Technology has helped writers every step of the way. The printing press revolutionized the distribution of books, the typewriter increased speed of writing, and computers have radically changed everything—from the way we edit to the way we publish. But could we also benefit from occasionally doing things the old-fashioned way?
When I first tried to start writing again, I used a laptop. My efforts stumbled and lurched their way down onto the page until I threw in the towel altogether. I blamed the fact that I hadn’t written in a few years. But then my laptop broke and I joined a writing group away from home. I had no choice but to show up with pencil and paper in hand to see where it would take me.
Surprisingly, it took me way farther than I ever thought it would.
Writers are artists, and all artists need to use their hands in some way to bridge the gap between their imagination and this reality. If you examine any artistic human endeavor, you will find a pair of hands acting as one of the primary forces behind the work. And that work might range from cooking a delicious meal, to playing an instrument, or even dancing or coding a new program.
All artists are creatively tied to their hands.
You don’t have to handwrite your work with pen and paper, and some writers are perfectly comfortable creating their stories using only their laptop. But if you find yourself feeling blocked, or stuck on a certain point, handwriting has the power to channel your subconscious in a way that can be enormously helpful. Every one of us contains hidden depths of emotion, idea, darkness, and beauty. Feeling the scratch of pen against paper lends a visceral dimension to handwriting that gives the subconscious permission to release a little more of the richness of these depths.
The other benefit of handwriting is that it’s not so easy to go back and edit as you’re writing. When you’re using a laptop the temptation is always there to quickly backspace, delete, and revise while you’re in the middle of writing. Any sort of editing—no matter how minor—interrupts your creative flow and is actually not helpful in the long run, even if it feels necessary in the moment. When you’re handwriting you might still catch yourself crossing things out, but overall it’s much easier to note things you might want to change later in brackets and move on.
And lastly, when you’re using a pen and paper you have the freedom to shut down your laptop and cut yourself off from countless social media distractions. Your mind isn’t pulled away by message notification bells and colorful windows popping up with something new and shiny to get sucked into.
Give handwriting a try in the next couple of weeks. As the weather gets warmer this spring, grab a journal and head for the park to see how much writing you can get done by hand.
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