April 1 – 7: “Do you type your first draft, or write it long hand?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5For your first draft, do you automatically turn to your computer, or perhaps a notebook and a pencil instead? Do you type it, or write it in long hand? This week we’re joined by ITW Members Rachel Howzell Hall, August Norman, T. R. Kenneth, Cathy Ace, Caitlin Starling, Jerry Kennealy, Gary Haynes, Elisabeth Elo, J. H. Bográn, Nicole Bross, Lynn Cahoon and Kris Frieswick and we’re talking first drafts. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss it!


Nicole Bross is an author from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she lives with her husband, two children and one very large orange cat. When she’s not writing or working as the editor of a magazine, she can be found curled up with a book, messing around with her ever-expanding collection of manual typewriters or in the departures lounge of the airport at the beginning of another adventure. Past Presence is her debut novel.


Jerry Kennealy was the recipient of “The Eye,” the 2017 Life Achievement Award by the Private Eye Writers of America. Jerry.has worked as a San Francisco policeman and as a licensed private investigator in the City by the Bay. He has written twenty-five novels, including a series on private eye Nick Polo, two of which were nominated for a Shamus Award. His books have been published in England, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Spain. Jerry lives in San Bruno, CA. with his wife and in-house editor, Shirley.


Originally from central Indiana, thriller and mystery author August Norman has called Los Angeles home for two decades, writing for and/or appearing in movies, television, stage productions, web series, and even, commercial advertising. A lover and champion of crime fiction, August is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and Sisters In Crime (National and LA), and regularly attends the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference.


Elisabeth Elo is the author of FINDING KATARINA M., just out from Polis Books and described by Booklist as a “heart-stopping saga,” and NORTH OF BOSTON, chosen by Booklist as a Best Crime Novel Debut: 2014.  Elisabeth grew up in Boston, attended Brown University, and earned a PhD in English from Brandeis.  She worked as a children’s magazine editor, a high-tech marketer and product manager, and a halfway house counselor before starting to write fiction.


TR Kenneth has long been focused on the Nazi regime and Reinhard Heydrich in particular who was a main architect of the Holocaust. In A ROOM FULL OF NIGHT, the author takes the reader from modern flyover America to deep inside the darkest reaches of the Third Reich where everyman hero, Stag Maguire, is forced to confront the shadowed corners of human infamy. She divides her time between London, Singapore and the US.


J. H. Bográn is an international author of novels, short stories and scripts for television and film. He’s the son of a journalist, but ironically prefers to write fiction rather than facts. His genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. Currently divides his time as Resource Development Manager for Habitat for Humanity Honduras, teaching classes at a local university, and writing his next project. He lives in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with his wife, three sons and a “Lucky” dog. His motto is “I never tell lies, I only write them!”


Cathy Ace’s latest novel, The Wrong Boy, is her thirteenth. Luckily for her it’s also her first ever amazon #1 bestseller. Why not write a psychological suspense standalone, even though you’re known for an award-winning series of traditional whodunits, and another featuring cozy British PIs? She migrated from Wales to Canada at the age of forty, where she now lives on, and tends, five rural acres – aided by her green-fingered husband and green-pawed chocolate Labrador.


Rachel Howzell Hall writes the acclaimed Lou Norton series, including Land of Shadows, Skies of Ash, Trail of Echoes, and City of Saviors, and is also the co-author of The Good Sister with James Patterson, which was included in the New York Times bestseller The Family Lawyer. She is on the board of directors for Mystery Writers of America, and lives in Los Angeles.


Caitlin Starling is a writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, comes out from HarperVoyager on April 2, 2019. Caitlin also works in narrative design for interactive theater and games, and is always on the lookout for new ways to inflict insomnia.


Gary Haynes studied law at university before becoming a commercial litigator. He is interested in history, philosophy and international relations. When he’s not writing best-selling thrillers or reading other people’s novels, he enjoys watching European films, traveling, hill walking and spending time with his family.


Lynn Cahoon is the award-winning author of several New York Times and USA Today best-selling cozy mystery series. The Tourist Trap series is set in central coastal California with six holiday novellas releasing in 2018-2019. She also pens the Cat Latimer series available in mass market paperback. Her newest series, the Farm to Fork mystery series, released in 2018. She lives in a small town like the ones she loves to write about with her husband and two fur babies.


