Longhand Short Paragraphs

I’m in a funny mood today. It’s early, I’ve been sitting here sipping strong coffee and thinking. I’ve also been cruising social media. Did you know there’s a kind of fungus that looks exactly like a dropped toasted marshmallow? I can’t share the photo, it’s not mine, but… What? You don’t get amazing fungus images on your social media? There are groups for that. I hang out in ones for mosses, mushrooms, wildflowers, and birds. Happy places.

Trillium sessile (Montgomery County, OH early April)

But I digress. That’s a relaxation thing, not a work thing. And while I was pondering writing a post on sex symbols on the silver screen and why the sex symbols in books are different, that seems to be self-explanatory – although the divergences between readers and film geeks are interesting on other levels as well. Anyway, I’m hardly one to delve into that topic, as I grew up without television, but plenty of books. Like the ugly duckling, I imprinted early, and hard, on books. Writing… not so much. Mom talks about fighting me to get me to write more than a sentence or two until I was in my teens. I wanted to be outside, looking at wild things (see above list for a small section of them) not inside at the kitchen table writing lines. I told myself stories, sure. I didn’t write them down. Mom was also defeated in her attempt to teach me beautiful handwriting. We had to do practice sheets. I remember Spencerian, and Italic, and I can do a little calligraphy to this day. My handwriting? Hah. Yeah, that’s not pretty.

Part of the story later titled “The Great Chicken Escape”

I can read my own writing, at least. Which is good, because recently I’ve been doing a fair amount of writing longhand into a lined notebook. It’s not that my muse insisted. No, it’s that I have been bored out of my mind, and it was sit and stare at the wall, or I could write. Writing on my phone would not be a good optic (and my phone battery is dying, to my annoyance since it’s not one that can be replaced easily) so a small notebook is the option. And as I type up my efforts in the evening I realized something about writing longhand. It forces me into writing shorter. Not necessarily short stories – although most of what I’ve produced in the last month have been a short, and then a children’s chapter book (still in progress. Yes, I am finally writing a children’s book! No, this one hasn’t got dragons).

The paragraphs are shorter. I think it’s because they look long on the page. A page in this book, in my handwriting, runs about 300 words. I’m not saying that left to myself writing on the computer, I’ll write 300 word paragraphs, but I suspect I have done so more than once without thinking it through. Especially if I have been reading nineteenth century literature. I have a mind like a sponge. It soaks up what I expose it to, and then when I squeeze, I get back out stuff flavored like that. I don’t think I’m the only writer to do this. What I wasn’t expecting was that the limitations of handwriting would change my composition. For one thing, my hands start to hurt after a couple of pages. This makes me choose what I’m writing a little more carefully than typing, where it takes much longer for my hands to feel the effort. For another thing, the paragraphs look bigger on the page with handwritten letters. I think this is tricking my brain into thinking ‘long enough, time for a hard return.’

It would be interesting to see if typing on a manual typewriter would change my composition too. Hm. That might make me go all noirish. Perfect for Hatrack! Sadly, I haven’t got one. No idea what happened to the machine Mom taught us to type on. There’s a reason Mom made us practice handwriting and writing longhand. You can’t teach word processing or computing when you haven’t got electricity. Or for that matter a computer. I was given a Brother Wordprocessor when I went to college. It had no memory, just a floppy disc, and a tiny little screen. It’s not the most primitive computer I’ve worked on.

And now I’m sitting here in the dark (my writing office is currently in the master bedroom) typing by touch on keys backlit in a rainbow of colors. I didn’t buy the laptop for the backlit keys, and I was NOT expecting them when I fired it up. To my amusement, this ‘gaming’ laptop has pretty bells and whistles. Which is why I named it Iris. Where was I? Ah, yes, the weightlessness of a modern writing setup. I can write here easily, or I could grab my Itty-Bitty setup of iPad and bluetooth keyboard and go sit at the kitchen table, or… I have options. I wonder how much those changes affect my composition? The notebook surprised me, it’s been so very long since I wrote anything at length by hand. But every time I have to move offices I have discovered how much those changes affect my writing. Like the standing desk – that was a disaster. Or the same desk in the main area sharing with teens *buries head in hands* or the desk that is just a little too tall and forces my hands to type at an odd angle. The ergonomics change the words, because even if I am not thinking ‘ow, ow that hurts’ I’m compensating for it.

