I am curious which is better for a beginning writer (or writer) starting a new story. Pen and paper or the computer?

Pen & Paper is a lot more sketchy (like the layout of this site) which gives the feeling of a prototype and may allow ideas to flow better. Ideas are jotted down as they come and can be refined at a later date. Using a word processor on the other hand is neater and can make text look polished when it is not or make the writer feel the need to polish something before its sufficiently fleshed out.

  • @Justin - This is beyond just being subjective, asking which is "better" is unanswerable. Perhaps ask what the benefits and disadvantages to both are? Nov 19, 2010 at 0:32
  • @neilfein - Good point, thanks for pointing that out. Is this better? Nov 19, 2010 at 2:05
  • Do you suppose anyone uses an audio recorder these days?
    – mootinator
    Nov 19, 2010 at 3:13
  • @mootinator - I do, for journaling on the road. Not that often, as transcribing is no fun. Nov 19, 2010 at 3:36
  • 2
    @neilfein - I tried . . . Lets close this one as the other question has a great answer anyways. Nov 19, 2010 at 15:44

8 Answers 8


I think this is completely a matter of personal preference. I always write on the computer, unless pen and paper is all that's available; it just works better for me. I know someone who can't work at all unless he's writing physically. I know people who really don't care. A beginning writer should just mess around and find what's best for him.

  • 1
    I would also add that you should be willing to play around with your medium now and then. Sometimes moving from a computer to pen and paper can help clear out the mental blocks.
    – Fox Cutter
    Nov 19, 2010 at 21:44
  • @FoxCutter Agreed. I recently fell into a rut while writing and I found that sitting down with a pad and a pencil helped me refocus.
    – StrixVaria
    Nov 19, 2010 at 21:45

@Maulrus pretty much summed things up: whatever lets you get the words down. I'd add that if pure productivity is required (assuming you can type at a reasonable speed), directly onto the computer is going to be a much faster way of working. You type faster than you write, and eventually you're going to type it up anyway.

That said, I still like writing freehand first because I can do it anywhere, I like the physicalness of it ("look what I made!"), and the process of typing up actually becomes the first edit.


My approach is to get my thoughts down on paper first. So, I often use mind maps and diagrams to sketch out my thoughts for my stories. Once I have a good understanding of the direction I want to take the novel, I move to the computer and start writing.


Personally, I hate writing anything on paper, because I can't do anything with the words later. I always use a computer (desktop or laptop).


I try to write primarily at the computer, for the sake of revision control. However, when I'm stuck I find that switching to fountain pen or typewriter can help me push through the block. Just the fact of changing from one medium to another can get my brain to "reset" sometimes, and I find it easier to get out of a rut and into a rhythm with the increased tactile feedback. Also, since I work at the computer for a living, getting away from backlit screens when I can helps fight eye strain, and my typing is fast enough that transcription is an almost-trivial task.


My first principle is this: the essence of writing is rewriting. The media that encourage you to rethink what you rewrite are better choices than ones that don't.

I like that computers and software help create a distinction, even a divide, between rewriting and mere word processing. As we rewrite, most of us do both to varying degrees. The rate at which we can change what we've made visible has a feedback effect of one sort or another.

So while it is easier and faster to execute on a computer, it also feeds my impatience and occasionally helps me make fast decisions at the expense of a better one.

Sometimes I want to feel what I'm writing, which calls for a typewriter. Sometimes I want the sense of what I'm writing to burn into my memory, at which point I write on paper. Sometimes I want to carry around something in a notebook, not a file folder.

I suppose what I am speaking to here is the act of writing itself as a multi-dimensional experience. I vote for all of them; each one is a means for self-discovery.

My last word on word-processing: if what you've written or machine-typed really needs to get to an electronic form, you may be utterly surprised at the effect of someone else typing your words in has on you. I urge you to try it at least twice.


Neal Stephenson famously writes his books out longhand.

Of course, he also only publishes a book every 4 years or so.

I've never been able to understand people who preferred longhand or typewriters, but this is mostly because I can't stand losing something I've written, and this is all too easy with hardcopy.

  • 1
    only? what is your rate? Dec 1, 2010 at 6:04

Pen and paper. No batteries needed. Convert to electronic form using speech-to-text software.

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