Author Jessica McHugh talks process (and horrible handwriting)

Last week author Jessica McHugh responded to one of my Facebook posts saying that she handwrites her drafts. I’m always curious about other writers’ process, so natch, I asked her to elaborate…

Jessica wins NaNoWriMo '13 with 15 days to go...on her birthday! I'd drink that whole bottle too.

Jessica wins NaNoWriMo ’13 with 15 days to go…on her birthday! I’d drink that whole bottle too.

TB: You HANDWRITE everything? What are we talking about here, 1st and 2nd drafts? Are you publishing books in your own script?

JM: I handwrite most of my work. Sometimes I’ll type a first draft, but it’s few and far-between, and I won’t do it for stories over 3000 words. Typically, I handwrite first drafts, type it into the computer, print it out and put it in a binder, and then edit/extend by hand. And as much as I’d love to publish books in my own script, no one would be able to read them but me! Even when I’m stone-sober, my handwriting looks like drunken Elvish. But it also it means no one can open one of my notebooks and steal my ideas!
TB: I see what you mean from the pic below. I did not think anyone had worse handwriting than me. So how long have you been doing this and do you have blisters?
JM: Since I started writing seriously at 19. Each of my twenty-one novels were handwritten. And I do have quite the triumphant writing callus on my ring finger. When I worked in a lab and had to do repetitive pipetting, I developed tendonitis, and it made handwriting difficult. My job actually tried to blame the tendonitis on my writing so they wouldn’t have to pay for it. Well, I’ve been writing full-time, by hand, since this past April, and I haven’t experienced a single twinge of tendonitis. Odd, methinks. 😉
TB: Odd indeed. Oh, day job. You and your tricks! OK. Truthfully, how is this process helpful (or harmful) to you. that even English?

Um…is that even English?

JM: Words flow more freely when I have a pen in hand. It’s a more visceral experience and makes me feel akin to my inky forebears. I honestly wish I could type first drafts, but I find the glow of a computer screen too demanding somehow. Paper is soft, and the notebook bends to me. I’m in control, like when I dig that pen into the pulp and create worlds, I’m really creating something. As much time as it adds to my process (having to type everything up), I feel more inspired and joyful writing by hand. Plus, sitting in the corner with just a notebook and pen means I don’t get distracted by the internet as easily. It still happens, of course, but not as often as when I’m typing.
TB: I see what you mean about having a visceral experience. It’s an incredible process. Thanks for sharing!
JM: Thanks!!
Jessica McHugh is an author of speculative fiction spanning the genre from horror and alternate history to young adult. A member of the Horror Writers Association and a 2013 Pulp Ark nominee, she has devoted herself to novels, short stories, poetry, and playwriting. Jessica has had fourteen books published in five years, including her bestseller, “Rabbits in the Garden,”  and the gritty coming-of-age thriller, “PINS.” 2014 will see the release of three more novels, including the start to her edgy YA series “The Darla Decker Diaries.” More info on her speculations and publications can be found at

5 thoughts on “Author Jessica McHugh talks process (and horrible handwriting)

  1. cpbialois says:

    Awesome! it’s always fun to see another writer use mostly handwritten drafts and have horrible handwriting. Glad to know there are more of us out there. lol

  2. injaynesworld says:

    Back when I started writing scripts, I would handwriting everything first, then put it through the typewriter just like Jessica. This was back in the 80s when all I had was my yellow legal pad and IBM Selectric. I enjoyed that process then, but now I’m spoiled by such features as cut-and-paste and color-highlighted notes, etc. Also, my thoughts need to be recorded more quickly now — lest they vanish altogether.

  3. Tracey says:

    Oh my gosh. The IBM Selectric! My dad had one of those and I got in SO MUCH TROUBLE for using it once.
    Actually I always start with handwritten notes, but I move pretty quickly to computer.

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