Kris Frieswick is a journalist, editor, humorist, teacher and author whose work has appeared in national magazines, newspapers and books for over twenty years. She is an avid cyclist, cook and traveler. She lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and St. Croix, USVI, with her husband.



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  1. A little of both. I work very hard on the first chapter, and I have a general idea of the way the book will end. But in between, I write the draft on the computer, a foolscap tablet or Starbucks paper napkins. Eventually, hopefully, everything ends up on the computer.

    1. “Hopefully” being the operative word there, right?
      I’ve lost a few pages/ideas over the years. That’s why now I snap a picture and load it to the cloud for back up in case something happens to the manuscript section of the draft. 🙂

  2. I sincerely wish I could write longhand. You never know when you’ll be without a computer! (lol) I feel my subconscious doesn’t work well with hand cramps. Additionally I have so much historical research in my books that I have to do a lot of cut and paste. Without a computer, this would be a nightmare. I have to admire those who can just plunk down at will and write with a pen. You can create anywhere. I also admire those authors of old. They had it rough without technology. Theirs was a fine achievement using only a quill.

  3. I always write in longhand at first. It doesn’t usually rise to the level of a draft; it’s just a lot of scenes with dialog and some description and character sketches. Just whatever pops into my head. I write chapter summaries when I can. I might even go for chapter summaries of the entire novel—this is usually pointless at such an early stage but I like to try. It’s like feeling your way around a room in the dark just to see what’s there. Writing in longhand keeps it fluid and speculative. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t read my own handwriting half the time. I figure the good ideas will stick in my mind and the bad ones will be lost.

  4. As someone who holds their pen like a wrench, the most important class I ever took was seventh grade typing. An authoritative woman named Mrs. Cox barking ASDF-space was what allowed me to express creative thoughts in a way that my handwriting never could or will. Even the few checks I write today are questioned by people who want my money. Long story short, I write via computer keyboard only using Scrivener, particularly enjoying the ability to write in non-linear order.

  5. I’m team tech all the way. I write on my laptop, I track my progress and word count in spreadsheets, and I keep notes on my phone. I tried the cue-card outline system once, and it was a mess. So died my first attempt at a handwritten writing project since grade school. I think the reason why I prefer digital over analog is because I can type much faster than I can write longhand, and my short-term memory retention is pretty terrible so I can literally forget the end of a sentence before I get to it. I greatly admire our author ancestors who toiled away with their quills and parchment, but it’s not for me. #sorrynotsorry.

    That said, I have a deep and abiding love for manual typewriters, and at current count own 19 of them. I think they represent a decent compromise between digital word processors and longhand. Once you get a feel for a certain model you can type almost as fast as on a computer, and the fact that there isn’t the corrective failsafe of a backspace does make you more careful with your word choice. The downside is that once you’re done you have a single copy of your work, which you have to retype as you edit. There’s also the danger of it getting lost or destroyed. I can’t imagine the agony of losing an entire draft to a flood or fire. Long live the cloud and backup files!

  6. Hello everyone! I’m so excited to be part of this conversation with such a great group of writers and readers. My book debuts tomorrow (as does Caitlin’s) so having this conversation is a nice way to take my mind off the AARGHAAHGHGAHHHH of launching my debut.

    The question is – first draft: type or long hand. The answer for me is type, but I really really wish I could do longhand. Here’s why:

    Back when I was in the 8th grade in my tiny, rural, not-wealthy hometown of Sutton, Massachusetts, I was identified as an advanced student. My parents didn’t want me to skip a grade, so they asked the school to put me into an advanced placement class. The school, unclear on the concept of AP, assigned me to a freshman typing class. I begged for history or math or something “real,” but typing it was.

    Sometimes, things turn out exactly as they’re meant to. That class was one of the most valuable classes I ever took. At the end of that semester, I typed 120 words per minute, the fastest in the class. This skill made every single class easier because I could write and edit my papers faster than anyone else. At 13, I got a job transcribing interview notes for a local non-profit. It made college easier, and it made my first jobs in daily newspapers easier because I could hit deadlines and do re-writes like a champ. My computer screen became an extension of my brain and it got to the point where I didn’t even have to think about typing words – I just thought them and they flowed through my fingers onto the screen.

