Photo by jessica.marshall

Jessica Marshall is an award-winning science, environmental and health journalist. She has been a regular contributor to Discovery News and New Scientist. Her work has also appeared in Nature,, Science's online news service, Science News for Kids, and on public radio, among other outlets. She has taught science journalism at the University of Minnesota. Jessica earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley before becoming a science journalist. She attended the Science Communication Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

4 responses to “Retro Hack! Writing Longhand”

  1. Tom Hayden

    Nice post, Jessica – and really nice story! I’m a pretty committed longhand writer, too. For first drafts of features, that is — stories that will be long enough to need some deeper thought on structure. Whatever cheap pens I’ve picked up at scientific meetings and white legal pads are my preference. I agree that not having the ease of self-editing is very helpful for the first draft, and find that writing a little more slowly lets me write a little more intentionally, too. More than anything I like being able to spread lots of papers out and shuffle paragraphs and sections around physically, or with boxes and arrows, while being able to see and read them all. And as Anne suggests, I find that entering the first draft into the computer is a crucial opportunity for synthesis, integration and low-grading out material that doesn’t belong.

  2. Sarah Boon (@SnowHydro)

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who does this. I start by working out structure/ideas in my head, then transfer to a freeform outline on scratch paper with cheap ballpoint pen. From there I usually write key sentences/ideas and arrange them into an article structure with good flow. Only then do I go to the computer.

    Totally agree that this method is more efficient (keeps me away from FB & Twitter!), that typing it in works as a form of editing, and that writing longhand forces me to consider words more carefully than typing.

  3. Anne Sasso

    Fun hack, Jessica! Another thing that I appreciate about writing longhand is that the scratched out parts don’t disappear. They’re still there if I need them later, unlike when I delete onscreen.

    Tom, I spread things out, too. And invariably with longer pieces I have devised an entire code (circled 1, 2, 3s and A, B, Cs)that indicates where bits and pieces should be inserted in the draft that gets typed.

    I’m really particular about my writing instrument, though. And the nature of the scrap paper that I use. Jessica was kind enough to not reveal the full extent of my longhand writing eccentricities to the world.

  4. alan

    This is just great, I thought I couldn’t sort of get into writing because I could only really connect with what I wanted to write if I used a pen. I find I love really good quality paper, a moleskin type of notepad and a really good roller ball or fountain pen only works for me. I find the aesthetic feel of the physical writing takes me away from thinking of the content too much and I lose myself and words just pour out. I can then go back and edit. Great, this has been an inspiration and has given me permission to write. Daft I know!

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