Do You Write in Longhand?

I am finding some good stuff today at ProfHacker. In this post, Natalie Houston discusses the benefits of writing in longhand.

Here is a snippet:

When I draft in longhand, I feel that my writing is more closely connected to my thought process, both in pace and in content. I think better. I’m able to work through an idea without worrying about the next one. I revise differently, tending to write much longer sections through completely before doing any revisions at all. This gives me a different perspective on the essay and means that I progress more easily through the draft.

It’s more enjoyable to sit in my armchair with my favorite pen and a stack of blank paper on my clipboard than to sit at my computer and resist the lure of the internet. Although I’m primarily a visual learner, the tactile experience of writing longhand eases me into the flow of argument in a way that the blank screen and blinking cursor never do. If I’m stuck, it’s easier to just start writing something, anything, by hand. Seeing it look like type on the screen gives it a finality that is sometimes intimidating. In longhand, I know it’s just a draft.
The transcription process serves as a gentle revision process, a chance to reacquaint myself with what I was thinking about a week ago, or a month ago when I wrote the draft. I like to leave enough time in between the initial draft and transcribing it to computer so that it feels a bit unfamiliar, giving me room for better critique.

Sure, these preferences might simply be due to the fact that I spent almost 20 years writing longhand before I ever started composing at the keyboard. But there might be some neurological factors as well. Some neuroscientists suggest that the physical act of writing activates the brain differently than pushing keys on a keyboard, perhaps because of the shapes of the letters. Writing also helps bring key information to the forefront of the brain’s filters. One study that compared people composing longhand and by keyboard revealed significant differences in the timing of the revision process. They also found that participants changed their writing style when moving from one mode to the other — but not necessarily in the same ways. These studies and other recent work about how our brains adapt to the demands of the new media environment raise interesting avenues for research with future generations more familiar with keyboards from the very beginnings of their literacy.

I agree with Houston.  Though I can’t really explain it, my mind seems to work better when I write longhand drafts.  For some time I have been on the brink of returning to the yellow legal pad. I think Houston’s piece has just pushed me over the edge.

One thought on “Do You Write in Longhand?

  1. I find writing longhand to be a bottleneck for me. I think much faster than I can write, and often end up finding myself mixing two or three thoughts in an argument. Typing allows me to cut and paste things back where they belong, and since I can type faster than I can write longhand, I have less of the bottleneck in my thoughts. Still, there are some things to prefer about writing longhand, such as the ability to make side comments to myself for later reference.

    Of course, I've been writing via keyboard since high school, since we had computers at home before most. I also only ever turned in typed drafts and papers at Messiah as an undergrad. I prefer doing math by hand, before typing it up, so perhaps this is discipline related?


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