    Not every thought should appear on the screen. Longhand forces you to slow down and think, something you don’t really have to do whey you’re typing into a computer. Longhand activates a different part of your brain – it feels like a deeper part, a quieter part, where thoughts have time to marinate. For my next book, which I’m starting as soon as book tour is over, I’ve already started writing out character descriptions and plot arcs in long-hand to try to tap into another part of my creativity. Then they get transferred Scrivener, the software I use for everything word-related, to become part of the work.

    However, as a long-time journalist, I’ve become so “time” focused that it is extremely frustrating to see how slowly the human hand works. I have wrestled mightily with working through that frustration and learning patience to let those notes come out of my pen instead of computer. I, like most of us i suspect, are a constant work in progress, no matter how much we’ve done.

    I am so eager to hear how my fellow blogger/ writers handle this. Looking forward to your replies!

    1. Kris, I am so jealous of your typing ability! I decided in high school that the best way to avoid being someone’s assistant was to NOT know how to type, so I very proudly did not take the typing class that was offered, and now I am a three-fingered typist and even though I look at the keyboard constantly, I still make tons of mistakes. I waste a lot of time not just typing slowly but retyping slowly. It’s really frustrating. I’ve tried a couple of programs to teach myself but I eventually get impatient and revert back to my three fingers. Why three? No idea.

      For me writing in longhand probably has as much to do with being a bad typist as anything else. Although I do like longhand for all the reasons that have been mentioned.

      If any of you have suggestions on how to learn to type, do tell!

  7. I type everything on my laptop. I have written my first drafts this way for the past ten years. The main reason is that it makes the editing stage of writing so much easier. There is also something satisfying about having a full draft in a word.doc.

    The only time I write in long hand is to record a phrase or a word that might pop into my head when I’m out walking or watching TV. I always keep a notebook and pencil with me just in case, so I can jot it down. I have learned from experience that if I don’t jot it down immediately, those words float away and are never recaptured.

  8. Oh good, I’m not alone in getting the dreaded longhand writing cramps! I almost always type. I grew up on computers, and typing is second nature to me. I collect scraps and thoughts in One Note on the go or when ideas pop up during my day job, I text myself things to remember, and I draft in Scrivener. I move around out of chronological order, I drag and drop, and I play.

    (Beyond the first draft, I still mostly type– unless I’m completely caught on a problem. Then writing by hand seems to lower the stakes enough that I can start brainstorming!)

    I do keep my progress list on a white board, though. Something about actually drawing a checkmark in a box instead of clicking a button makes progress and achievement feel much more real and lasting.

    Do you find that writing in long hand or typing helps more or less with certain parts of your writing process?

  9. Good morning, everyone! I actually just finished doing what this question just asked–I write my first draft in long hand. For me, typing first seems less forgiving (and just typing this into the comment box makes me hold my breath) and everything has to come out perfectly. I love the smooth glide of a good pen across a legal pad. I also use different colored pens for each chapter. Yeah, I love office supplies. I also like writing in the margins once I realize more things about the story I’m writing. The words are imprinted better in my brain when I write with pen and pad. And I’m free just to create, not to take it as serious.

    Once I have that draft ready, I’ll go back and type it into Word. So, I even get in an additional edit as I transcribe. Then, I print out all those pages and do my edits in pencil.

    THEY ALL FALL DOWN, like my other novels, took about six drafts before I felt comfortable enough to send to my agent.

  10. I find that longhand helps me brainstorm better, because the stakes are lower for a “finished” product. It’s funny though, I rarely go back to read what I wrote. The process of writing it down sometimes is enough for it to form in my mind into a coherent narrative. Does anyone else do that?

    1. One of my teachers said exactly that Kris, many, many years ago now–writing it down (whatever subject it is) helps commit it to memory even if you never look at it again. I find I do that at conferences–jot things down but rarely look at them afterwards.

      1. Elisabeth- I’ve read that there’s some sort of scientific, neurological phenomenon at work here – it is a pretty powerful tool. Lots of schools are going back to pen and paper for students to use to take notes and taking away the computers and tablets for this very reason.

