How I Write and Authors who handwrite novels

by Mike Shea on 4 January 2005

Last night I finished a short story called "Vrenna and the Red Stone". I seem less frightened of writing stories with gratuitous sex and violence for some reason. Perhaps I've been reading too much of Robert Howard's Conan.

The last page of Red Stone ended on the last page of my August through December Moleskine. I carefully labeled each of my used Moleskines with a slip of paper folded over the cover and fastened with the elastic band of the notebook. So today I get to start page 1 of my next story on the first page of a new Moleskine. That's a daunting page as many Moleskine junkies know. You want whatever you put in these books to be really good.

I have a pretty solid writing process now. While I am not exactly consistent, I get about 1000 to 2000 words a week written each week. I usually write when I get home from work around 6 or later in the evening around 11. I sit at a desk in my bed room which has no electronics anywhere near it. The only electronics in the room are three lamps and an alarm clock. I call this my "analog" room. I also have a poang chair from Ikea and a reading lamp to sit back, put up my feet, and pretend to read but pet the cat instead.

I handwrite about 250 to 500 words in a sitting in a Moleskine plain journal with a Waterman Expert 2 pen loaded with Pilot black .7mm G2 ink. I try not to do any editing save for a misspelled word or two. When I'm done with a story, the second draft gets typed into my computer using OpenOffice. I have a format template for the standard science fiction manuscript format (double spaced, 1" margins, courier new font).

Once finished, the story goes off to my best friend and editor. He beats on them and sends me an email with comments and specific suggestions aligned to quotes from the story. I open up the draft and make his corrections and then the story is finished.

Over the last year I think I've written about a dozen stories not including my Loral Ciriclight Everquest fan fiction. These stories include: The Fall of the Knives, The King's Man, Recruitment, The Blademaster, Mad Cow, Honesty, The Traffic Jam (which I wrote in a real live DC traffic jam), The Sword of Light, The Warlord's Legacy, The Bear, Pavlen (I wrote this short short in a boring meeting), The Demon Knight, Loyalty, Vrenna, and Vrenna and the Red Stone.

For some odd reason I became fascinated by authors who hand-write their novels. Sure, Orwell wrote 1984 longhand, he sort of had to, but what about modern authors who handwrite?

Neil Stephenson, author of Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, wrote Quicksilver longhand:

"The manuscript of The Baroque Cycle was written by hand on 100% cotton paper using three different fountain pens: a Waterman Gentleman, a Rotring, and a Jorg Hysek."

Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and Neverwhere, writes his first drafts in longhand:

"I'm writing my novel with two different fountain pens (a Lamy 2000, and a regular Lamy) filled with two different coloured inks (a greenish one and a reddish one), and I'm alternating pens each day, which means I can see at a glance how much writing I've actually done that day, or that week. More than five pages in the same colour of ink must have been a good day. The Lamy 2000 days are my favourites because the regular lamy, although a good pen for signing in, is less happy writing a novel, and handwriting like mine needs all the help it can get."

"One reason I like writing by hand is it slows me down a little, but it also forces me to keep going: I'm never going to spend half a day noodling with a sentence to try and get it just right, if I'm using a pen. I'll do all that when I start typing."

Gaiman is also a Moleskine fan:

"The Moleskine notebook (I bought it in Venice) is one of my favourite possessions already (although they sell it now as "Bruce Chatwin's Notebook!" which seems, I dunno, in faintly bad taste, although I'd be hard put to tell you exactly why I think so.) Just the right size. Just the right weight. an elastic band to hold it closed, a pocket to put invoices and so on. You can see a bit about it at -- now I have to find somewhere to buy them in the US."

Stephen King wrote Dreamcatcher all in longhand using a Waterman pen:

"This book was written with the world's finest word processor, a Waterman cartridge fountain pen."

"And I thought, wait a minute. First of all, writing longhand was physically easier for me, because of the location where I can work. But also, it brought the act of writing back to this very basic level, where you actually have to take something in your fist and make the letters on the page. So that instead of flying over the story, you know, I was forced to kind of get down and be infantry again."

"It slows you down. It makes you think about each word as you write it, and it also gives you more of a chance so that you're able-- the sentences compose themselves in your head. It's like hearing music, only it's words. But you see more ahead because you can't go as fast."

CBS News Today Show Interview with King

Joe Haldeman, author of The Forever War, writes in longhand:

"I write in longhand, in blank bound books. Fountain pen. I like pencils for drawing, but for whatever reason don't like writing with them -- perhaps they feel too tentative. I write one slow draft that requires little rewriting. (I'd never recommend this practice to a beginning writer. The overwhelming majority of successful writers do a fast first draft, and then polish it later.)"