Writing manuscripts by hand has several practical advantages — no need to carry a laptop around, no risk of batteries going dead — but the one I’m most fond of is this: writing by hand forces a built-in revision stage, since I never manage to type up my pages without improving and tightening the prose. While I have no plans to ditch my computer, I find myself resorting to longhand more and more during early drafts. I have always taken notes by hand (the tech-assisted alternatives still seem too clunky to me) but I haven’t written out drafts like this in years.
To make the process practical for me required finding the right pen and the right paper. Sure, you can use anything that’s near to hand. For long sessions, though, it helps to find the tools that work best for you. The pen is a Pilot Custom 823 with a Fine nib. Japanese fine nibs are finer than European ones, and for my taste the finer the better. The advantage of writing with a fountain pen is that you don’t have to press down on the paper, which speeds up fatigue. You also get to choose from a myriad of ink colors. I’ve settled on Sailor Epinard, a nice dark green. The 823 holds a vast quantity of ink, which is nice when you’re writing a lot.
The paper I’m using is Japanese, too. It’s called Tomoe River, and among fountain pen users it is all the rage because of the way it handles ink. I like it because the paper is quite thin, almost like tracing paper, allowing me to place a ruled guide underneath. When you’re working, you have lines to keep your handwriting straight, but once the page is finished, the lines disappear.
I created the guide myself using Adobe InDesign, which allowed me to leave a lot of space between each line — manuscripts are traditionally double-spaced — and to create a wide margin on the left. This makes my pages easy to annotate. Notes go in the margin and edits fit between the lines.
I carry the A4 Tomoe River pad inside a translucent pad holder which secures with an elastic strap, Moleskine-style. Manuscript pages can be tucked into the flap pocket facing the pad or carried in a separate translucent folder. This keeps everything together, nice and tidy, ready to hit the road at a moment’s notice. The Tomoe River pad, pad holder, and much more besides are available at Nanami Paper. If you prefer to write in bound books, journal-style, some nice Tomoe River journals are available at Paper for Fountain Pens.
If you’re going to write by hand, it helps to choose the right paper. In addition to Tomoe River, I have a number of suggestions, which you’ll find here: “Choosing the Right Paper.”