Thanet Writers Research Handwriting and Creativity
Writing by hand is something that I have not done for a very long time. Personally, I find that I can type a lot quicker than I can write, but there’s also an element of convenience; writing a book using a computer is easier—and more secure—than having multiple notepads containing said book that can be lost or damaged. Having said that, is there some benefit to writing by hand?
To start looking at this we need to examine why it is possible for writing by hand to be effectual over typing on a computer. For the most part, the physical act of typing doesn’t engage much of the brain. It is, essentially, a single task that is repeated over and over again, move finger to key and press. Whereas writing by hand is a lot more involved and complicated, meaning that a larger portion of the brain is being used. There is evidence of a dedicated neural pathway used only for the purpose of writing by hand. This itself doesn’t show that there is any benefit; lots of things engage significant portions of the brain and don’t boost creativity, but it does encourage the thinking that it may be beneficial.
Whilst there is some evidence that there is a benefit to creativity when writing by hand over typing—and I would like to heavily stress that it is only some—the more significant advantage to writing by hand is that it aids in memory production. The majority of reasons for this seem to stem from note-taking and not general writing. When taking notes by hand you have to summarise the content you’re hearing. This means that you process it better than when you are typing the notes as you are able to forgo absorbing and digesting the information. However, there is a small benefit to other forms of writing in that the act of writing by hand does encourage different forms of mental stimulation which help to organise your thoughts better than typing. But that’s memory, not creativity. Does it help you to be more creative?
I do extensive research on these subjects before I write them and usually I’ll find some good quality, reputable information on the subject. With this, all I’ve been able to find is essentially blog posts that promise the world with nothing to back it up. There has been some work in this field proving that writing by hand engages the creative parts of the brain, but those areas often vary based on the individual (and are not as simple as left or right-sided brains, which is based on poor Victorian-era science that has long since been debunked). There is also some evidence that it can be a relaxing endeavour, which aids creativity, but that’s caused by the effective meditation as opposed to the writing by hand itself.
There are, however, claims that writing by hand is the answer to all of your writing woes. It cures writers’ block by engaging different parts of the brain, bypassing the block and allowing you to write again. As they don’t know what causes writers block, or if it is psychosomatic or even a real phenomenon, there’s nothing to back up this claim. Some purport that it helps to write more concisely because the physical act is harder and more labour intensive, meaning that you don’t add unnecessary words. Some say that it just makes your writing better because it is unfamiliar and new so it takes on different properties than it would if typed.
I don’t know if it does all of these things because there’s extremely limited evidence that writing by hand is good for creativity. It’s good for memory, we know that, but unfortunately, it hasn’t been studied enough to give a definite answer regarding creativity. Having said that, could it help you if you’re stuck in a rut? It might do. Is it the cure-all that makes you a better writer? Not really. You can give it a go if you want to but, for me, I have to look at the risks versus the possible rewards. Do I want to risk losing dozens of pages in a notebook or risk spilling a drink over it and sacrificing hours of work for the potential of a small boost to creativity? No, I don’t.
© 2019 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.