Five Famous Authors Who Write Longhand

These days, it seems like most of the writing I do takes place on a computer – email, essays, memos at work, Facebook messages, even these posts, and the list goes on. It was a comfort to know – and I hope it will be for you too – that some of my favorite authors still write novels in longhand. Here’s a list of five famous authors who write longhand:

Five Famous Authors Who Write Longhand

1. Andre Dubus III

Acclaimed author Andre Dubus III (Bluesman, House of Sand and Fog) is a big proponent of writing longhand. He started with a carpenter’s pencil, before graduating to the Blackwing. According to Dubus, “A friend of mine who’s a film director turned me on to the Blackwing 602. What I like is that it sharpens to a really fine point, and it’s got a great feel to it that I just can’t describe. It’s like when you taste a really good wine or a cognac: You know it’s good stuff.” Look for his latest novel, Dirty Love, in stores now.

2. Jordan Mechner

Author and graphic artist Mechner believes that he’s most productive with a pencil in his hand, away from a computer screen. The trap of technology, according to Mechner, is that “It’s so easy to move words and sentences around in Word or Scrivener or Final Draft that it feels like writing, even if what I’m actually doing would rate only a 2 on the scale in which 10 is ‘getting an idea and writing it down.'” Sometimes, technology is more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to the creative process, and a pencil is just the cure.

3. Vladimir Nabokov

Far from privileging technology, Nabokov did all of his writing by hand – on index cards! This gave him the opportunity to perform hands-on cut-and-paste work, rearranging scenes by moving cards around. He also preferred to work standing up. His method may be unorthodox, but when you consider the work he produced, it seems it was highly effective!

4. Truman Capote

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, wrote almost entirely while lying down. He also enjoyed a cigarette and coffee while he worked. Capote wrote the first and second drafts of his novels entirely in pencil, then switched to a typewriter for the third drafts.

5. Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates strays across topics and genres, but wherever she goes, she always brings a pencil with her. This incredibly prolific and talented author writes in longhand. One need only glance at her many publications and awards – including the National Book Award for her novel Them – to witness the success of her method.

If you’ve been inspired to pick up a pencil and scrawl the next great work of fiction, make sure to check out our awesome writing pencils!

P.S. If you’re an Andre Dubus fan, you can find Blackwings here and Carpenter pencils here.

8 replies
  1. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    Here is another one for your list. Shelby Foote was a well-known historian who wrote very lengthy tomes on the Civil War. Up until his death a couple of years ago, he wrote exclusively with a dip pen. Those, as I am sure you know, are the pens with nibs on the end but no ink inside. To write with them, one dips the pen nib into an inkwell, then uses that ink to write. It is only possible to write a few words, however, and then one must stop writing and dip again. Mr. Foote wrote all of his books with a dip pen on paper. His books were 800 pages or longer when printed. Imagine how many pages they were handwritten! He also used a dip pen for all of his correspondence. Amazing!!

    Thank you for your wonderful post!

    • Gina Verrastro
      Gina Verrastro says:

      Wow!! That’s absolutely incredible, and so inspiring! I can only dream of having that kind of patience. Thank you so much for sharing, Cindy! My mind is blown right now.

    • Sophie
      Sophie says:

      That guy was a character though. It’s almost as if he lived in the past altogether. Maybe a little eccentric, maybe a little bit crazy. But an amazing writer and human being. I didn’t know about the dip pens. I had heard he disliked electricity.

  2. Ron Stover
    Ron Stover says:

    Famous travel author Paul Therox writes in long hand. Him and others claim that writing in long hand your brain processes your thoughts efficiently while sending messages to your hand. Using a keyboard serves your hands, yet outpaces your thinking. I believe this is true. Since I’ve been using my Blackwings and writing prose in long hand, my writing has improved.

    An interesting book about the demise of longhand is “The Missing Ink” well written and also attests to the hand/brain to paper process (keyboarding outpaces your thinking).

    Love my Blackwings…

    • Gina Verrastro
      Gina Verrastro says:

      It’s great to hear from someone who actually has experience writing longhand and reflecting on the difference in the experience from using a keyboard. That book sounds very interesting, thank you for the recommendation! I love my Blackwings too!

  3. Mike
    Mike says:

    All these writers are either dead or eldery. Doing that nowadays is just silly and a waste of time.

  4. James Passmore
    James Passmore says:

    Neil Gaiman isn’t dead or elderly, and compared to those above could be considered a little bit more trendier for you… and he writes his novels longhand.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Lots of successful writers do it this way, including the great Vladimir Nabokov. Interesting factoid about Nabokov- he spent the first three hours of every day writing while standing a lectern, the next three seated at a desk, and the final three lying on the couch. He also did all his drafting on index cards. […]

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