Writing longhand is my go to when I am bogged down in writing that refuses to flow. I write most of my Instagram captions by hand, blog posts often emerge from old school cursive notes. At university I wrote all of my 2,000 word essay drafts by hand. There are many famous authors who swear by the handwritten word. Without longhand we wouldn’t have Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote the first book this way because she couldn’t afford a typewriter. If you’re looking to switch up your writing and access more of your creativity there are a lot of benefits to making the shift to longhand. I’ve shared six of my favourites below. Who knows, maybe you’ll write the next big thing – J.K. style.
Writing longhand improves creativity
Writing longhand slows everything down. It makes space for ideas to emerge, truth to be felt and thoughts to run their course. The speed of typing loses this heartfelt connection to our words. Flow is created when language runs from head to heart to hand. Ideas morph into something entirely new as you slow down the work of moving them to physical form.
Writing by hand gives room to ponder the right word. Everything has space for deeper thinking, producing work that is richer, has more layers and texture. Regardless of whether I’m writing a creative travel piece for my blog, a quick Insta caption or post here for Women Creating – the words have more emotional power when I make them by hand.
Slowing my writing develops deeper connections with the story being recorded. This accesses parts of the creative mind that are rushed over when typing. The speed of fingers over the keyboard keep us trapped in a logical brain and away from the creative mind.
Our individual creative Self has room to come out of hiding when we write longhand. Signatures of our individuality in the unique way we form words on the page. Writing longhand is paint by words, our pen is our brush sweeping across the page. The chosen medium of creative expression in much the same way a painter may choose watercolour or oils.
Writing longhand uses more of your brain
Imaging studies show that more of your brain is at work when you write with paper and pen than when you tap at a keyboard. You write longer sentences and they are more fully rounded when you choose the pen over the board.
When you choose longhand you are stimulating both sides of your brain. The unique way that you weave words onto paper puts more artistry on the page. A study at Indiana University showed that writing by hand increases the level of creativity splashed across the page. Keyboards do not delve into this side of your brain in the same way.
As a bonus your focus improves. Fine motor control comes into play, you have to pay attention to what you are doing.
Writing longhand is a mindfulness hack
“Writing,” said Susan Sontag, “is a way of paying as much attention as possible.” This is truer for writing by hand. The act of writing becomes sensory. It adds the scent of ink, the texture of paper, edges of pages. More of your body is involved, your senses ignited. There is silence without the tapping of a keyboard. There is rhythm to the movement of forming words with a pen – your writing has it’s own time signature. It has a flow that settles you into the present moment.
Being away from a screen in a slower sensory environment invites your brain to shift gear into the place creativity thrives. It is quite literally an act of meditation. Magnetic resonance imaging has shown that writing longhand lifts neural activity in much the same way meditation does. You are more focused, less distracted and more present.
Writing longhand is less distracting
Ask any writer what sucks their attention most and they’ll tell you the Internet. Google, social media, YouTube or any other online vice are among the most common answers. Going old school with a notepad and pen means you can shut down the screens and the Internet. The fact that we shudder at the idea of turning off the modem is a good reason to give it a go. All that time stolen by our online vices is time we could be writing our next masterpiece.
The second thing that commonly distracts is constant editing. On a keyboard I write, edit, write, edit, write, edit. Over and over I go on the same sentence to perfect it before moving on. This is a habit handwriting solved. Longhand may be your saviour if you get caught in each line and take off the writer’s hat to become your own editing perfectionist. Writing a draft by hand and editing when you enter it into the laptop is a way to separate the writer/editor roles. It stops that inner critic from running rings around your words before they’ve had a chance to breathe.
And as a bonus writing by hand improves your memory of what you have written. This means less revising and more writing.
Writing longhand is convenient
A notepad and pen don’t need wifi, a power source, a table or a chair. They take up very little space in a bag and can be transported anywhere. There are no limits to where you can write.
A bonus of always having a notepad and pen handy is that it is easy to tune into your writer’s observant mind and jot down things you see and conversations you overhear. A constant stream of writer’s prompts that is with you at all times. You can’t always whip out your laptop to note down the conversation on the bus. You can, however, always hide behind a flipped notepad cover and jot down the finer details. You’ll never lose a piece of inspiration again.
Writing longhand gets to the emotional truth
Did you know that handwriting analysis can identify the emotion the writer was feeling at the time they jotted down their words? Your emotions are expressed through writing longhand. Any writer will tell you that emotional truth is the cornerstone of good writing. Readers will forgive all manner of sins if you are telling a tale of truth.
Handwriting channels emotion more fully than tapping away at a keyboard. Try it out, draft something longhand and watch how your writing changes in the exciting parts, the sad parts. You can even identify the mundane sections that might need some tweaking just by looking at stagnant and static writing on the page.
There you have it. Six reasons to step away from the screen and the keyboard. Volataire says “Writing is the painting of the voice.” Your pen is your brush and your notepad your canvas. Nietzsche poses that the machine makes our work impersonal and by writing longhand we put back a “little bit of humanity” to the process of crafting words that string into stories. Pick up your pen, wander off into the world and deepen your connection with your writing by switching to longhand.