The battle between the pen and the keyboard is an age old one. Well, not age old I guess, about 142 years old, since 1873 when the QWERTY keyboard was invented. People are always arguing about the benefits of hand writing versus the convenience of typing. Today, almost everyone types – people take notes in their phone rather than jotting things down on paper, they type to do lists into their computer rather than writing them on the fridge, and they even write rough drafts in word instead of lined paper. While this is a great way to save time and keep things organized, it can be harmful to your creative process. Since, writing is a creative act, you go through a creative process when you do it, just like painting or drawing, and you have to optimize your process to get the best written content you can.
When I was younger, before I got a cellphone or laptop, I used to have journals and sketchbooks everywhere. Wherever I turned, there was somewhere to write down or doodle what I was thinking. I drew beautiful sketches and hung them on the walls around my room. Using the computer was something I did to play Nancy Drew games or type out an assignment to print off and hand in that I had already written and edited in rough copy on paper.
I started to use the computer more and more over time, for silly games and social networking like MSN and Myspace (oh boy I remember those days). When I got my first computer at the end of grade 12 and an iPhone in first year university I was already really familiar with the Apple platform and started using the computer continuously. By the time I started blogging somewhere around 2011, I wrote almost nothing down on paper. Everything was saved neatly in file folders on my desktop, and I wrote everything in digital letters.
I first noticed the computerization of my words effecting my creativity a few years ago, when I realized that I never doodled anymore. My study sheets and notes used to be covered with colour coded labels and beautiful sketches of flowers, and now I just printed things off and highlighted them as I went along. Any time that I had a pen or pencil in my hand it felt a little uncomfortable, almost foreign.
It also meant that I wasn’t editing my writing like I used to. When I wrote on paper I would go through, read, and edit my words at least a handful of times before doing anything with it. But online I would type something and publish or print immediately without even thinking about it. It was harming the quality of my work, and my creative process, while I was there thinking that it was actually helping me be more productive.
During this time I’ve always bought notebooks that I thought were attractive, but they had hardly anything written in them. So, last year I resolved to start writing things down more. I got out my favourite notebooks and when I had ideas or thoughts I would write them down. I have an ever growing collection of seven year pens that I’m in love with – and they always inspire me to keep writing things down and creating. I started planning my blog posts and brainstorming in the actual written word – and it started to make my content a lot better.
I also think that handwriting, the actual way you form your letters, is a really important indicator about how a person is. People’s writing can be messy, neat, flowy, beautiful, small, large, round, straight, artistic, or any number of other descriptors. The way you write says a lot about who you are as a person, and being able to write and put expression into your words is important. Your written word is unique to you and only you. Though you can choose any font when you type, you didn’t create that font, and other people are using you too.
And, turns out that I’m not the only person who feels this way. There’s a lot of evidence behind the fact that computerization can hurt your creativity.
According to Lifehacker writing by hand actually stimulates cells in your brain that help you to focus and direct importance to the information that you’re focusing on, so you can learn and remember it better. Typing the same words digitally does not stimulate these cells or provide the same recall effect. That’s why rewriting notes when studying for a test helps you remember that information, because you are stimulating these cells repeatedly.
I still write with pen sometimes and I type on my laptop sometimes, so I’m not saying one is better than the other. But it’s important to remember that there is a difference. If you really want to find out which works better for you and your creative process – do a little experiment. Find two blog post ideas which you are equally passionate about, or if you’re not a blogger, just pick two different stories you want to write down.
Write one post by hand in a notebook, and write the other right on the computer. Then read them both and see which one is better. Which one had more grammar errors? Which was more interesting? Which has more compelling word choice? Which one are you more proud of? Performing an experiment like this might be just what you need to start improving your writing. Though efficiency and getting things done is important, creating great content is also important, so make sure you are doing whatever you can to improve. If that means picking up a pen instead of opening your laptop, then that’s something you need to find time for.