Recently, a reader asked me if it was better to write by hand or is it better by computer? There are two answers to this. For writing therapy, I firmly believe if you can write by hand you should be doing that. It is more beneficial to write by hand. If you are writing notes for classes, or trying to learn something, then again handwriting is better, however not as crucial.
This question has come up quite a few times in my workshops or conversations with people who are using my book. I have experienced the benefits of using handwriting in my own writing therapy, and also in my creative process. Since then I found studies that proved this was the case.
Let me start with my own point of view and then I will give you some of the research done about using handwriting and its benefits.
Writing by hand is my practice and I also recommend it to people in my workshops as it allows the participant to effectively express their emotions, memories and to delve deeply into your unconscious for healing. In my own writing therapy practice, I pick up a pen and I use paper, it may be in a journal or it may be a piece of paper that I then destroy later. But it is ALWAYS a pen and paper. My emotions, thoughts, memories and pain can be effectively released in using a pen.
I have seen many other people in my workshops and my friends as well, also experience this by using a pen and paper. I tried typing into a computer and I was not able to release myself from pain the way I can with my humble pen and paper. The reason seems to be that it is a much more visceral experience, it allows me through my hands to write the words down in long form whereas typing in my view, puts some distance from my emotions and the page.
Apart from handwriting in writing therapy, I use a pen and paper in my creative writing, in my stories, poems, scripts, and novels. My practice is to write by hand first of all as it allows me to access my creativity in a more free and fluid manner. I can feel the character or the scene or the emotion coming through my hand onto the paper. I cannot explain why but my practice has always been writing by hand and then typing this up onto the computer. Then editing hard copy with a pen and making changes on the computer. So, I am a big believer in using pen and paper. J
Writing by hand has been shown to help you to learn and process in a better way, we even remember the notes we have taken more when we write by hand. Studies have found people who write long hand process the concepts deeper and access their memory and deeper emotions because of the physical nature of the process.
Handwriting crosses both sides of our brain using a pen and paper, and activates the Reticular Activating System (RAS). According to Lifehacker, “The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you’re actively focusing on that moment — something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront.” (Chris Gayomali, Mental Floss 2015).
Psychology Today (2013) reported that studies have shown that when children learn cursive writing it utilises much more of the brain than typing on a computer does.
“In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during the learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.”
From the research I have read and from my experience this act of physically forming the letters in handwriting activates part of our brain that is not activated when we type. This allows us to focus more on the emotions, memories, the things we are writing about than when we are typing the words not forming them with our pen. There is a physical connection to the words that are coming out of our unconscious. It is this that helps us connect to ourselves, our pain and allows us to release ourselves through this process.
It is a powerful thing to write by hand.
- Writing by hand crosses both sides of your brain. This fact also goes hand in hand with writing therapy as writing therapy crosses both sides of your brain as well, the cognitive thinking part and the emotional, expressive and artistic side in retelling your emotions (Little Things, Johanna Silver). Everyone is different but the action of handwriting stimulates both sides of the brain and is extremely beneficial for your creative and problem-solving abilities.
- Fully Engages Your Brain
Psychologists (Psychology Today 2013) have found that handwriting requires you to use more of your motor skills, and activates a series of links in your brain called the “reading circuit.” In an Indiana University study, (James, K.H. and Engelhardt, L. 2013) researchers conducted brain scans five year olds after receiving letter-learning instruction, in the children who practiced using handwriting the brain activity was far more enhanced and “adult-like” than in those who simply looked at letters.
“The brain’s “reading circuit” of linked regions that are activated during reading was activated during hand writing, but not during typing. This lab has also demonstrated that writing letters in meaningful context, as opposed to just writing them as drawing objects, produced much more robust activation of many areas in both hemispheres.”
- It is the best way to learn
One of the most effective ways to study and retain new information is to rewrite your notes by hand. That’s because putting ink to paper stimulates a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System, or the RAS. According to Lifehacker, “The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you’re actively focusing on that moment — something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront.” (Chris Gayomali, Mental Floss Website, 2015)
Taking notes on a laptop may be a lot faster — but research proves that those who take notes by hand actually remember more of the information than those who don’t.
Writing forces you to slow down, which is an excellent thing for our memory and brain function. Psychologist, Virginia Berninger from The University of Washington studied children in primary school and told the New York Times: “With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important.”
Citing a study published in Developmental Neuropsychology, the Times reported: “printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns… When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas.”
- It keeps your brain sharp as you get older
Writing longhand is a workout. No, not necessarily for your wrist, but for your brain. According to The Wall Street Journal, some physicians claim the act of writing—which engages your motor-skills, memory, and more — is good cognitive exercise for baby boomers to keep their minds sharp as they get older (Mental Floss, 2015).
- Writing by hand can also calm the mind and ease depression and anxiety
An article by Little Things, interviewed graphologist and handwriting expert Dr. Marc Seifer, “Jotting down a sentence like, ‘I will be more peaceful’ at least 20 times per day can actually have an impact, especially on those with attention deficit disorder.”
What I know to be true is that writing therapy by using handwriting releases your sadness, anger, worry, anxiety, unforgiveness and many other areas more effectively than with a computer or the typing process. This physical act can have a calming influence as well on your mind. J Hand writing allows you to connect in a greater way to the words expressed, your emotions and memories then it provides greater healing as I have stated above.
Since writing puts to work more parts of your mind than typing, it encourages more creativity. There are also subtle aspects of writing by hand that are more artistic than typing because each person’s handwriting is completely their own.
If you need to tame your short attention span, writing by hand will help keep you focused.
Overall, the consensus is handwriting is better on many levels. In writing therapy use handwriting, for other tasks that you need to type, that’s fine. But for writing therapy it is very important to use a pen I believe, unless you had a disability and then typing would be okay.
Anyway, I hope this has helped answer the question! Go well and go forth write down your feelings by hand with pen, pencil, marker, or colourful pen, whatever you wish. Go well!