Why You Should Ditch the Computer And Go Back to Pen-And-Paper Writing

Perhaps my only highlight of middle school was the free time I had to write the dozens of stories that swam through my head.

I had been inspired by a close friend who had been penning a dystopian sci-fi. I’d see him labor over his notebook in study halls, in our writing for publication course, in between classes, even at lunch. Our teachers must have thought him to be a diligent student as his 3-subject binder was quite worn and full, though when I saw him in class writing feverishly only I understood where his attention was.

I remember recycling an unused notebook (for computer science, I believe), labeled as such which served as ample camouflaged while I snuck in time to pen my first novel into it. Back then I had been writing my first superhero novel, and though it had the plot, themes, and rough edges of a teenage novelist I found the project to be an edifying exercise. In total, it took 6 months to pen and another 3-4 to transcribe. Truthfully, transcribing was the hard part as back then my penmanship was so abysmal–and remains so to this day–though I felt confident that I captured most of its original meaning if not improved upon it when typing it out on our home desktop computer.

Years later, my family bought a new computer, computer lab time at school became more available, and best of all I was gifted my very own 3.5 inch floppy disc dedicated to all my creative pursuits. I still had a notebook to jot down ideas, though I no longer saw the purpose of keeping a running story in a notebook. It seemed a waste of time to have to re-write the entire handwritten story to digital form, especially with the more opportunities I had to be on a keyboard and save my work as I went. Admittedly, some of that rang only partially true as over the years I’ve found that floppies could go missing and computers could crash. But as I grew so did my tactics. I got my own laptop and memory stick (one that I could hang around my neck and keep on my person wherever I went easily). But again, laptops sometimes go into critical failure and at times I felt it tedious to have to always save my work onto a moving memory. But that’s why we have cloud storage now, right?

I think there was one final component that led me to forgo completely the pen-to-paper process for typing out stories on a computer, and that is my word per minute count. My classmates and I were thankfully trained from an early age in elementary school to practice our skills with a keyboard. This started in 5th grade I believe, and by 7th grade, in middle school, I believe I had the highest word per minute count in my grade (somewhere from 120-150 if I remember correctly, though truthfully I think I’m being modest). Yes, I had the notebook in 7th grade and penned three different stories in this format, but pragmatically I knew the keyboard could keep up better with my thoughts than my own hand could (again, I still could be a doctor today with my penmanship). 

All that to say, in this year of 2022, decades later, I’ve reconnected with pen-to-paper writing. We welcomed home our son this year, our second addition to the family, and immediately my early morning writing time became compromised with our son’s fluctuating sleep schedule and my own personal fatigue from the adjustment. While the newborn and infant stages come with so many joys and rich opportunities to grow as a father and husband it still has thrown my creative schedule into a funk. Somewhere around when our son turned two, I plucked an unused notebook from our office, opened up a fresh page, and started a brand-new project.

This new project is something I’ve had years of desiring to write which has meant years of plotting and world-building. The process began with no longer trusting this background process with ideas stored in a clumsy cloud or in a laptop that took effort to open and focus to operate. It began with flipping open the new page, jotting those ideas down, and resolving to just start writing. It’s helped that the new story is a simple one with few characters and a kid-friendly plot. It’s been remarkably easy to pick up where I leave off, take 5-15 minutes to myself here and there when our daughter is playing with our son or when he is napping and my daughter is pursuing her own creative ventures. That being said, decades later, my penmanship has not improved, and the few times that I’ve had to go back and read for continuity it has sometimes provided to be a challenge to read my own handwriting.

That being said, returning to pen and paper writing has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Doing so has fulfilled some nostalgia of my earliest days of penning novels and reminded me of the ease and opportunity to retreat and create. While I’m typing this blog without having to yet visit the transcription process, I can still say confidently that no matter the time or painstaking labor it will take to move my written piece into digital format, it has proven to still be an edifying exercise. Better for us writers to flex our creative muscles of plot, design, and character development in a medium that we may one day discard rather than to merely wait for the next opportunity to have time and space for ourselves to write. 

