Handwriting Versus Typing: The Best Method for Writing

By Melissa Lewis Grimm | Articles | Reading Time: 10 minutes

Oct 12
handwriting

It’s hard to believe that people still handwrite at all these days; we tend to rely on computers to do everything because they make it so easy.

I write articles on my laptop, though I do take a few notes here and there on paper.

And yet, I am a big fan of handwriting. I could be one of its groupies or the president of its fan club.

I remember learning how to write in cursive in elementary school, but I’ve often wondered if “kids these days” still learn that. (Wow, I sound like an old, evil villain from “Scooby-Doo.”)

In fact, the Common Core Curriculum Standards no longer require that students learn cursive handwriting in school, although some states have chosen to continue teaching it.

If typing is so ingrained in our lives, why should we even consider handwriting our content anymore?

At one point in time, all authors handwrote their stories. There was no other option until the introduction of the printing press and subsequent invention of the typewriter.

It’s amusing to picture Geoffrey Chaucer click-clacking away at a typewriter in his den. Or how different would “The Canterbury Tales” have been if Chaucer had written it on a laptop at a corner table in Starbucks?

But it turns out that although handwriting has gone out of favor in recent years due to easier access to computers, many famous authors still choose to handwrite their stories, or at least their first drafts, as opposed to typing them.

What’s the appeal behind handwriting? Is there even a use for it anymore in today’s age of computers?

Well, let’s just say, if famous authors are still handwriting their drafts, it might be a practice to consider to help us create stronger content.

Authors Who Prefer Handwriting to Typing

Despite having a myriad of electronic devices at their fingertips, many authors still choose to handwrite their content, or at least certain drafts, by hand.

Writing certain parts of their works by hand, and writing with a specific implement or on a particular type of paper, is part of the writing routine the authors below follow.

Even though prolific author Joyce Carol Oates has nearly 140,000 followers on Twitter, she writes up to eight hours a day in longhand. She writes notes and outlines by hand, and then she types everything into her computer.

Toni Morrison, who begins writing before dawn, writes with a pencil on yellow legal pads. Then, once her draft is complete, she types everything into a computer and makes revisions to the text. Morrison’s first handwritten drafts are often worded and structured quite differently than the published versions. Some sections are eventually deleted, and some of her handwritten work even includes information about other novels she goes on to develop.

Truman Capote hand wrote the first and second drafts of his novels in pencil, before switching to a typewriter for the final drafts.

J.K. Rowling writes her first draft in pen or pencil (she prefers black pens to blue pens) and then considers her first edit when she types the handwritten text into her computer. She wrote her first “Harry Potter” book by hand — jotting down initial ideas about the book on a napkin while on a train — because she couldn’t afford a typewriter, but she continued to write by hand thereafter. Rowling says she wrote the names of the Hogwarts Houses on a vomit bag from an airplane.

Quentin Tarantino likes to write all of his scripts by hand. Perhaps being written in longhand is what made “Pulp Fiction” such a classic.

George Clooney writes his scripts out in longhand and has his writing partner type out the text.

John Steinbeck used pencils to write his novels.

After a car accident, Stephen King had to handwrite his novels because he was uncomfortable while typing. According to King, “It makes you think about each word as you write it, and it also gives you more of a chance so that you’re able — the sentences compose themselves in your head. It’s like hearing music, only it’s words. But you see more ahead because you can’t go as fast.”

These authors benefit from writing by hand, particularly at the beginning of the creative process, because it takes more time to craft the text by hand, thereby slowing down their thought process. Even if a computer is used to type out a final draft when the first part of the process is complete, many authors still believe handwriting is an essential part of their process.

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard

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How does using a writing implement (a pen or pencil) differ from typing on a keyboard? There actually is a big difference in terms of what each method of content creation requires of us.

Pens require different cognitive skills than keyboards. According to Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva, “Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: you need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.”

Handwriting is a more complicated task than typing, because you use visual, motor, and cognitive skills to write. While typing, your brain is on somewhat of an autopilot setting, where you aren’t even conscious of which letters you’re typing. Your brain simply tells you which letters to type, and because you’ve done it so many times before that it’s an automatic function, you don’t even think about it.

