Results of the TKZ Handwriting Experiment

A month ago, I wrote a post entitled Handwriting Versus Typing on the Kill Zone Blog. That post spurred a lot of comment, and BK Jackson suggested we conduct our own internal TKZ experiment to see what we might learn. (Thank you, BK!)

Seven intrepid experimenters hopped aboard the TKZ Handwriting research train: Priscilla Bettis, Patricia Bradley, Debbie Burke, Becky Friedrichs, Brenda (BK) Jackson, Robert Luedeman, and Kay DiBianca. We each agreed to do some or all of our writing in longhand over a seven-day period.

Each one sent the results of their efforts to the group. For the sake of brevity, I’ve excerpted part of their feedback below. I hope they will all add to their experiences in the comments.

Priscilla Bettis

Surprisingly, even without editing as I wrote, the first draft didn’t turn out as cringe-worthy as I expected. Writing slower gave my brain extra time to reword a sentence before it actually made it down my arm and through the pen to the paper.

Overall, I think writing by hand took a little more time (the drafting plus having to type it all in afterwards), but in the long run it has no doubt saved me an entire editing pass.

In my WIP, the MC is a poet. Each chapter has a poetic epigraph. Writing poems longhand produced much better results.

Will I keep it up? Oh, I hope so! I dread it a little because it takes more concentration to write by hand, but the result is better.

Patricia Bradley

I wrote for about an hour a day on my iPad using my iPen and the software Nebo, mostly brainstorming. I don’t seem to be able to write a scene yet longhand. Using the iPen and iPad I didn’t have to then type it in but it didn’t totally transcribe it the way I wrote it. I blame that on my terrible penmanship. It probably would’ve been the same way if I’d had to transcribe it myself. Ha!

I will keep writing longhand for about an hour before I start working on the WIP since it seemed to give me good ideas and direction.

Debbie Burke

My experiment with handwriting was a mixed success. I wrote out a list of scenes in my WIP, trying to figure out the best order. That helped b/c I rearranged some scenes. It also showed me that there were too many very short scenes from different POVs that felt jerky.

Drafting by hand didn’t work at all for me b/c I edit as I draft. Soon there were so many scratched-out lines, words inserted above or below, and circled phrases with arrows pointing in different directions, it was unreadable.

Becky Friedrichs

My plan was to start a brand new story so I could go into it without any preconceived ideas from books I’d already started. I wasn’t going to try to get each sentence, each word, exactly right, but just get the story down.

On day one, it took me exactly two hours to write 1203 words, which was discouraging. I once wrote a book of 85,000+ words in ten days, so this seemed terribly slow. On the positive side, the story unspooled as I saw it in my mind, and I completed 7,223 words in the seven days.

I think I have a different perspective on writing now. I no longer believe I must be sitting at my desk in my office and typing on either a desktop or laptop, with the door closed and no noise.

Brenda (BK) Jackson

I wrote 4,659 words during that 7 day period. That was 6.09 hours spent handwriting, plus it took another 2.2 hours to transcribe.


  • I found the time transcribing gave me time to add comments and thoughts about things I might want to revise later, ideas to add, etc.
  • I definitely felt freer creatively to write longhand–there’s just something about pen/paper contact that breaks through mental blocks. I’m not saying I solved all my story problems as I wrote, but I got scenes down, instead of just staring at my computer screen & having nothing to show for it.


  • It took a little over 8 hours to write/transcribe 4,659 words. That’s about 582 words/hour. However, while sometimes I can produce far more than that in an hour, there are plenty of times sitting at a keyboard where I can’t even produce that much.

Robert Luedemen

I tried it this week and it didn’t work for me at all. What I found was that using pen and paper slowed down the free flow of ideas, and I can try out different things at a better pace on the keyboard. Also, if I need to research a point about something I can open up another window and get right to it.

I still use pen and paper to jot down snippets of things I want to save for future reference.

Kay DiBianca

I wrote during six days of the past week, and only part of that was in longhand. Although I didn’t keep very careful note of word count, I’m guessing I managed between 1,500 to 3,000 words. The handwriting didn’t take as long as I thought it would. The problem was just having to type it in afterwards, but that gave me a chance to edit, so it wasn’t a total time waste.

I do believe the handwriting flowed a little better, though I can’t quite put my hand on why that was. It was just a different, and possibly more pleasurable, experience.

