These days, the vast majority of us always have a keyboard of some kind close by. Whether that’s the tiny virtual keyboard on your phone, the compact layout on your laptop, or a perfectly positioned and broken-in desktop keyboard, there’s always something nearby to help you type out a thought quickly and efficiently.
And most of us writers love that! Typing feels so much faster and more productive than writing by hand; we’re able to get our thoughts onto the page that much quicker, and we don’t have to spend ages retyping all our work later on, making it even more efficient for getting a book out to our audience.
But we might also be losing something in the process. While typing is often much faster, that isn’t always a benefit—and the mental processes involved with typing might be making us less creative and more forgetful.
I don’t mean to suggest that you should throw your trusty keyboard out the window and invest in a bunch of quill pens, but adding longhand writing sessions to your regular writing practice might just help you remember more of your research, overcome writer’s block, write more clearly, revise your writing better, and even unlock hidden depths of creativity.
Let’s take a look at five ways writing by hand can boost your creative career just by picking up a pen!
1. Remember More
Writing by hand helps you remember more of what you’re taking notes on—which can be incredibly helpful when you’re researching, whether it’s background information for a nonfiction book or historical notes for fiction.
Studies have shown that typing is a less complex process neurologically speaking than writing is. When we type, it’s just mechanical movement…we’re not really engaged with what we’re doing physically. In contrast, when we write by hand, huge swaths of our brains light up, translating those careful physical movements into a vast amount of activity in the brain.
Triggering so many more areas of the brain makes a more powerful memory, and gives us more ways to access that memory through different sensory and action pathways. So we remember more of what we’ve noted down, more accurately.
Plus, when we’re taking notes on a computer, we tend to be just copy-pasting text or transcribing it directly from what we’re hearing. When we write by hand, because it’s a more complex, time-consuming, and energy-intensive process, we rewrite what we’re taking notes on in our own words.
The process of translating things into our own thoughts increases retention—and helps us make new connections between thoughts and concepts, which can lead to amazing creative breakthroughs in our writing!
2. Beat Writer’s Block
Even the most prolific writer struggles with writer’s block from time to time. We all have different ways of dealing with this eternal nemesis, but one of the most consistently useful techniques is to change how you write.
Because writing activates different parts of the brain than typing, it can short-circuit a case of writer’s block. You’re forcing yourself to use different muscles, which use different parts of your brain, potentially triggering a positive cascade of interconnected thoughts, ideas, and memories.
Plus, because the act of writing by hand isn’t as efficient as typing for most of us, it may let you focus more on what you’re saying, rather than on your daily word count. Reducing that pressure, even just slightly or subconsciously, may “unfreeze” a part of your brain you didn’t even know was anxious about meeting a self-imposed writing quota or deadline.
3. Write More Clearly
Writing by hand is slower than typing for most of us. It also feels more labor-intensive—although typing has its own hazards (like carpal tunnel syndrome), most of us know the pain of getting a hand cramp after writing a really long essay for school or even an old-fashioned letter.
Because of this, writing longhand actually makes an amazing tool for learning to be more concise and effective in your writing! Padding your writing out with extra, unnecessary words is a lot harder when you’re writing by hand; you start to feel like you have to want every word you put down.
Plus, the amount of focus it takes to put pen to paper may help you create more complete sentences and more vivid scenes. When on a computer, it’s easy to be distracted by Facebook or Pinterest. When you’re writing in a notebook, you may find you’re able to focus more intently and therefore dive deeper into your writing, producing better work.
4. Revise Better
One of the hardest parts of writing is revising. Just because you finished the first draft of your manuscript doesn’t mean that you’re done—just the opposite, in fact! The editing process has only just begun, and that can be quite a challenge.
After all, we’re way too close to our own work to be able to edit it in a truly objective manner.
No wonder many writers dread the self-editing process…and no wonder it can be one of the most time-consuming parts of writing!
But writing by hand offers a serious advantage here. Because you’ll need to transcribe your handwritten pages to a typed manuscript, you get the opportunity to review every word you’ve written as you type it up. This detaches you from your work more than reading something you typed to begin with, allowing you to edit and revise as you go.
By the time your manuscript is typed up, you may have already completed half a revision, reworking passages to be smoother or make more sense or fixing up plot holes, changes in perspective, and so on.
5. Unleash Your Creativity
Stories tend to develop differently when they’re told in different formats. Think about trying to take that great tale your uncle told at the last family reunion and put it in writing—it often loses something in the translation. Your uncle’s pacing, inflection, tone of voice, and other speaking quirks added layers of depth to the story that don’t come across on the page.
Similarly, writing by hand makes a story take a different shape than it might if you typed or even dictated that same story idea. If you’re feeling bored or stifled with your writing, try picking up a notebook and see what comes out.
Plus, the act of moving a pen over paper can fan a creative spark into life. Because it’s a sweeping, fluid physical motion, writing by hand can unlock much of the same artistic creativity as using painting or sketching. You may find that you’re inspired to try your hand at a different genre or that you suddenly seem to be writing a fiction novel instead of that nonfiction business book you’d planned.
And that’s not a bad thing!
Pick up a pen to unlock your potential as an author and see where it takes you!
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