Why I Write With a Pencil

Some writers fall into the trap of thinking about writing more often than actually doing it.

I'll hold my hands up and admit that I wasted years in that camp.

10 years ago, as somebody just getting started with writing and doing it exclusively on a computer, I'd spend hours researching the best keyboards for typing. I'd weigh up key depth, volume, other people's opinions on 'feel' - whatever that is - before finally deciding on the right keyboard for me.

Armed with a perfect keyboard, my next focus would be on finding the perfect software for writing. Would Word be enough? Does Google Docs offer better cloud sync for writing across multiple devices on the go? What about writing in Scrivener, iA Writer, Ulysses, or a text editor like Sublime Text?


I wasn't researching, I was procrastinating

If I try to pinpoint the moment when I stopped procrastinating and started to actually develop a productive writing habit, it would be the moment I realised all I needed to write was a scrap of paper.

I don't care how disciplined you claim to be, if you open up your computer with the aim of writing, I guarantee the temptation of email, or social media, or whatever else, will eventually drag you away from your writing to focus on irrelevant things that other people have to say. This is bad for many writers because, when writing, we need to spend most of our time figuring out what we have to say. Instead of opening up a computer to write, picking up a notebook helps me focus only on writing.

I'm not saying that the secret to developing a productive writing habit is to throw away your computer and buy a stack of pencils, because using a computer at some point is essential for most, but I would definitely encourage you to try writing on paper as you sketch out ideas and work on your first drafts.



The first draft is the most creative part of writing. It is the time when mistakes are welcome, nothing is final, and you're figuring out what you have to say. Everything gets much more formal when it's written up on a computer. In an interview with the New York Times, Barack Obama discusses how writing on computers can give 'half-baked thoughts the mask of tidiness' so he always writes his first drafts on paper. For Obama, the process of moving first drafts from paper to computer becomes the first edit.

Don't waste time waiting for the perfect environment or the perfect tools. You'll probably find that neither of these things exist. Writers would be far smarter to embrace what they have available. Writing doesn't exist if you keep your ideas in your mind, you need to get them out there. According to Maria Popova in Brain Pickings, James Joyce 'wrote lying on his stomach in bed, with a large blue pencil, clad in a white coat, and composed most of Finnegans Wake with crayon pieces on cardboard'.


I now write first drafts with a pencil

Over the last few weeks, I've switched to writing my first drafts with a pencil.

It's perfect for me because pencils are even less permanent than pens. It's a great way to sketch out ideas without feeling the need to get everything right first time. The pressure is off.


I'd love to hear what writing process works best for you. Can you relate to any of this, or do you think I'm nuts? Please get in touch to let me know.



Β© Oli Sharman 2021. All rights reserved.

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Oli Sharman

Oli Sharman

Freelance content marketing writer and strategist. I help tech businesses attract, engage, and retain customers.
London or Lecce, Italy