The Power of Writing by Hand

Writing by hand has been around for as long as humans have known how to write. It is a simple but powerful method of communication and expression, one we should never forget about in the digital age. Its power comes from its simplicity: it’s easier to remember things that are written on paper than anything else, which makes writing something you love or the most important thing in your life extremely meaningful.

The “writing by hand benefits” is a common belief. Handwriting helps with learning and memory retention, as well as creativity.

Regardless matter how many note-taking and to-do list applications and software I’ve used over the years, I always end up jotting things down on paper. Though I still use applications for checklists and master lists, I still use pen and paper for day-to-day note-taking and prioritization (or dry erase marker and whiteboard). 

While several studies have attempted to explain the long-lasting fascination of “manual” writing in recent decades, a deeper examination of the study reveals that many of the advantages ascribed to it aren’t unique to that kind of writing, nor have they always been duplicated in later studies. 

But I don’t need scientific proof to confirm what I’ve already deduced intuitively from my own n=1 studies. I’ve listed a few advantages to writing things down by hand that I’ve discovered via basic field testing; try picking up a pen (or pencil) more often yourself, and you could discover comparable benefits, or some wholly new to you.

Encoding helps to improve memory. 

If there is one scientifically confirmed and reproducible advantage of manual writing, it is that the act of encoding improves your memory and hence your capacity to remember information when you write anything by hand. 

There are other things at work here, but the bottom line is that writing by hand employs considerably more brain processing units than typing. You’re physically synchronizing your brain and hand in a deeper manner; you’re forced to arrange information more simply (more on that below); and you have to think a bit harder to write anything by hand rather than on a computer or screen. As a result of all of this, the information from your writing utensil gets encoded at a deeper level in your memory. When you type, it’s almost as if the information is just being transported onto a screen via your body; when you write, the information is truly being stored and processed for future use and recall.  

It makes you ponder and sift your thoughts.

You take use of the advantages of limitations when you write anything down by hand. You force yourself to determine what’s most essential by restricting both physical space (you can only fit so much on a page) and physical capabilities (you can only write so fast). There’s basically unlimited room to write down highlights from a lecture or compile a list of everything you’re thinking about right now if you’re taking notes or putting out to-dos on a screen. You’ll write a forest but have no idea where the trees are. 

When writing by hand, you have limits no matter what canvas you’re working with. You’ll need to pay more attention, consider things through more thoroughly, and determine which items to trim and which to maintain. Consider the page to be a built-in filter for anything is floating around in your head. 

 

It serves as a visual reminder to keep things in mind.

While applications for generating lists and taking notes are useful, once the device is switched off or placed in your pocket, those thoughts vanish. Truly, out of sight, out of mind. While I still use Todoist on a daily basis, it eventually gets lost among the dozen tabs I have open on my computer, and I certainly don’t think about it while I’m on my phone since I’m always using a couple of other applications. There’s too much digital clutter for it to be front of mind when I need it most, which is when I’m distracted — it’s a catch-22 situation.  

In contrast, I can keep anything I’ve written down in front of my eyes all the time, whether it’s a to-do list or a motivational statement. I don’t have to think about it in order to remember it.

I just purchased a FluidStance desktop whiteboard and have found it to be really useful. When I jot out a research strategy for an article or my top few goals for the day — Rule of 3 for the win! — I always use the number three. I don’t have to use mental effort to recall such details. I’m aware that they’re being filmed and that they’ll be in my peripheral vision throughout the day. When I become sidetracked, all I have to do is look down and see my written reminders of what has to be done to get back on track.

Distracts as little as possible.

Things written down by hand are not only easily available while you’re distracted, but they also don’t expose you to additional distractions. 

If you swipe inside your phone to take a note in your note-taking app, your finger will stray over to the Instagram app. Also, there’s the Twitter app. You’re still fiddling with your phone even after you completed composing your note five minutes ago.

You may try to fight the digital distraction monster with time restrictions and app blocks all you want, but it will always be there. I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve found that switching to pen and paper for daily note-taking and list-making — the checklists and master lists of items remain in Todoist — has helped me stay more focused throughout the day and complete my most important chores. Using a pen and paper to write down ideas reduces the need to go from screen to screen, app to app, and tab to tab, giving me less chances to be drawn into the internet’s “infinity pools.” Sure, I get sidetracked, but when I’m not dependent on my screen to direct my to-dos or article writing, it takes a lot less time to get back on track. 

More creative organization and mental processing is possible. 

One of the benefits of writing things down on paper (or a whiteboard) is the opportunity to arrange them in a manner that goes beyond the line-by-line structure provided by most note-taking and to-do list applications. I can put boxes around key objects, link thoughts using arrows, organize lists into columns, and even create images if necessary. Some applications allow for freeform writing, although they’re almost always clumsy. 

 

The intellect does not always follow a straightforward, step-by-step procedure. By writing things down manually, you may let your writing to follow its back-and-forth, loop-de-loop processes.   

It has a distinct kinetic energy. 

Though it’s not a measured advantage, the concept that words are flowing from your head, through your arm and hand, and out onto a paper has a special, unfathomable force. When words flow through a keyboard and into the digital ether, it’s a very tactile process that simply isn’t the same. The slowness of writing forces deeper reflection; the way your hand muscles get a little tired (surely because we don’t use those muscles very much anymore!) is physical evidence that you’re working; the visual and tangible proof of ideas coming to life is far more inspiring than seeing it on a Word Doc; the visual and tangible proof of ideas coming to life is far more inspiring than seeing it on a Word Doc. 

There’s a reason why some of our best contemporary authors — J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and the list goes on – prefer longhand manuscripts over digital ones (for first drafts, at least). It’s inexplicably simple: on the paper, there’s more enchantment and power than on the screen.  

 

 

The “disadvantages of writing by hand” are that it is a slow process and it can be difficult to read. One advantage is that you have more control over what you write.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of writing by hand?

A: Some benefits of writing by hand are that it allows the writer to control their own perception, and can be done anywhere without internet access.

Why writing by hand is good for the brain?

A: Writing by hand is a great way to improve your brain function. Research has shown that when you write in cursive, it encourages more blood flow and oxygen circulation in the brain than writing with a keyboard or on paper. This helps strengthen the attention span and memory of children who are learning how to read

What is the skill of writing by hand called?

A: The skill of writing by hand is called calligraphy.

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