Sep 16, 2011

Longhand and Drawing on a Computer?

by Tanya Parker Mills

My apologies to those of you who subscribe to QueryTracker and have already read Carolyn Kaufman's blog posting on the relationship between creativity and writing in longhand. If you haven't yet read it, I highly recommend it.

I'm not going to argue her point because I agree with her to a large extent. I believe that the more cursive writing (or any physical writing, for that matter) is devalued in our school systems, the more problems we are going to see among our youth when it comes to writing and creativity.

But it did get me thinking about the ways in which people used to write. I remember being struck by all the journaling T.E. Lawrence did as a young man traveling around Europe during his summer vacations from school and university. Not only did he write, but he made a point of sketching most places he visited. I know that Tolkien did a lot of sketching as he mapped out his LOTR fantasy series. Having embarked upon a fantasy series myself, I've felt the need to sketch out pictures of some of the scenes I plan on writing about.

But can you do that on a computer and, if so, how?

Kaufman's blog post gave me the key: Since I got an iPad, I'd been looking for just such an app and she recommended one--Penultimate. I love it! You can write or draw with it and keep it all organized without using scads of paper. I think there's a way to convert each project to a PDF file and, if so, then I could also save it in my Series Bible (see my last post two weeks ago if you're not sure what I'm talking about) along with all my other research and ideas for my series.

Perhaps some of you have experience in this area. If so, please share. Or perhaps some of you have to begin your writing or even your entire first draft in longhand. I'd love to hear your reasons why. I'd also love to hear if any of you tend to draw (characters or scenes) as you write.


  1. I'll never forget my creative writing teacher in college describing how he wrote--with a certain kind of paper containing a certain amount of rag content, with a certain kind of pen and a certain kind of ink. He was a published poet. I don't think, however, that he got arthritis in his hands--as I have--making handwriting nearly impossible some days.

  2. I write longhand in a journal most days. It helps me think. I tend to start most writing projects out long hand in a spiral notebook. It makes it easier for me to leaf through the notes and arrange them later when I type on the computer. I just can't seem to find or read things on the computer. I get lost. Great post, thanks!

  3. I do tend to start things long hand. Maybe I am old school or maybe it is just what I have when I get an idea. I would draw things out if I were better at it. I would like to take some classes that way. I do doodle.

  4. Thanks for all your comments.

    Pam and Kari, I have always loved notebooks, particularly those with expensive, old-looking paper. Even with my iPad, I probably still will. But I'd drive my husband (and possibly myself) crazy if I had a stack of notebooks. For one thing, my memory is so poor that I'd have a hard time finding anything I wrote in the past. I rely on the computer for that. I do agree, though, that freehand writing really opens up your imagination.

    Susan, I was an obsessive doodler all through my school years. Perhaps I should go back to it. My daughter dated an artist (who is going to be a published author next year) and he never goes anywhere without his sketchbook.

  5. I write long hand when waiting for appointments - like at a doctor's office - then I transfer it to the computer when I get home - as my handwriting is deplorable and hard to read. I keep several notebooks - in my purse, in the car with pens / pencils. I've written on napkins or the back of receipts when needed.

    Many times when I'm trying to get a better idea of what things look like I sketch - but my talent isn't strong in that area.
    I've also use excel to map out a house blue print - and yard layout. Sometimes I go to google images and enter
    the subject I'm trying to visualize and choose two or three - print them out until I get the image firmly in my mind.

    Margaret Turley

  6. I almost exclusively use a computer now, because I get angry with my sloppy handwriting. LOL I still doodle a lot when I'm using a notepad at meetings. I used to be an artist, but lost that talent after I had kids and I stopped drawing.

    I've always thought those computer drawing programs looked like fun, except I'm left-handed, but I only use the mouse with my right hand. I wouldn't be able to figure out using an electronic art pad with my left hand. Weird, I know.

  7. Great post though I was tough to use the computer and that is my mode of writing. I take notes in conferences longhand but that is about all. Love the sense to erase and move paragraphs around in the page. I do enjoy reading in the computer too. :)
    Anna del C.
    Author of "The Silent Warrior Trilogy"

  8. My writing flows better for me if I write it out long hand first. I don't know why. I'm sort-of an artist, although I'm not sure why that would make it easier for me to get it on paper if I'm writing than if I'm typing. But it is. It's generally covered with arrows and stars and inserts and good stuff like that. Then, when I type it into the computer, it's almost like doing a first edit. I already have a back up copy! I also recently mapped out some scenes in my notebook, I've drawn a house plan, and I do take some kind of notebook and pen or pencil everywhere I go. I doodle a lot, and draw a lot in my journal.

    Interesting post, Tanya. Do you do word processing on your iPad?

  9. I use the computer for most things but I keep paper in my purse for if I'm stuck somewhere without a book.

    I do like to do lots of sketches. I started out life as a freelance artist (graduated from college as an artist) so my stuff is peppered with sketches. I probably should have illustrated my first book. Perhaps sometime I will.

    I find, sometimes, that my vision of a place changes with subsequent readings. Does anybody else have that happen?


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