Okay, fellow artists. It’s time to talk science. Specifically, the science of writing by hand.
Let’s remember, first and foremost, what you are: you are a person—a human being. And that means you are also an animal.
You are biology: you’re blood and organs and a skeleton, and it’s all fueled and connected by a powerful network of nerves and reflexes.
Writing is such a cerebral, mindful task that sometimes we forget there’s a physicality to it, too. There are biological things happening when we write: there are neurons firing and muscles moving.
It stands to reason, then, that the physical tools we manipulate in order to write have an impact on the work we create.
If you’ve been following my blog the last couple of months, you know where this is going: let’s talk about why writing by hand is different from—and sometimes better than—typing!
But writing by hand is so much slower.
Yep, it is—and sometimes, that’s a good thing.
Think of a professional goalie. A goalie is a critical member of the hockey team, and to be a successful goalie, they have to be in prime physical health: they probably engage in regular weight training and heavy cardio. Their workouts probably break a sweat and get their heart pumping.
As far as “working out” your writing muscles goes, weight training and cardio are comparable to a good, long session at the computer. It’s fast and focused at least in part on productivity.
A writer at the computer will pay attention to things like how many words they’re writing and how effectively they’re using language.
But a goalie doesn’t just need to be big and fast. A goalie needs to be limber, too, if they want to be able to block the shots. Most professional goalies incorporate a lot of yoga into their training, to help keep their muscles loose and their reflexes sharp. Yoga isn’t like weight training or cardio; it’s slow, measured, careful, precise.
Notebook writing is like yoga in that sense. Yes, it’s slower than typing, but the slowness is at least part of the point.
Writing more slowly means writing more thoughtfully and enhancing your focus—it makes you pay careful attention to every word, just like yoga helps your body pay attention to every muscle.
There’s no “delete” button in my notebook!
Maybe you’re the sort of writer that likes to edit as you go. You might write a couple paragraphs, then realize you want to rephrase a sentence or two. You go back and fiddle with it before you continue on. After the next paragraph, you do the same thing again.
A little bit of backtracking and revision as you go is sometimes okay. But too much of it means you’re getting in your own way. You might realize you’ve been sitting at the computer for an hour and haven’t actually generated anything new.
The ease with which pieces can be edited on a computer is definitely a plus when it’s time to polish your writing and make it shine. But in the drafting stage, you need to be focused on creation, not perfection.
Because you can’t “delete” something in a notebook—you can scratch the odd word out, but that’s not the same thing as total revision—you’re forced to accept imperfection. You’re forced to simply move on, even if you don’t like the way something was written at first.
Handwriting is a medium that demands forward momentum. And this in turn enables a great respect for the proper process of writing: write first, edit later. They’re different activities; don’t try to do it all at once.
Writing by hand helps you see writing as art.
To type the word “poetry,” I hit keys and the word appears on a screen in front of me. I put it there—it wouldn’t be on the screen if I hadn’t commanded the computer to display it.
But the computer generated the word for me. I might be able to choose a font of my liking, and appreciate the beauty of the way the word looks (either on its own or in conjunction with the other words around it), but I didn’t actually sculpt the word by hand.
If I write the word “poetry” in a notebook, however, I am literally building the word letter by letter, serif by serif, stroke by stroke. Even if my handwriting is messy, it’s still my handwriting, my own interpretation of what a letter is supposed to be.
I can choose whether to use cursive or not, whether to write the y as a loop or something more hard-angled. If I’m really feeling a burst of passion as the word comes to me, maybe I’ll cross the t emphatically, letting the line swipe long across the page.
In short, even if you don’t think of yourself as a visual artist, handwriting helps you tap into a space that views writing as an art form. And that’s critical in helping you connect meaningfully with the aesthetic pleasure of individual words and phrases.
Even if you don’t write everything by hand—and let’s face it, most of us are going to do most of our writing on a computer—starting off your writing session with a warm-up in the notebook can do wonders for putting you in the right creative mindset.
#TheNotebookProject: Free Mini-Course with Writing Exercises NOW LIVE!
Here's a way to do more writing by hand. Get access to more notebook writing tips and free writing exercises!
Join #TheNotebookProject and get immediate access to a free mini-course guiding you on how to set yourself up for using your notebook effectively AND a set of 4 new writing exercises for you to use in your writing notebook.
You'll receive 4 new writing exercises on the first Monday of each month, every month for 6 months. (That's 2 dozen different writing exercises in total!) It’s completely free for my email subscribers (Yay!) and you can sign up here to get access. The mini-course is live now! Our next set of exercises will go live in the course on Monday, June 7th.
And don’t forget that the last Friday of each month, I’ll be giving away a notebook during my regular weekly Facebook Lives. Next giveaway is Friday, May 28, at 5pm Eastern—see you there!