Last summer, I wrote about The Benefits of Typing. A writer can get those same benefits from writing by hand, using a pen or pencil and paper or a notebook. But writing by hand offers something more, too.
One of the biggest benefits to a writer of getting away from a computer keyboard or laptop, whether it’s by handwriting or typewriting, is the inability to edit as you write. Other benefits include the lack of distractions. There’s no spellcheck prompting you to correct your spelling or grammar. There’s no internet browser a click away. There are no email notifications popping up, no ping of your computer starting its daily backup routine.
In The Benefits of Typewriting, I include clips from the documentary California Typewriter. In one clip, John Mayer does a deep dive into how typewriting transformed his songwriting, and in another, Sam Shepard talks about why he wrote his plays and stories on a typewriter all his life. Shepard loved how tactile using a typewriter was and how it required something of him: “When you go to ride a horse, you have to saddle it,” he said. “When you’re going to use a typewriter, you have to feed it paper. There’s a percussion about it. You can see the ink flying onto the surface of the paper. So a letter’l go bam! like that, but along with it is the ink kinda pshhh! flying into the paper.”
The benefits of typewriting for a writer are tremendous, but the benefits of writing by hand are even more significant. Scientific studies have shown that writing by hand activates the brain at a much higher level than keyboarding does, and it activates different areas of the brain, those associated with reading, language, and memory.
From a psychological standpoint, writing by hand is more calming and ritualistic. It forces the writer to slow down and to think more critically and thoughtfully—your brain is engaging with the words on the page. You can’t delete what you’ve written. You can only cross it out, so it stays there on the paper, informing your subconscious and improving your creativity as you write forward.
In fact, handwriting is a form of art in and of itself. When you write, you are drawing the letters and exercising the right side of your brain—the seat of creativity versus logic. Even if you choose to compose your work on a computer or laptop, you stimulate the right side of your brain when you handwrite in your journal each day, handwrite your daily to-do list, or handwrite your appointments into a calendar.
Finally, writing by hand forces you to make choices as you write. In a 2019 interview for Tim Ferriss’s podcast, author Neil Gaiman discussed editing an anthology in the days before everyone had computers:
“Most of the stories that came in were about three thousand words long. Move forward in time—not much, five, six, seven years. Mid-nineties, everybody is now on computer, and I edited another short story anthology. The stories that were coming in tended to be somewhere between six [thousand] and nine thousand words long. They didn’t really have much more story than the three thousand word ones, and I realized that what was happening is it’s a computer-y thing, is if you’re typing, putting stuff down is work. If you’ve got a computer, adding stuff is not work. Choosing is work. It expands a bit, like a gas. If you have two things you could say, you say both of them. If you have the stuff you want to add, you add it, and I thought, ‘Okay, I have to not do that, because otherwise my stuff is going to balloon and it will become gaseous and thin.’”
You can listen to the entire interview here: