The Case for Writing Longhand: “Two New York Times journalists who write their drafts by hand sing the praises of pen and paper”

From a Times Insider column by Sarah Bahr headlined “The Case for Writing Longhand”:

Sam Anderson’s home office in Beacon, N.Y., is a palace of longhand. There are paragraphs scrawled inside the covers of books. Words are wedged into the corners of ripped-open envelopes. His looping script snakes its way down notepads — and there are piles of filled ones.

On nearly every scrawlable surface, there’s Mr. Anderson’s handwriting. And often, those scraps are the start of a story.

Mr. Anderson, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, is one of at least two writers at The Times who draft stories by hand, a time-consuming process that reporters operating on daily deadlines might consider impractical.

“It definitely carries a certain amount of privilege,” said Mr. Anderson, who, as a long-form writer free from the pressure of daily deadlines, writes an average of three 5,000- to 10,000-word pieces for the magazine each year.

Mr. Anderson, 44, said he grew up writing by hand writing by hand, before the computer was common in American households. He likes that the process slows him down and puts him in touch with his thoughts. Drafting by hand lowers the stakes, he said, because it doesn’t feel like “official” writing yet, which helps him avoid writer’s block.

“You write by hand the same way you make a sweater by hand,” he said. “There’s a kind of folk craftiness to it. The first step is a very personal thing — drawing yourself out of your mind and body. Then, later, you translate that into impersonal print.”

Composing on a laptop, he said, also presents endless opportunities for procrastination. “It’s hard to get truly quiet or focused,” he said. “Writing by hand takes away 17 million options for distraction.”

He begins all his stories by free-writing on paper with an extra fine black Pilot Vball pen — or, sometimes, with a stylus on a reMarkable 2 digital tablet — though he never writes an article in order from beginning to end. He writes scenes in chunks and then spends hours trying to arrange them.

“I can’t see the structure; I can’t see the big picture, but I can feel my way through the little parts,” he said. “Then, when I have enough little pieces, I can think about the larger shape.”

The unorthodox, yet clever, beginning of his profile of Kevin Durantin the magazine in June, which spent the first five paragraphs chronicling an asteroid crashing into the Earth 35 million years ago, started that way.

“I don’t surprise myself typing,” he said. “But I do all the time writing by hand.”

After those first stages of writing, his draft — by then, beginning to congeal into cohesive narrative — goes to the magazine’s culture editor, Sasha Weiss. The two have come up with names for each of the many drafts in his editing process: Chunk Mayhem (“It’s exactly what it sounds like”), Fusion Town (“When the chunks start to fuse together”), Fusion City, then a typed Through-Draft. Ms. Weiss will then send him typed drafts, called proofs, with her edits; he’ll mark those up on his digital tablet with a stylus. (Ms. Weiss will input any changes into the digital file.)

“The quality of the thinking and writing feels higher to me when revising by hand,” he said. “The trade-off is worth it, even with the time I lose.”

Surprisingly, he’s not the only Times writer who hand-writes stories. A.O. Scott, a co-chief film critic, said he started drafting by hand six years ago when he was writing a 304-page book on the role of critics and criticism in modern culture.

“With how online we are now, it’s easy to lose productive hours to Twitter,” said Mr. Scott, 55. “I needed a fairly radical method to get away.”

In 2014, he began leaving his phone and his laptop at home to spend two hours every day writing in parks and coffee shops — using only a 5-by-8-inch Moleskine notebook and a pen. Later, he would add any quotes and facts he had needed to look up or double-check against his interview recordings or on the internet.

“You can’t go hunt around online for things when you don’t have your laptop,” Mr. Scott said. “So there’s something very clean about it, and the prose has more clarity.”

Mr. Scott says that he is generally a single-draft writer and that he takes three or four days to write a first draft of a 4,000- or 5,000-word piece (sometimes from his bathtub, he admits) before typing up and revising his article on his laptop. He then submits that draft to his editor, and the two work on edits digitally.

Unlike Mr. Anderson, Mr. Scott writes in chronological fashion. “I need to write in order, and I need to edit as I go,” Mr. Scott said. “I tend not to do a lot of major revision — it feels like building a Lego house, and it has to all be there as you go.”

Mr. Scott says he sees handwriting as a means to — just for a moment — forget the pressures of writing for a publication with over a hundred million monthly readers.

“It’s just me and the writing,” he said. “You’re free of ‘What will editors think?’ or ‘What will readers think?’ or ‘How will this look in the paper or on The Times website?’ ”

While Mr. Anderson says every piece he publishes begins as a scrawled draft, Mr. Scott says he doesn’t hand-write every film review — when he is on a deadline, typing is faster. But while the two writers might have different methods, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Scott both hold onto their scribbles, even after a piece is published.

“They feel like little pieces of me,” Mr. Anderson said.

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