Which brings me back to the mushroom I started out with. Sort of. I haven’t seen that one myself, and it’s a bit chilly for ‘shrooms yet although in theory it’s morel season in Ohio. No, this is more about taking breaks from the writing. Getting out, letting your mind wander, and then when you come back to the notebook, or keyboard, or however you inscribe your thoughts in a permanent fashion, you’re ready to immerse yourself into it. You need both the writing time, and the non-writing.

Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

Header image: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) All photos by Cedar Sanderson


  1. When I write fiction longhand, I go slower, and need more time on word choices, since I can’t go back and edit quickly. I have to think the scene, then write what my mind sees, rather than letting things flow as quickly as with the keyboard. I also do less dialogue, since writing “talking” takes so much time. 🙂

    1. When I was flying for a company that also did “aerial application of agricultural inputs” (crop dusting), I was got a feed from a gent who had the fungus-of-the-month-club, with different fungi and slime molds. It was always interesting.

      1. I’m fairly sure Parasite of the Day has made it into my writing… merely enlarge the average parasite and OMFG…!!

  2. I’ve been writing short stories for the last several weeks and writing them longhand. Interesting to learn I’m not the only one. My paragraph length responds much the way yours does: the paragraphs look longer in handwriting than they do in type, so I insert that “hard return” sooner. 😉

  3. I love old gaming computers.

    Yes, they have pretty shinnies– they also tend to be very future proof, if you’re NOT playing cutting edge games set on max. ^.^

      1. I’m pretty sure you didn’t get the $3000 one, though! (If nothing else, the tech-tradition of never being the first adopter for anything is in full effect.)

          1. I’ve been buying Asus desktops/components for years and they have really solid computers, and their free support is pretty good; I can only imagine how good the paid program is.

      2. (I spend way too much time lusting over the really high end, cutting edge laptops…which I wouldn’t buy even if I *DID* play high end games, but soooo preeeeettttyyyyyyy……)

  4. If every change makes a difference, how much difference does the combination of writing instrument (ballpoint pen, gel pen, rollerball pen, hybrid pen, fountain pen, etc), paper (type, line spacing, size, etc), and writing position (whole pad/notebook versus single piece of paper) make ?

    To me, it makes a big difference, but I’m not writing novels.

    1. Fountain pen slows me and improves my handwriting. I love them, and used them a lot before 1. I moved and no longer had space for ink supplies (ink bottles+kitten = bad juju), and 2. the people who make my favorite note pads changed the glazing and now fountain pen ink soaks through. Since I have to use both sides of the page, that was a great disappointment. Now I use a hyper-find Japanese felt-tip, super-fine ball-points, and salivate over fountain pen catalogues.

      1. I’m a bit of a stationery geek, so I can’t help saying a little more.
        I don’t do long writing by hand, but find using pens (mostly) and pencils works better for planning, sketching out ideas, notes, and such.

        In general, I find fountain pens don’t slow me down (mostly using Kaweco Sport and Pilot Metropolitan). A couple affordable fountain pens you might look into are the Platinum Preppy 02 (extremely fine point, cartridge, carbon black ink available) and the TWSBI Eco (don’t have one, but it’s a very affordable piston filler). Someday I want the Platinum 3776 Chartres Blue with gold nib.

        I’m not a fan of ballpoints. I’ve tried felt tips and porous tips, but feel they don’t flow right (although I’ve been playing with a Uni EMOTT because I love its brown color).

        I love gels, but under <0.38mm they get too scratchy, so I'm normally use 0.38 to 0.5 mm (Uni, Pilot, Zebra). I highly recommend the Pentel 0.35mm Euro needle point Energel. For rollerballs, I have to say the Mont Blanc refill (which can be chopped to fit a Pilot G2) is wonderful, despite being expensive, short lived, and not a fine point.

        Notebook research is worth doing. I've found some very good deals at Daiso Japan, and one time snagged a bunch of Rhodia notebooks at closeout prices. For higher end, I stick to relatively affordable Tomoe River notebooks (thin paper that handles fountain pens pretty well).

  5. I hand the issue of revision by scribbling and adding arrows to indicate what goes where, when working longhand.

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