February 10, 2017
Actor John Wayne is credited to have said once “I never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” Fair point. But as a writer, what I really don’t trust are writers who prefer typing to cursive.
All writers I respect have one thing in common: they handwrite everything.
It’s a non-negotiable process for me and a mandatory exercise at my classes. If you want to type, you’ll do so after you have used your pen – or pencil, whichever you prefer.
Often, people tell me they keep facing the ticking cursor on their computer screens and can’t think of a word to type. I tell them one thing only: “Get yourself a pen and a notebook.”
Sure, the common ideal image of a writer is that of someone hitting hard on the keys of a vintage typewriter. But don’t let yourself be fooled by Hollywood’s nostalgia. Just look at history.
For as long as we’ve been human we’ve been communicating both verbally and with our hands. We’ve always told stories, as much as we’ve written them — well, sort of. The early adopted forms of pictograms and ideograms were nothing more than a need to communicate thoughts and stories so that they would last longer, so that they could be shared, so that they wouldn’t be forgotten.
In fact, recent research points to us being able to memorize better when we take notes by hand rather than when we type on our computers or mobile devices. There’s a connection between the motor skills of drawing a letter and the memory mark that process stamps on our brains. Keyboards, on the other hand, are all about the same movement – tap, tap, tap.
Other studies show cursive activates areas of the brain that typing doesn’t.
Five-year-olds who practice handwriting develop their neural activity to adult-like levels. In comparison, their peers who don’t write longhand don’t develop as much – according to the University of Indiana.
But there’s more. The distance between the computer screen, keyboard, and our hands prevents us from yielding the same creative writing results as cursive. There’s an intimate connection between the touch of the hand on a sheet of paper and our brains.
Haptics helps us open our subconscious and allow it to take over. When it comes to handwriting, it helps us channel more and possibly deeper ideas. It’s as though there is a direct line of communication between the depths of our soul and the edge of the pen. We barely think about the words. They simply, magically appear on the page.
The times I have surprised myself the most were moments after realizing what I had just written. No wonder psychologists advise writing to many of their patients suffering from traumas or recovering from addictions. It’s a cathartic medium that helps us express what we normally wouldn’t be able to rationalize. It uncovers our secrets and fears. It’s a safe, private moment, in a small world where only we, the pen, paper and our thoughts exist.
Just think about the last time you wrote or read an email as beautiful, meaningful and profound as your last handwritten letter. There’s no beating what comes naturally to us.
Sure, technology is there to make our life easier. But since when was the creative process an easy road to take?
And before you ask, yes, this text was originally handwritten.