Last updated on December 23, 2016
Longhand writing is fast becoming a lost art. With keyboards and touch screens everywhere, we rarely have a reason to touch a piece of paper any longer. Along with that fast-disappearing skill, professionals are taking notice of the loss of some essential brain development benefits we used to gain in writing longhand with a pen or pencil.
While faster on the keyboard, for writers, by using that electronic tool during the initial stages of active story creation, we lose something in the creative process. It creates a barrier that inhibits our ability to be as imaginative as we could be. It also gives us an avenue to distraction.
According to William R. Klemm Ph.D. in his Psychology Today article Why Writing by Hand Could Make your Smarter, writing longhand, particularly in cursive, affects brain development in awesome ways like developing functional specialization. He says, in part, “The benefits to brain development are similar to what you get with learning to play a musical instrument. Not everybody can afford music lessons, but everybody has access to pencil and paper.”
Writing using pen and paper boosts memory and even our ability to understand according to Lizette Borreli in the Medical Daily’s, Why Using Pen And Paper, Not Laptops, Boosts Memory: Writing Notes Helps Recall Concepts, Ability To Understand. The article outlines studies that tested the benefits to post secondary students of writing longhand notes. The outcome “revealed while both groups memorized the same number of facts from the lectures, the laptop users performed far worse when they were tested on ideas.”
And ideas are what it’s all about during the active creation of your novel.
Writing is an art, can’t argue with that. Being an art means it comes from inside you and the fuel burned in the act of will to create is your own energy. With no keyboard barrier in the way, it’s a straight avenue to infuse yourself into what you write while the ideas flow from your brains and heart to hand to pen and out onto the paper.
Brain development benefits aside, the act of taking the creation process away from the keyboard has other more practical gains.
3 Benefits of Writing your Novel Longhand
Turn off your internal Editor
This is a big one. During creation, one sure fire way to kill your own creative flow is to become distracted by seeing something you want to fix. You know how it goes…
You see an error, spelling or otherwise, you full-stop and fix it. And then while you’re reading over the last few line to get back to the same spot in your brain you were before you stopped, you see something else. So you stop again and fix that. Then you have to go back further and start reading from there, because now you’ve stopped so long you completely lost your train of thought. And need to find it again. And while you’re reading, a different thought comes to you, but to make it work you have to totally change some lines or paragraphs or pages. And then by the time you’re done that, you’ve lost the thread of your new train of thought. And then you’re stuck. Or you’ve used up all your writing time for the day pissing around editing for no good reason and you haven’t actually accomplished anything related to new composition.
Sound about right? I feel you.
So try this – compose longhand. You can’t backspace with a pen. Just keep going, don’t stop. Writing longhand will allow you to not only keep going, but keep that tenuous original cohesion that your subconscious served up to you intact. Write longhand until you naturally get to the end of what was in your head. You’ll be a lot more productive.
Keep Research From Leaking Into Composition Time
When you write at a keyboard, there’s always the temptation to stop yourself and look up a specific term that may not immediately come to mind or delve into the background on some activity that you need to become an overnight expert in. I’m saying don’t do it.
I mentioned it in another article, but I employ the bracket method. When I write longhand (which I do for new composition), when I’m stuck for a word or term I need, I use a similar word and put it in brackets. And keep going. I’m going to transcribe all those longhand pages anyway, so I leave off the looking up part until then. All those brackets are shorthand notes to myself for things I need to look up later. It’s the way I resist the temptation to stop and do that research when I should be composing.
Gain Creativity – Unplug From Technology
You should already be creating a distraction-free environment for yourself to write in. Even then, being online comes with the natural pitfalls of distraction. Social media beckons, emails arrive, tempting weird news headlines call out their siren song – it’s tough to ignore. Writing longhand, especially in a technology-free location, gives you back all of your attention.
Yes, we live in a “multi-tasking world”, but you may be surprised to know that human beings cannot multi-task – it’s a myth. The human brain is incapable of performing more than one activity at a time that requires high-level brain function. What usually happens? We end up jumping around from task to task and not applying our full attention to any of it. Aside from that being inefficient, it eats creativity. And we don’t accomplish any more work than we would have if we did the tasks one at a time.
Now unplug for a while, put your full concentration on your story while you get it out longhand. With no distraction, your brain can do that magical thing it does where your subconscious figures things out and makes connections in the background while you laser focus on your story-telling. You’ll be amazed by how many more creative ideas bubble to the surface.
Longhand writing for the creative win!