I Can’t Read My Writing, and That’s OK!

Photo by P.E.N

When last we met, I opened up a series on writing with (appropriately), a post on first drafts. In it, I chronicled my journey from anal retentive composer to brain-vomiting first draftsman. Following my writer’s journey into brain vomiting, I found my technique again lacking. I examined it from all angles until I realized something I had overlooked: I was writing on a computer and the organizational process became more important than the writing process. I would organize folders, inboxes, project folders, trying to find the best way that represented how my head worked. I learned an important lesson – my brain does not function like a Mac. It’s not pretty, it’s not functional, and it does whatever it wants to do. 

That’s when I pulled out the legal pads, pen, and paper clips. I found what was missing was the sensation of “writing,” not “typing.” And so I wrote, never once looking back at what had been written before – my handwriting, which would make a doctor say “hey, I’m not bad” also contributed to this. In the time since I adopted this method, I’ve written three feature scripts in a year, planned out the transmedia project that is Whiz!Bam!Pow! (, wrote the radio shows, films, novellas, and comic books that populate the WBP world, and learned the most important lesson a creative can learn:

Hemingway WAS right: the first draft of anything is shit.

I thought I’d take a few minutes and lay out the pros and cons of writing first drafts by hand (feel free to add your own in the comments). So here we go:

PRO: Because it’s handwritten, I know it’s not the final form it will take. It frees me from “Final Draft Format Fear Syndrome.”

CON: I can’t read my own writing… which can actually be a…

PRO: Because I can’t read my own writing (I can contextually figure out what I’m talking about, but I don’t handwrite to read, I handwrite to write), I’m not beholden to anything on the page, making my second, typed draft a wholly different draft than the original. Which is great, because that first draft SUCKS.

CON: All those handwritten pages can be a disaster to organize (but that’s what paper clips are for).

PRO: I can scribble all over the page, draw, and visualize my brain. I can’t do that with a computer, as I don’t think in tabs, return keys, or QWERTY. Computer drafts are too linear.

CON: You can’t get accurate page counts. (But, when I’m drafting something, I couldn’t care less about page counts. I only care about getting it on the page. Everything else is secondary.)

PRO: When you’re done with the handwritten first draft, you have a real, physical copy of your script, story, or article that is uniquely yours. Everybody’s draft looks the same on a computer print-out or PDF.

All of this is great, but there’s only way I can get there – by planning, planning, planning, researching, and planning. In my next post, I’ll talk about my pre-scribble technique, how I organize research, and the magic of Post-It Notes.

So how do you write that first draft? Be sure to add your own “Pros” and “Cons” to the list!

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   Anais said on August 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm

This is how I write, too! Handwriting is slower than typing, but it’s the only way I can get things down without editing myself to death. I like the Pro/Con list, Tyler :)

   Tyler said on August 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Thank you Anais! The delete key is far too tempting a siren when I’m typing (hence why I rewrote this comment five times already). Handwriting = no delete key = I’m not tempted to overedit.

Thanks again for the comment and for taking the time to read!


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