Lastly, what I have found about this process–which is at least true for me–is that the process affords writing to not be bogged down so easily with complicated sentence structure or overstressed synonyms. What’s been true to my time in front of a screen has been sometimes overthinking a sentence, a paragraph, or even a plot point. No doubt my pen-to-paper novel has many flaws and even one large plot point I’ll have to go back and totally rewrite, but getting the content on paper ironically seems easier and more expedient than typing as the editor takes a far back seat in this process while the artist is free to make a mess of the space.

So for those of you who find yourselves without the time or space to write, or who have merely trouble sitting down in front of a dedicated computer or laptop to pen something out, go to your local store, pick up a notebook of any size, and keep it around. Even if it’s in the other room, it takes no time to boot up and is far more durable than any piece of technology. Again, perhaps you’re like me and will find this medium to provide you with a richer writing experience, one that isn’t bogged down by internet tabs that distract us and get us to overthink our idea. 

Buy a notebook regardless. Life affords us so many times craft, but we find excuses for ourselves not to seize the opportunity.

Writing Setting, World Building, & Sehnsucht

The villain teased above is the mad philosopher, Overman, an embodiment of Nietzsche’s tightrope walker who ironically dwells in the abandoned, dilapidated subway of the city of Nymphis. The old rail and bunker, called “The Rabbit Hole,” is key to the story “Masks: The Unmercenaries,” though it took some time to conceive of this dark hutch of villainy.

The inspiration came originally from a search of “abandoned locations” which yielded a list of beautiful derelict monuments and establishments that had become works of art and even tourism. The throne room of the Rabbit Hole was conceived after watching a documentary on an underground, nuclear-grade estate of vice.

This was just one facet of Nymphis, one facet of imagining and illustrating the world of my book. This process of world-building is enjoyable but is as well laborious in order to paint an immersive world that exists not only in our minds, but in the minds of our readers.

For my fellow world-builders out there, I’d like to share some insight I’ve employed through my own journey of sculpting my book’s world:

Lore & Backstory

“Masks: The Unmercenaries” began as a series of featurette chapters of characters. Before it had a central plot, it was a compilation of vigilantes from different backgrounds, fighting and living in different parts of the cities. Some of the structure and elements of those chapters and characters survived, but many didn’t.

But the exercise helped me craft Nymphis, to explore parts of the city I might not otherwise explore without writing a bit of backstory & lore of characters that wouldn’t even show up.

I think of Skyrim and Ark in this regard, of sprawling worlds that have an impressive collection of literature that lay out backstory of such a fun worlds. The books of Skyrim reference the pantheon of the NPCs, the history of Skyrim’s locations, allude to the dealings of the characters you meet. Ark accomplishes this too, laying out random logs of survivors for the player to collect, each entry expounding on how various perspectives see the island and the dinosaurs upon it.

When one is world building, I think it important to test the boundaries of the world, even if those parts are never directly used or referenced. Unconsciously, as a writer, you’ll be aware of how far your world goes, and invariably parts of that unused expanse will bleed into your novel or serve to be used as material for a later chapter or book.

Good Illustration Can Be Brief

I think of the Harry Potter series when I think of incredible illustration. While we all had the movies to help us in visualizing what J.K. Rowling was putting to paper, the author’s description of Hogwarts incredibly describes what the films set out to do.

For example, see our first view of Hogwarts in the following description provided by owlcation.com:

The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.

“No more ‘n four to a boat!” Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. Harry and Ron were followed into their boat by Nevlille and Hermione.

“Everyone in?” shouted Hagrid, who had a boat to himself, “Right then— FORWARD!”

And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.

“Heads down!” yelled Hagrid as the first boat reached the cliff; they all bent their heads and the little boats carried them through a curtain of ivy which hid a wide opening in the cliff face. They were carried along a dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle, until they reached a kind of underground harbour, where they clambered out on to the rocks and pebbles.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

J.K. Rowling doesn’t go overboard with her thesaurus or even set out to describe every inch of Hogwarts. There is instead details that either pair or juxtapose for a really powerful image. She uses the narrow path to blast out the expanse of the castle and it’s large lake, and then pairs the sparkling windows of the towers to the starry sky, as though making the castle heavenly.