    2. I agree – thinking and handwriting go “hand in hand” for me (yes, dreadful pun intended) but when it comes to getting the manuscript done, I find the tapping sound almost hypnotic!

    3. I do! Longhand is where it’s at for brainstorming – even though I use pretty fluid programs while typing (Scrivener, OneNote), something about being able to draw arrows, cross stuff out, and otherwise scrawl really helps me go through different options.

  11. I type the first, and every draft. The only time I use longhand is for my original note making during the research process, and for my overall and chapter outlines. I find my brain and handwriting are in synch through these stages, but then I need the process of typing to actually write the book. The more books I write, the more I find I stick to using my keyboard – though my notebook is always open on the desk in case a thought occurs to me out of the blue. I’ll jot that down, then come back to it when my fingers need a break. I am a four-finger typist, and find my speed builds as I work through the book, but I have a failing I’ll share here – I find it almost impossible to type an apostrophe…hitting the semicolon key instead nine times out of ten. It’s really frustrating, and I don’t seem to be able to train myself to reach just that little bit further to tap the correct key. This means LOTS of amendments during the first draft, and all those which follow!

      1. OMG – imagine half a page having to be retyped because it’s in CAPS! Are you ever tempted to just have a very shouty character instead? 😉

        1. I notice before half a page because I’m so terrible at typing hahaha.
          eg I’d never make a typo like this in longhand “…stumbling over wigs and fallen leaf litter…’

          Also had a minrt character called Louise once who kept appearing as Lousie.

  12. My writing routine has changed over the years. For the very first couple of novels I had this vision of the author typing madly at a desk, glass of Scotch—neat—sitting on the side. By the third book I overcame that stereotype, but also realized my day-job routine had changed. I spent more and more time working at a computer with emails, spreadsheets, et al. By the fourth book, the most difficult for me to write, I could never find the energy to get home and power up the computer to work.

    One night, as I was taking the kids to the cinema and had to wait for them instead of driving twice to the same location, I found myself with some time to write, except no laptop. That’s when I spotted an office-supply store and bought a notebook and a pen.

    I discovered writing the first draft by hand not only allowed me to work faster on a first draft, but came with the added benefit to make corrections when typing. In essence, by the time I had the first draft typed, it was in reality a more polished second draft, or maybe 1.5?

    For books 5, 6, and currently 7, I’m stuck with the notebook and pen. A word of advice, though, notebooks can get lost, damaged, whatever, so a backup is a must. I take pictures of the handwritten pages and save them to my Dropbox. I’ve shared a couple of them on my Twitter @jhbogran


    1. Taking photos of notes – yes, my back-up plan too. Though they really are notes…ideas…jottings. Cannot write the book that way.

  13. I had the pleasure of appearing on several Bouchercon and the like mystery panels with Sister Carole Anne O’Marie, a witty, charming Catholic nun who ran a shelter for homeless women, in Oakland, CA. She also wrote a series of eleven mysteries featuring amateur sleuth Sister Mary Helen. Someone in the audience once asked her what kind of computer she used. She responded: “A Ticonderoga number two.”
    She wrote her outline and full manuscript in pencil, and submitted it to the publisher that way

  14. I do have to confess to writing longhand on cocktail napkins. But hey, that’s more like note-taking than actually exposition. But whoever invented the cocktail napkin should get the Pulitzer. He’s helped more writers than anyone!

      1. If I have touched something, there’s a strong chance I’ll lose it – no idea why! So I send myself phone messages. Not text messages, voice messages. It means I can also “save” a good idea that might come to me while I’m driving (hands free, of course).

    1. I agree on the cocktail napkins, but I have to admit, they were the hardest to decipher the following morning.

  15. One thing I failed to mention in the longhand vs laptop debate is that I always do my line edits by hand, with my trusty red pen. In fact, in my day job as the editor of a magazine, all the final edits are done by hand. I catch so many more mistakes and slip-ups when I’m reading off a paper copy. I remember reading something years ago about how people’s eyes track words differently between paper and a screen, and in my case at least, it’s 100% accurate. I do a lot more skimming on screens, but focus on every word on paper.

