If you are in the same age group as me, then the chances are you have ditched writing by hand in favor of typing. And if you are a millennial, even greater chances are that you have never written by hand since you left school. But if writing is your vocation then you should seriously consider writing your first drafts by hand.
Even then some people can’t resist the invitation of a blank notebook and a fancy pen and I am one of them. To me a pen and paper are magical. Give them to me any time and I will be lost for hours.
Each morning, I get up, brush my teeth and settle down to write. Of course with my favorite Uniball pen and my daily diary with lovely botanic print. I have a rule – not to reach for any digital device until I have written three pages.
Of course, I developed this habit from Julia Cameron’s classic book The Artist’s Way where she recommends writing three pages in longhand. “Pages are meant to be,” she says, “simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind.”
I found writing by hand a great way to access anecdotes and information from my subconscious. The things that surface, sometimes my conscious brain is not even aware of them.
Here are five proven benefits of writing by hand.
1. It helps access long-stored memories
There seems to be some special connection between the act of writing by hand and memory vaults of our brains. Moving one’s hand across the page seems to open multiple locks at the same time.
Sometimes my hand can’t move fast enough to capture all stories that keep pouring out. Then it doesn’t matter how I capture them – whether in fragmented sentences, incorrect spelling or unfitting words – as long as I capture write them. Because if I don’t, they will get locked up again.
2. It enhances mindfulness and creativity
According to a study performed at Indiana University, the mere act of writing by hand unleashes creativity not easily accessed in any other way. A high-tech magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) shows that writing by hand increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain, much like meditation.
“This is perhaps the true magic of a pen,” writes Nancy Olson in Forbes, “it transports us to unexpected places, on wings that require no more than a timely shot of ink to keep them aloft, destination unknown. And in the process, the mindfulness writing engenders encourages calm and creativity.”
3. It results in better composition
Research reveals that students who write essays with a pen write more than those that used a keyboard; they also wrote faster and in more complete sentences.
4. It prevents distractions
Working at the computer is full of distractions. The easy access to the internet, email and pop-ups keep tempting you to stop mid-sentence and do a little check. Half-an-hour later when you get back to finish that sentence, the train of thought is gone. But when there is only a pen and a paper is in front of you, you tend to go deep inside and what surfaces even surprises you.
5. It helps retain information better
In the process of writing, a particular area of the brain is used, the so-called reticular activating system (RAS). It acts as a filter – it blocks the processing of extraneous information. By drawing letters with a pen or pencil on paper, we better concentrate and force the brain to consider what we write carefully. Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, explains the differences between the pen and the keyboard: “You make more movements because each letter has its own set of elements, and working on a computer is monotonous – you only need to press a key each time.”
When you write things out, you create spatial relations between each bit of information you’re recording. Handwriting activates parts of your brain involved in thinking and working memory, and allows you to store and manage information. The movement associated with the pen and your hand can help you encode and retain information long-term.The Benefits of Handwriting vs. Typing
Many people get frustrated by the slowness of writing by hand and reach straight for the computer. Typing might seem a fast way to put words out there and spell-check and in-built thesaurus provides additional support in polishing your work but they take away the trance-like state you enter into when you are writing by hand.
But that is where the real writing comes from – from your subconscious.
Think of writing by hand as meditation. Your writing may not sound spiritual or even meditative but it is a valid form of meditation that helps you move from fast to slow, from shallow to deep and from logical brain to an artist’s brain. It gives you insights you never would have reached with your conscious brain.
Give it a go.
Not just give it a go, build a solid habit of writing by hand.