Using a pen or pencil to write your content may have more benefits than you’d think. Here are some pros you may experience if you try handwriting:

  • Process information more easily. Writing notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than does typing notes on an electronic device. Comprehension and retention are improved through the physical process of writing. In other words, handwriting keeps your mind sharp.
  • Slow down your thinking. In such a fast-paced world, it’s sometimes difficult to stop and smell the roses. Handwriting can force you to slow down, meaning you have a chance to develop your thoughts differently.
  • Improve creativity. Since creativity requires the connection of different types of ideas, you can boost your creativity by writing by hand. Certain areas of the brain are activated when you use a pen or pencil; those same areas aren’t activated by typing. Creative ideas can also come about more easily when you give yourself more time to process everything.
  • Improve critical thinking. Handwriting improves thinking because it forces us to clearly express our ideas and assess what is needed for helpful discussion. It can help us use higher-order thinking to problem-solve.
  • Brainstorm and mind-map more easily. This part of the writing process is much simpler to do in longhand rather than on a computer.
  • Improve your focus. With just a pen and a pad of paper in front of you instead of a computer, you will be less distracted and better able to focus on the task at hand. You can’t simply decide to surf online when you don’t feel like working.

Famous authors might prefer handwriting for these same reasons. By using just a pen and a pad of paper, they can boost their level of creativity and let their ideas flow organically.

… Or Is Typing the Better Way?

So, we’ve heard all the good stuff about writing by hand, but what are some pros of typing?

  • Speed up your process or the flow of your writing. Typing is much faster than handwriting, so handwriting could impede your writing roll if you can’t get your thoughts out quickly enough.
  • Save, backup, and share your information much more easily. If you misplace a notebook or some paper on which you’ve written some content, you ain’t getting that back, sister. If you type content on a computer, you can save your work as you go (some programs even save it automatically along the way). When you want to ask peers or colleagues for feedback or need to share a final version of your content, it is much easier to upload or email a file for sharing than it is to make a copy of pages and pages of content.
  • Easily reference ideas for future articles or look back to find previously written pieces. If your work is saved on a computer, it is much easier to find content you worked on in the past. No matter how masterful you are at organization, it is still easier to search for and find text on a computer or a flash drive than in a stack of notebooks or a desk drawer full of paper files.
  • Cut and paste text while editing to improve organization and flow. If there are sentences that work better at the beginning of a piece, just cut and paste them and, voila, you’re done! That is so much simpler to do than searching through pages of handwritten text to find a spot where you’d like to insert a paragraph from 10 pages earlier.
  • Be much “greener.” Handwriting requires the use of paper, whereas typing requires only a keyboard and a screen. Think about how much paper you use if you write an article, let alone an entire novel, on paper. Writers can leave a large ecological footprint that way, although computers also leave a footprint in terms of power usage, use of rare metals, and built-in technological obsolescence.
  • Avoid physical pain such as focal hand dystonia. According to the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Integrative Neuroscience, this disease, which is also known as writer’s cramp, can cause periodic excessive muscle spasms in the writing hand. People with this disease can experience anything from mild pain and slight convulsions when writing, to painful spasms that can lock the writing hand in an uncomfortable position for long periods of time.

So What’s the Verdict?

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Although typing is a more efficient way of creating content, handwriting is still an important part of the practice of writing. Despite the benefits of using computers and other electronic devices to capture and save information, handwriting can help bring writing down to its purest form and allow for more creative ideas to flow.

Handwriting helps us focus our thoughts and energy on the specific writing task and makes it easier to avoid the distractions that computers can present.

So, for many, handwriting seems like the best method, at least for idea generation and developing the first draft of your content. Handwriting provides the most benefits during this stage in the writing process.

Ways to Incorporate Handwriting Into Your Writing Practice

With all the benefits of handwriting, it’s definitely worth giving longhand a try. Here are some ways to use handwriting in your writing practice to improve the quality of your content.

