Monday, August 12, 2019

The Human Touch: The Benefits of Writing Longhand

In the era of cell phones, tablets and microcomputers, writing longhand may not come naturally or easily, but there are benefits to mind, body and story.

One benefit of writing by hand is a closer mind-body connection. Using a favorite pen and journal to record ideas, to expand later or just for yourself in the moment, slows the thought process and gives the mind an outlet for those thoughts through tactile sensation. The benefits of list writing, for example, include more than just creating reminders; they also include a sense of release, from the moment the first item appears on the page.

Writing longhand also helps minimize and even eliminate distractions. Not only are you not online (at least not directly), you’re also focusing more directly on the page and the written word. This degree of concentration slows the writing process to enable your imagination to more fully envision and record images, which can lead to better-developed concepts, scenes, characters and stories.

When writers concentrate more fully on their work, they also become better writers, because they’re more aware in real time of their word choices and the effects of those choices. This is called “listening to the work” and trains the writer’s ear to hear the differences between, for example, active and passive voice, and to notice the betterments of using fewer and more precise words to tighten and strengthen stories, whether fictional or real life.

When writers take time to “hear” to their work, they also focus less on fixing it, which yields greater freedom to explore a theme or topic in organic way. When we’re not continually in editing mode, we give ourselves a chance to discover what works in our writing, what doesn’t and why. As a result, we gain mastery over our work and confidence. This helps us learn faster. So if you like to learn by doing and by trial and error, as I often do, longhand is a great way to gain, use and increase your knowledge.

Of course, there are also clear benefits to using a device for writing. First, the process produces text faster and easier than writing longhand. Most programs even correct you as you write, and you can use the program’s spellcheck, grammar check and thesaurus without stepping away from your work. Once you create a piece, it’s a lot easier to save and upload it to work on later, virtually anywhere (pun intended). Of course, you can carry a pen and paper nearly anywhere, too, but it’s hard to beat the convenience of a device to create, edit, save and rework a writing project. These advantages make devices more than convenient for creating first drafts and meeting deadlines.

In reality, you don’t have to make a once-for-all choice of longhand or device for your writing. Each style or project tends to create its own parameters, such as time constraints, energy level, type or style of writing, personal preference and mood.

When I was growing up, for example, I preferred writing longhand for journal entries and poetry. I still do. There’s something inherently pleasing about opening a journal, especially a new one, taking out a favorite pen and sitting down to write on a pristine page, like first footsteps in snow. For me, it’s a way to uncover and explore my thoughts and emotions, especially when something is happening in my life that I want to examine. Those instances deserve the human touch, through sufficient time and close attention.