In each paragraph, there are no more than two sentences that paint the image of Hogwarts, and most of the exterior castle’s description is accomplished in just a few paragraphs.

This is not to say that all descriptions in world building must be brief or simple, but it does free us from a load of expounding too much, leaving the audience little room to imagine for themselves. We have to realize that the world and characters we imagine in our heads and hearts don’t have to look, sound, or feel absolutely congruent to how our audience imagines them. We want the audience to feel drawn in by the choice details we use, giving them the freedom to almost create for themselves in the story rather than force them into tight parameters of description.

Know Your Tether

A temptation in world building is to blast out your world’s map as wide as you can and create a diverse looking world.

But great fantasy genres such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (yes, I did just call Star Wars fantasy) have a kind of tether or “home base” that are well developed, sometimes even more illustrated and detailed than the rest of the sprawling out universe. For Lord of the Rings, I argue this is the Shire whereas Star Wars is Tatooine. Both have a “homey” feel, especially given that these are the origins of our protagonist. They are the starting point of our adventures and provide us not entirely with a “neutral” palette, but one digestible enough to get us started before we hop into the wilder parts of the universe.

These tethers are either places our story and its characters return to over and over, or are given a special highlight with the amount of time we spend in them.

They function as reference points for the rest of the book, to show the diversity of our world with their simplicity and perhaps even modesty. They creep us into the universe, beginning to show us what the world we are entering into looks like so we’re not totally surprised when things get bizarre. They are places we may even become fond to, that we are excited to return to in the narrative because they fill us with a sense of nostalgia or “Sehnsucht”–a longing for a place we haven’t been.

Come to My City of Nymphis

And with that, I’d like to invite you all to my city of Nymphis!

My goal is to keep sprawling out this city through short story, and perhaps even one day plugging my audience into the city through photos of them wearing masks or their own contributions to the vigilante-plagued world.

You can dive into this world of masked crime fighters NOW and get yourself ready for a Halloween mood by picking up an Amazon Kindle copy today!

Click the cover below to dive in and become a hero (or villain)!

Become a Mask, buy your copy today!

Also, be sure to check out my new gallery page to see and share promotional art!

How To Make/Use Effective Characters

When I started “Masks” I had somewhere around a dozen character ideas brewing in my first drafts. I began the book not by writing a book at all. I wrote a lot of short stories of normal human beings who decided to put on a mask and take to the streets, fighting crime through their own talents and new identity.

The problem I commonly face is that I have a ton of great character concepts floating around, and either there’s no room for them or there’s no clear way of how to use them effectively. The other issue that sometimes ends up happening is that the characters change on me half way through any version of my drafts–as if they have a mind of their own!

I’d like to offer some insight on character creation and development by taking from two characters from my upcoming book Masks: The Unmercenaries. Through this not only will you get a taste of what you’ll see in this book, but you may glean some useful insight in your own character creation.

In this post, I’m featuring two characters: Marionette & Red.

Illustration from Part 2, Illustrated by Lexi Takis Art


Marionette has a role of featuring the ugly face of human trafficking while also embodying a spirit of vanity and dishonesty. She is a literal “Mask” in terms of putting on a façade and fooling others through the superficial appearance she dons.

That being said, this character wasn’t made overnight, and actually wasn’t even in the first draft. Her character stemmed from quite a few concepts, borrowing from a gothic “wraith” and another character that possessed an alias impossible to track down due to their obsession with plastic surgery.

As an aside, in middle school, I found myself both haunted and fascinated with the “gothic” image. It was a bit of a taboo for me in my traditional upbringing, but nonetheless it was a stark image that stood prominently against the rest of the student body. Even gothic and metal rock music had a similar foreign/taboo appeal to me because it was on the fringes of what not just myself but many friends considered “normal”. I mention this not to comment on the “gothic” phenomena, but I think the impact and feeling I had of this morbid fascination provided me some good material as I was constructing a haunting seductress.