    When you’re doing your edits, which method works best for you, fellow authors?

    1. Nicole – I’m an editor also and editing ALWAYS happens on page. It’s like an entirely different experience – I usually try to read it out loud as well which is a transformative trick to catch what’s wrong with a book or article.

    2. I agree Nicole – after the first draft, and for every edit, I print out the whole manuscript and work with a pen on that…red pen, for me! Then I input the changes on my laptop, then print again. I produce a LOT of print this way, but – for me – it’s essential. I also have a clean copy to do my read-through…when I read the entire manuscript aloud. I find this a critical step, and spot things I have missed this way for copy edit (rather than substantive edit).

      1. Agreed. I also print out my big drafts and line edit by pen, and read aloud as well, but beyond that, I have my computer read the manuscript aloud (Macs do this with a right-click option). While the computer voice is far from human, I’m able to hear how punctuation might appear to a reader who doesn’t share my voice. Some programs allow you to save those sessions as audio files, which means I can put it on while I’m doing something else like an audio book.

  16. Hand write? The only time I hand write is at the beginning or in my notes. I may come up on a great clue I need to add earlier in the book and I’ll write that down on my minimalist outline. But if I’m away from the computer and thinking about a book, I’ll start blurbing out what I want to happen. I list out who’s showing up in this book (I write series so I have a lot of secondary characters to choose from.) But most of the time, my creativity shows up when I’m on the keyboard. Writing the scene.

  17. Coming back to this: it’s weird. For my day-job — I’m a fundraising writer — I CAN type directly into the computer. I don’t have to draft long-hand. I guess that’s because the possibilities for crafting donor acknowledgements and reports are finite. I know what beats I have to meet, I know how long it has to be, I know the rules and don’t have much room to break any.

    Novels are so open-world and so variable, I need as many maps as possible to get me there. And since I write in snatches of time anyway, notepads are always in my purse or car and don’t need a battery.

  18. I’d like to add that I only write longhand when working on either novels or short stories.
    However, I also write scripts for film and TV. That’s a different animal altogether, and that, I depend solely on the computer. Formatting is enough of a hassle for me as it is, so yeah, for scripts, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

  19. My first two or three books were done on an IBM selectric typewriter – the kind with the “ball” typing element. Back then I thought, Wow, what could be better than this? In those pre-computer days it was really painful to hear your agent or editor say, “It’s good, but run the manuscript through the typewriter again.”

    1. It’s great to run into someone who remembers typing on a typewriter! I never wrote a book on a typewriter, but I did write all my college papers on one, and as I was always pressed for time, I made it a point to draft and type a paper in one day, preferably in one sitting. I think that’s where I learned to rely on a handwritten first draft. You really had no choice because you couldn’t edit on a typewriter (remember white-out? gosh, that was awful), so you waited until you had it mostly right on paper before going to the typewriter.

      Drafting in longhand was slow, but in a way that was good because you couldn’t keep revising and revising the way you can on a computer. You really tried to get it right the first time. Of course you could cross stuff out and start a paragraph over when you had to, but that took time. Moving entire paragraphs or sections around was WAY too messy and time-consuming–virtually impossible. I never did that, so the limitations of longhand imposed a kind of discipline.

      In the end, I don’t think the handwriting/typing model was really any slower than composing on a computer. These days, I spend a lot of time on the computer futzing with sentences that probably would have been clearer if I’d taken more time to write them the first time.

  20. I met a wonderful woman years back, Rose Resnick – one of the founders of Lighthouse for the Blind – Blind from an early age, she was very active – skiing, hiking, helping those in need. My older brother Don was an Inspector in the SFPD Sexual Assault Detail. They had arrested a suspect for raping a blind girl. The case went to trial, and Rose testified, saying that the victim could indeed ID the rapist thru his voice. And the jury believed her – the bastard was convicted and sent to San Quentin. This was the first time such a thing had happened.
    Rose was always cheerful, full of life. She told me about the frustrations of being blind – one was when she was going thru college and typing out a thesis. She went thru the whole thing – only to discover later that the typewriter ribbon had dried out. That and the time she made a spaghetti dinner for her boyfriend, only she opened a can of fruit cocktail rather than tomato sauce. Quite a lady.

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