21

4 Answers 4


A lot of people find it easier to write and keep their ideas flowing when they are writing by hand. Unfortunately, as you suggest, that makes it difficult to rearrange the order in which your ideas get written down. If you decide to introduce a character earlier in the story or if you decide you need to provide more information to an earlier portion of the story it becomes a problem.

What I tend to do is just keep writing, without consideration of where everything need to fall into place. I will usually write comments in the margins to help me remember what I want to do with a new portion of text, and that often helps. In addition to this, I make sure I number my written pages so that I have a point of reference, and I will also number different sections of a story. For example, if I am writing a particular scene, I will draw a line in the margin to identify where that scene starts, and then I draw another line at the end of the scene. Then I can go back later and number the scenes. If I find myself adding content that needs to be placed elsewhere, I can refer to the page/section number to make it easier to organize when I start typing everything up.

Generally, I always write with an outline so that I can at least have a basic structure to start with. My outlines are usually numbered as well, so I may choose to refer to the outline numbering instead. Either way, as long as you can find a process that makes you comfortable and helps you to keep track of things, that's all that matters.

When I do start typing everything up, I will usually go through and read the handwritten copy first. At this time I will usually verify that my sections are numbered in the order in which I want them to appear by using red ink to number each section. That way if I have a section at the end of my handwritten copy that I wanted to appear earlier in the story, I can place it there as I'm typing to simplify the editing process later.


Here's a simple tip: use a legal pad (they are a little longer than standard notebook paper), and, on the first draft, confine your writing to the middle third of the paper (or thereabouts).

This scheme gives you plenty of room to rewrite the paragraph on the same page, if you want to overhaul it. It also lets you add a paragraph before (or after) the one you originally wrote.

As for reordering, you can label each paragraph its own number, and jot notes such as, "Move para. 13 here" and "Move this to after para. 21."

It's still nowhere as easy as a word processor, but, if you're set on writing in longhand, this arrangement can give you plenty of room for ad-hoc revisions.

  • I had another idea, when writing on a pad or large notebook, and it was to write on one page and let the next page blank, you can then insert corrections or notes on this page or entire paragraphs with an arrow to the original text to indicate the place of insertion (I saw something like that on a Joan Didion's manuscript)
    – Koblenz
    Apr 28, 2017 at 21:26

I have heard of people using 3x5 cards with good results (in case you are not familiar with them, "3x5" cards are made of card stock that measures 3 inches by 5 inches; it can be blank or have lines); it is pretty easy to put a single thought/sentence/paragraph on one card and reorder them in a stack or lay them out on a table and move them around in two dimensions.

Another quite different tool is "mind mapping" which is a technique for capturing ideas in a graphic fashion; it could help with the above-recommended outlining process.

Good luck! It is good to have the option of paper.


There is always the original "cut and paste". Write your ideas out, and, if you need to move stuff around, literally cut it up, and tack it down again. Once you have got the ordering you think you want, write it all out (you can scribble on the originals too, for minor amendments). Hopefully, you will then have something much closer. You can repeat the process.

  • that's what I did in grade school!
    – warren
    Jul 11, 2012 at 15:52
  • And it worked then. It still works. Jul 22, 2012 at 15:10

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