Before Marionette, I had tinkered with quite a few “pimp” characters to suit the needs of human trafficking for the criminal syndicate “the Den.” One of those concepts got archived when they just didn’t fit with the tone of the role, and the other limped along as a place holder who just didn’t possess a rich identity or image.

It took a long time for Marionette to enter the scene for the first book because of a reservation, almost a reverence for a few character ideas, as though I was too afraid to use them now that I’d be without them in the next story. What I think we ought to remind ourselves in these situations is that our preference and reservations can’t hold up the creative process. Invariably, the book will tell us who to write and when to write them in. It took some time to listen to my intuition as to the “mismatched” nature of Marionette’s predecessors, but we shall find that when we give into our writer’s gut and use those great ideas first that we will have fewer hang ups in writer’s block, and the story will essentially write itself.

Her character also blossomed when I thought a little more on the “role” that this slot played in the story. Marionette stood well ahead of her predecessors because she broke a mold of casting the “human trafficker” as a male. Employing some gothic elements also happened to match the tile set of the book’s “season” (Halloween), and the “puppeteer” worked nicely with the role she was to play as a manipulator.

If there’s three pieces of advice I can pass on from building up her character, it would be:

  • Draw from memories & impacts of your formation/development. There’s something rich about our emotions and impressions from childhood even up to and past our puberty. Those feelings are buried ore that can be tapped not just for great literature but for better understanding of ourselves.
  • Don’t “save” all your best ideas just because you don’t want to use them up before your next book
  • Strongly consider the “role” each of your characters serves. When a character’s features can echo their narrative purpose, that character will naturally blossom and even become more memorable to your reader


Red also took a bit of time to develop as a character.

The very earliest drafts of Red were far from her current appearance. Back when I had been writing character featurettes or short stories of vigilantes inhabiting this “city of sin,” I had wrote a featurette on a former sex worker who took up the mantle of crime fighting. While the original concept had intrigued me, the image and feel of the character came across as campy and shallow. This is a case where a character concept has been archived for better use in a future book, but the original short story helped me form Red’s backstory.

Without giving too much away, the short story featured a limo ride and a recruitment offer from a wealthy gentleman’s club owner. This piece was borrowed for Red as an inciting incident for her to take on a mask (to fight men like this).

But the ethos of Red’s personality of being sweet yet spunky came from my imaginings of some prominent figures from church history. There’s incredible stories of sharp, strong-willed, and even cheeky saints such as St. Katherine & St. Marina (even Joan of Arc). The icons and images of these saints are always sweet and beautiful, and yet the church describes them in a militant way, highlighting their courage and spunk. Red emerged from these very old stories of saints in her personality, something that for centuries has inspired millions which I believe could use reinvigoration today.

The image of Red’s mask, however, took a bit of time to entirely settle on. Her hoodie and gasmask was first adopted as a kind of simple yet iconic urban image of a scoundrel, kind of like a rioter or graffiti artist. The components of her mask were meant to be not at all flashy or expensive, but simple while also being stark. The gasmask has always been a kind of mask that I see as aggressive, even “predatorial” with its large goggle eyes and snout like nose. Choosing the color “red” for the hoodie felt like a natural choice which I could spend pages on expounding about its symbolism. That being said, the components of all this came nicely together with this ironic and fairy-tale-esque image: Red Riding Hood & the wolf.

If there’s three things I learned from constructing Red’s character, it would be these to pass along:

  • Write “character featurettes” or short stories before you spin your main plot. Not only is this great for world-building, but you’ll have lots of content to use for backstories and future character concepts
  • Allow characters to change cosmetically and deeply in all your drafts. They’ll grow and develop and show you who they were supposed to become
  • Borrow from stories of old. History is full of rich figures, and the ones that we have celebrated in children’s stories and in the lives of saints are worthy of being brought into our modern stories.

Wishing you all the best in your venture of making rich and effective characters!