Why We Should Occasionally Ditch the Keyboard

 How are the creative juices these days? Flowing strong? Or do you feel like a wilted apple tree? Not sure why I thought you might feel like a tree, but I think you get the general idea. In short, has your muse packed up and gone troll hunting in Norway?


If you need a little creative boost, you might try pushing aside your keyboard for a while and returning to those old relics called a pen and a sheet of crisp white paper. You know what? The state of crispness shouldn’t matter. Napkins, the back of your latest receipt from Starbucks (God, it’s been so long since I’ve seen one of those), or even the manual for your new milk frothing machine will work just fine. What matters is getting back to the basics. For artists, it might be using your hands to create something on paper, which in turn will boost your creativity. For writers, it’s using our hands to create letters, which become words, which when strung together, tell a story. You can transfer it to your iPad later.

Every Monday I get an email filled with writer’s links from Wendy Van Camp over at No Wasted Ink. If you haven’t visited her site, you’re missing out. She’s a wealth of practical and encouraging information. As much as I appreciate all the hard work she does compiling the links, I don’t always have time to read all of them. But I do try to read some of them every week. This past week, the headline that jumped out immediately was What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades, an article from the New York Times.

I think the words ‘lost’ and ‘handwriting’ did it for me. The article starts off with a bombshell.

“‘The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.”

Wow. Really? Who makes these decisions? I’m all for teaching a child a keyboard, but why does one method of communication assume we need to ditch the other? I had no idea it had come to this. My children are going to hate me. They’re going to complain, whine, moan, swear their fingers will fall off if they write one more letter and they’ll probably warn all of their friends before inviting them over, but every year, we will practice handwriting in the Blomberg household.

Once the indignant shock faded away, I tried to focus on the positives in the article. The reasons why we should not only preserve this wonderful art of communication, but strengthen it, develop it, and use it daily.

“Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.”

This is my favorite paragraph in the entire article:

“The effect goes well beyond letter recognition. In a study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. 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. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.”

Let me repeat the phrase that jumped out at me. ‘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.’

Writing by hand increases our creativity. It gives us more to work with, more to explore, and more possibilities.

And we, in our infinite wisdom, have decided to cast it aside and focus solely on the keyboard.

This makes no sense to me. Why should we embrace only one form of communication and cut off the method that helps us retain information and generate new ideas? Those skills are vital whether you’re a writer, an artist, an accountant, a CEO of an elevator corporation, or a game developer.

Thankfully, I don’t limit myself to one or the other when I write; I use both the keyboard and traditional pen and paper. I like the computer because I can type faster than I write, obviously. I also like how I can work through a difficult sentence quicker–my backspace key is much faster than my eraser. On the flip side, I tend to do more brainstorming on paper. I created scene cards in Excel, but I print them out and spend ten to fifteen minutes fleshing out the details of each chapter before pecking away at a keyboard. When I get stuck, I’ll print out a few pages and spend an hour or so writing by hand. I do have a writing software, but I use that more to monitor progress, or track grammar issues. The creation of the story–the notes, the details, the brainstorming, the ideas–I flesh all of that out by hand. I like the balance.

What about you? Do you use pen and paper in your creative process? Or are you solely a keyboard typist? Do you find one or the other to be more conducive to idea generation?

Published by casblomberg

Cas Blomberg is a native-English speaking writer who lives in Stockholm, Sweden.

5 thoughts on “Why We Should Occasionally Ditch the Keyboard

  1. Glad you’ve rediscovered the joys of writing by hand :). Journaling by hand is such a wonderful habit to have. I wish I did it, or found the time to do it. I envy your time-management skills!

    And thanks for stopping by! It’s always good to see new faces from #MondayBlogs :).

  2. Thanks for sharing that article. Really interesting! I’ve kept a diary for years, and I like to start my writing day with a free write. For a few years, I forced myself to shift completely to the keyboard. It made sense on a practical level because I moved a lot, and lugging around those boxes of notebooks was a drag.

    But you know what? In recent years, I’ve returned to doing free writes, to do lists, and my daily journal by hand. It just felt better. Now I have some scientific studies to back that up!

    aka @TuiSnider, dropping by from #Mondayblogs 🙂

  3. You know that writing things down makes you remember them better as well. So if you’re studying, write down your summaries, formulas, french words etc by hand. It helps (a bit)!

    1. Great point! I wonder if the educators making the decisions will discover this and bring the emphasis on handwriting back to the schools in the states, or if they’ll continue setting up children for needless frustration.

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