Brainstorming and Outlining

Writing by hand is the perfect method to use at the beginning of the writing process, when you’re generating ideas for your next article, blog post, or novel. Brainstorming ideas can be easier when you have a physical sheet of paper in front of you on which to jot down your ideas.

Once you’re ready to develop an outline based on those ideas, looking at one sheet of paper where you can easily cross out text or insert an arrow here or there to move a section can be much easier than staring at a computer screen.

Handwriting is also helpful for free writing — where you just write without stopping to critique your work. Free writing can increase the flow of your ideas, because it prevents you from overthinking them. You just keep writing for a set period of time, regardless of which ideas come to mind, and then you can edit the text later.

Handwriting is a much better way to engage in free writing, because typing gives you too much of an opportunity to correct your text as you go along, possibly quashing some of those brilliant ideas that are flowing from your noodle.

When I type, I can’t help but edit myself along the way. When I handwrite, I can’t do that as easily, which is a good thing. Instead of paying attention to the red underline in the Word file or Google Doc distracting me from my writing groove, I just let the words flow.

After you have all this great information on paper, you can then type your first draft, if you so choose. Or, you may choose to use a combination of all these methods to develop your first draft.

Copywork

Used in the 18th and 19th centuries as a way to teach children how to write, copywork involves copying a selection of text from a well-written book or other written content onto paper or into a notebook. Copying the text of well-known or great authors helps the student learn different writing styles as well as improve their grammar and expand their vocabulary.

Although this method started off as a way to educate children, it can also be beneficial for adults. Exposing yourself to different genres of books from a variety of authors can help you understand how to write more effectively. Physically writing out another author’s work helps train your brain to use proper grammar and an effective writing style, since published works have already been edited and proofread before publication. It will slow down your brain and allow you to concentrate on how individual passages are structured.

Try to incorporate some copywork into your writing ritual. Do you write daily? Add 15 minutes of copywork to that dedicated period of time. Or perhaps once a week, spend an hour or two copying excerpts from one of your favorite authors — or a famous author whose works you aren’t as familiar with.

If you read and copy enough well-crafted content, you will pick up some tips because you’ll become accustomed to reading high-quality writing. Over time, you’ll notice an improvement in the quality of your content.

Journaling

Journaling is a great way to use handwriting to improve the quality of your writing. A journal can be a wonderful place to capture ideas you have each day, and you can come back to them at a later time if you need inspiration.

The more you write, the better you’ll become at writing. Even jotting down your daily thoughts and musings in a journal can improve your creative process. Becoming accustomed to writing in your journal will help you more easily establish a daily writing routine. If you get into the habit of writing daily, your skills will improve, which will naturally lead to publishing more quality content.

Writing in a journal can be therapeutic, too, as it can help reduce anxiety and depression. Journaling can also aid in combating writer’s block by helping you clear your mind of thoughts that might interfere with your writing, thus allowing you to focus your attention on the task at hand.

A journal is a great place to write down topics for future content and draw out those ideas before delving into your first draft.

To Handwrite, or Not to Handwrite

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Although you might think typing is the only way, or the best way, to create content, you should consider incorporating some handwriting into your next writing session. It might add flavor to your writing and get the creative juices flowing.

A combination of both handwriting and typing might be the best method for developing content. After all, even if you handwrite each draft of your article, it eventually has to be typed out for it to be published. It can’t be posted online if it’s only on paper.

There is a time and a place for everything — while we live in a highly technology-driven age, there is still room for handwriting. So close your laptop, break out the good ol’ pen and notepad, and start writing — and who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself writing your break-out work on a piece of scrap paper, too.

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About the Author

Melissa Lewis Grimm, ELS, graduated from Millersville University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She has worked as an editor and a marketing manager for a laboratory standards–developing organization, a proofreader for a nursing continuing education provider, and a journal manager for a scientific and medical publishing company. Despite Melissa’s work history, one of her lofty goals is to become a world-famous voiceover talent. Yes, you read that correctly! She loves spending time with her wonderful husband and adorable toddler.