A recent article in the New York Times explored the possible reasons Emily Dickinson may have had for jotting down the original drafts of her poems on pocket-sized envelopes. Seeing the tiny scraps of paper Dickinson used to craft some of her poetry got us thinking… What other strange mediums have writers used to write a manuscript?

120-Foot Scroll

The original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, actually his second draft of the novel, is 120 feet of scroll. Promoted by Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg has being a “spontaneous bop prosody,” this manuscript represents the author’s attempt to ensure that his creative flow wouldn’t be interrupted. By taping together rolls of architect’s paper and feeding them through his typewriter in one continuous reel, Kerouac was able to type the entire novel in just three weeks.

A Napkin

When her Manchester-to-London train was delayed in 1990, inspiration struck J.K. Rowling and she wrote down her original Harry Potter ideas down on a napkin as she waited.

Toilet Paper

Scottish writer and mountaineer W.H. Murray spent three years in prisoner of war camps during World War Two and dealt with the long days and nights by writing, using the only means at his disposal. When the first draft of his Mountaineering in Scotland, written on toilet paper, was found and destroyed by the Gestapo he simply picked up another roll and started again. Despite being too frail from starvation to ever climb again, Murray displayed courage and perseverance by eventually publishing not only Mountaineering in Scotland but a second book, Undiscovered Scotland, as well.


With social media becoming more and more integrated into everyday life, there should be little surprise that at least one writer has taken to Twitter to craft a novel. Shawn Kupfer began his “Twitter Novel Project” in 2009 with a challenge to himself to “live-write” an entire novel on the website. Currently on his sixth Twitter book, it’s safe to say that he both met and exceeded his expectations. You can check out Kupfer’s 140-character creations online.


Poet Emily Dickinson experienced a period of extreme productivity in the early 1860s when she began to confine herself to her home, writing her poems on easy-to-find odds and ends. During the course of her Dickinson research in the mid-1990s, literary historian Marta L. Werner discovered an irregularly shaped collage cut from 19th-century envelopes. Covered in the poet’s unmistakable script, the semi-intact and fragmented envelopes featured sentences, stanzas and roughed-out poems never before seen. Now known as the “envelope poems,” these 52 pieces have been compiled into a book called Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings, published by New Directions and the art dealer Christine Burgin.


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