Writing by hand isn’t just for journaling. J.K. Rowling wrote her first drafts of the Harry Potter books with black pen and narrow feint writing paper, and has been known to write on whatever she could find nearby when she didn’t have a notepad, including the back of an empty air-sickness bag. Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novels standing up, on index cards, rearranging scenes by moving the cards around. Author Andre Dubus III wrote his novels in longhand with a carpenter’s pencil, before graduating to a different lead.
Technology may have made it more convenient to write, edit and revise on computers and tablets, but many writers still believe they’re more creative writing the old-fashioned way—longhand, with pen or pencil and paper. Even research is singing the praises of writing by hand.
The Proven Benefits of Writing by Longhand
A 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science shows that students who handwrite notes in class, instead of typing them on a laptop, end up with higher test scores than those who use the computer. The study authors believe that students’ brains actually process the material differently through the hand-to-brain connection.
Most of the recent research on this topic has been done in academic situations, but what about the areas of creative writing and journaling? Marc Seifer, MD, author of The Definitive Book of Handwriting Analysis, says, “Taking pen to paper inspires more creative thought, because it is a slower process than just typing something on a keyboard.” A study conducted at the University of Stavanger in Norway found that, “When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback are significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.” This research proves that not only is the cyclical process between the object and the body affecting creativity, but also the brain reacts differently when our hands touch a pen or pencil than it does when typing on the keyboard.
Tools of the Handwriting Trade
Henry David Thoreau famously said, “I put a piece of paper under my pillow and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.” This was possible because Thoreau also always had a pencil with him. In fact, his father made pencils at Thoreau and Company. The author wasn’t happy with how the graphite stayed in the wooden shaft, so he worked for over a year and perfected the clay base to hold the crushed graphite inside the wood. This allowed him to sharpen the tip to whatever size he wanted.
Thoreau was on to something. To write in longform, it’s important to choose a pen or pencil that feels good to hold and move across the paper, so that you look forward to the experience of using it. Ian Schon, owner of Schon DSGN in Boston, designed his first titanium pen after launching a Kickstarter campaign in 2012. Today, he makes them small batches in a variety of materials and finishes, and says, “The pens are unique because of their material honesty. They are not just steel or aluminum or brass-colored, but they are made from solid blocks of these materials.”
Rina Palumbo, author and co-founder of Third Street Writers in Laguna Beach, California, prefers to write with a Montblanc Meisterstück Gold pen. “The pen itself has a weight that is perfectly balanced in my hand, linking ephemeral thought with the mechanics of cursive writing. Writing by hand is the most intimate form of creative connection I have ever felt,” says Palumbo. “The ink flows, translating my thoughts into words unto the page and into the world.”
While a computer with a keyboard is the official instrument of getting work done at the office, longform writing doesn’t have to be reserved for shopping lists and thank-you notes. Take the recent research on the benefits of this type of writing to heart and start journaling or writing the great American novel. Find a pen or pencil that feels right in your hand and let your creativity flow.
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