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So there you have it. Empirical data from trusted sources.

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So TKZers: What do you think of our handwriting experiment? Will you do part of your future writing with pen and paper? Any thoughts or suggestions?

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About Kay DiBianca

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who retired to a life of mystery. She’s the award-winning author of three mystery novels, The Watch on the Fencepost, Dead Man’s Watch, and Time After Tyme. Connect with Kay on her website at

44 thoughts on “Results of the TKZ Handwriting Experiment

  1. Debbie, my first novels were written long-hand, pre PC days. I also edit as I go, and my trick was to write a footnote number where I needed to do a big change, then I’d flip over to the backside of the paper, write the footnote number, then do what I needed to do. A bunch of my editing is filling in what I left out so this works quite well.

  2. The interesting thing to me about this experiment was that I am more relaxed writing long-hand than at a keyboard.

    While the pressures of time preclude always writing long-hand, what I’d like to do is dedicate some time to writing long-hand one day a week, say on Saturdays. Perhaps, since I find it easier for scenes to come long-hand, doing it regularly will transfer that free-flow to my keyboarding sessions too.

    That, and I must remember to transcribe my writing within a few days while it’s fresh, because my handwriting is terrible! 😎

  3. An interesting experiment. I type fast; longhand would slow me drastically. I make changes as I go; good ideas might get forgotten if I wait. I insert notes to myself flagged with “zxc,” a fast sequence that is easy to search on. There is a botanic garden 3 or 4 miles from me, and I sometimes sit under a tree and write with a pen. Mostly, I brainstorm there, not much scene writing. It’s quiet, and I can walk the shady or sunny paths to let things perk before the next stint. I may try that again soon.

    • Sitting under a tree and writing sounds like a wonderful way to come up with ideas in an idyllic setting. I’m reminded of Omar Khayyam. “A book of verses underneath the bough …”

      It’s interesting that each of us is coming up with a custom-made way to add a little handwriting into our journey.

  4. A complaint I’ve heard many times about writing longhand is it’s hard to read one’s own handwriting. I use a French-ruled notebook to write. (Been using these notebooks for years for my Morning Pages.) It’s a grid of squares with three horizontal lines in each square. (Google French-ruled paper for an image.) It significantly helps to keep my cursive readable!

    • Good morning, Priscilla.

      Thanks for taking part in the experiment, and thanks for the tip on French-ruled paper. I need a new notebook, and I’m going to give it a try.

      I’m looking forward to your book about the poet. Having a poetic epigraph to introduce each chapter sounds intriguing.

    • Several of us found the editing during transcription to be productive. I wonder if going from one medium to another has something to do with that.

  5. Thanks, Kay, and your group of researchers. Very interesting. I found bits and pieces in each researcher’s comments that seemed to be my experience (from past experimenting with paper vs. puter).

    I like pen and paper to brainstorm, sketch, mind-map, etc. But after that, I switch to the computer. Since I can type faster than I can write, and I often have trouble deciphering what I wrote (if it’s been more than a day), I find it more efficient to work on the computer after the initial creative abstract ideas coalesce into something more concrete.

    I don’t think I’ll change my approach, but I would like to learn to write more legibly. I should practice that.

    Oh, did anyone mention their favorite pen. I like to write with the Pilot G-2 07. Feels a little like writing with a fountain pen.

    • Good morning, Steve.

      It’s interesting that each of us finds our own way to incorporate handwriting into our writing habit.

      Thanks for mentioning what kind of pen people use. Other than Patricia who used an iPen on her iPad, I don’t think any of the rest of us commented on that. I usually grab the nearest ballpoint pen and start writing. Maybe I should rethink that.

  6. I regret having missed the original post on this as it looks like it was a fascinating experiment for all involved.
    Like Marilynn, my firsts were done longhand, before I purchased an electric typewriter (which my roommates HATED), but as soon as I mastered the basics of Word on a pc, I was in heaven!
    I could (almost) keep up with my thoughts, and I no longer had to worry about my atrocious handwriting!
    Like Debbie, mine is mostly unreadable. It’s a mishmash of cursive and block print (the latter being a holdover from my sign-making days), with a touch of shorthand thrown in. I do still send handwritten correspondence, but to make it legible, I must stick to the signmaker’s “block print” and use a very specific pen to slow my hand!

    I suppose overall, I’m still a hybrid.
    Seeing the scene unfold can happen anywhere, at any time (usually inconveniently, like at a meeting or in the shower. Aren’t we all like that?)
    Like Robert, I’ll make notes on paper (envelopes, sticky notes, receipts, napkins… whatever’s to hand. There’s even a ruled-paper binder in my truck for this purpose!) Later, I’ll convert my scribble to type, and, unless the notated scene corresponds to something current, it gets slotted into a folder labeled as “Shorts.”
    But for clear scene composition (stitching those jotted scenes into something useful), I need the ease of a computer. My version of J Gunther’s “zxc” is the highlighter function.

    • Thanks for your comments, Cyn.

      Over the years, I migrated to block print, but I’m going to write my longhand in cursive. I’d like to try the French-lined paper Priscilla recommends to see if that helps.

  7. I am a major plotter. Before I even sit down to type a scene I write out by hand the goal of the chapter and what is important to get across (mystery clue, foreshadowing, MC or C’s personal life, etc.).

    With that said, once I had an idea and sat up all night and typed over 8K words – most of which I loved.


  8. Thank you, Kay and intrepid researchers for performing this experiment. It’s fascinating.

    My first two novel attempts, many years ago, were written in longhand. The second was a complete novel, which I finished while accompanying my wife to a lace making conference she attended at the University of British Columbia. I scribbled furiously away in the dorm room while she was at the conference.

    I find writing in longhand accesses my creativity a bit differently than typing. These days, I’ll write a fragment of a scene or brainstorm on paper. The other big benefit is that it can be a great “block” breaker when I’m having trouble getting moving, say pas a plot issue or overcoming self-doubt about what I’m writing.

    The problem is that my handwriting is atrocious, and, at times, it takes a lot of effort to decipher. Years ago I checked out a copy of “Write Now”, a book on handwriting in basic and cursive italic by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay but didn’t get far. I should pick up a copy and really give it ago.

    Fascinating post and a great start to the week.

    • Good morning, Dale.

      “I find writing in longhand accesses my creativity a bit differently than typing.” This was also my biggest takeaway from the experiment.

      From all the comments today, it sounds like we should all take a look at “Write Now.”

  9. Love Debbie’s Buck Rogers decoder ring! I do find writing longhand taps into a part of my brain that typing doesn’t, and I need to discipline myself to do it more often. I’ve been thinking through my keyboard for so long it’s hard to revert to longhand.

    • Good morning, Patricia.

      I agree with you that longhand adds a dimension to our writing. Now if I can just discipline myself to write some longhand every day.

      We definitely need to get Debbie to write a post on that decoder ring. 🙂

  10. Very cool experiment! It was interesting to read where everyone ended up.

    We weren’t allowed to have bad handwriting so that’s never been an issue for me.

    For morning pages and project notes I use a blue Pilot V7 (though I have them in a variety of colors).
    For my work journal and submission book I use blue fine point Cross Classic Century.

    For storyboarding I use post-it notes inside a file folder (different color for each project. That keeps it portable since I’m on the go most of the time.

    Happy writing, however you do it!

  11. Ah, those with young hands and the option of writing long hand. Two of my careers destroyed the joints in both thumbs and writing with pen and paper are no longer an option. Even before that my handwriting was unreadable. My staff at my flower shop used to bet each other with pitchers of margaritas who could decipher my writing, even my printing. Sigh. I tried to write as fast as my thoughts. Disastrous.

    I plan to look into Priscilla’s suggestion of the French Lined Paper. Anything to help improve in my writing. Tere are times it is the only option.

    So, for me, the laptop is the only option. I’ve gotten so used to it, that I find even for cards and letters I write them out on my computer and then copy them onto paper when I must because I find it easier to compose, mentally. Our brains are fascinating organs, aren’t they?

  12. I journal in long-hand. Somehow, my feelings flow better with pen and paper. I tried journaling in a log I created on my laptop, but it felt too much like work.

    And for authoring stories? I do better with my computer because it’s faster.

    This was very interesting, hearing all the varied methods. Truly, no two authors are exactly alike . . . which is why authoring is so much fun. 🙂

  13. I don’t know whether mind mapping on a graph paper pad counts as longhand but I do that quite a bit.

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