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Is Longhand Necessary to Creativity?

Here’s an interesting post about handwriting and creativity, and it made me wonder: do I write a better story if I’m writing longhand, or typing on the computer?

A few years ago, I would have said, “Longhand!” without any hesitation. I am, after all, old enough to have finished all my schooling before computers became commonplace. All my creative writing was done in longhand. Even after I started using computers to write, I still frequently wrote it out first on paper, and then typed it in.

I couldn’t think unless I had a pen and paper in my hand, and many studies have shown that our brains’ “creative side” actively engages when we write in longhand. For most of my life, I knew without doubt this happened to me. When I picked up pen and paper, part of my brain would “turn on,” and begin processing ideas into sentences and paragraphs. I swear I could feel it happening.

I used to wonder what would happen if people stopped writing longhand. It seems to make so much sense, that the brain and hand are linked, with nerve impulses shooting  back-and-forth between them. Writing longhand seemed essential. I’m not sure how important cursive writing is – I tend to write in a blend of print and cursive. Very badly, too. I have awful penmanship.

However, now I write all the time on the computer. All of my books have been written that way. It’s almost too hard to settle down with a pen and paper, unless I’m making a grocery list. This astonishes me, because I believe it means that my brain has actually adapted to a new technology. That’s quite an accomplishment for a brain that’s on the far side of 50!

While I’m not ready to say schools should stop teaching cursive, I do think we don’t need to worry about our children’s brains losing the ability to think creatively. These kids have grown up using typing as a normal and active part of communication. When they sit down to create something using a keyboard and computer, their brains probably function exactly like ours did when we sat down with pen and paper. I think it happens because they are calling on the same process we called on. That process doesn’t change just because the trigger is different.

What do you think?



7 thoughts on “Is Longhand Necessary to Creativity?”

  1. I learned to write on a typewriter when I was on the high school newspaper. Making a deadline was hard enough without having to compose longhand and transcribe. I still write outlines by hand, and if I’m stuck I might jot down notes by hand on a scratch pad, so I guess I use both methods to spur creativity.

    1. Yes, I think outlines are an interesting case. There’s something about jotting down ideas or possible timelines. That’s not as easy to do in Word or Excel. I’ll use Excel to make an actual timeline because that helps me see the action with one glance. But I’ll print it out and write notes on it, to fix things or move them around. So it’s a bit of both for me, too.

  2. While I don’t believe their creativity will be affected, I do believe their education and outlook on the world will. The ability to read and write is not something we should look to replace with electronic devices. Why should we handcuff ourselves to our tech? What is wrong with allowing children to know that you can create without someone else’s tools? The inability to communicate clearly with a pen is not a step forward to me. Just because there are easier ways to do something doesn’t mean learning the hard way has no benefits. I cannot imagine education without penmanship, and yet America has been moving away from such things for some time now. Not to be alarmist, but do you believe that the fact that America is so low on the global list in terms of their education system might have something to do with the implementation of such policies? After all, ask yourselves–are Canadians, Brits and the Indians teaching their kids to rely on keyboards? Or their own brains?

  3. You’re so right, Rhonda. This is one reason why I don’t think we should quit teaching it. I didn’t get into in my post, but I really think it’s a stupid decision for any school board to make. What about all the people who don’t have a computer? What if there’s a power outage?

    No, we can’t be totally dependent on technology. That is always a serious mistake.

  4. I started writing SHADOWSLAYER longhand, but bought a laptop by the third chapter mainly because I was re-writing as I was writing.

    I wonder if longhand would force me to draft faster and not tweak sentences as I go. Of course, I’d still have to transcribe it later, which is when I could fix things. I might just try that for my next short story.

    Definitely, should teach printing/handwriting so that people can communicate without tech, though, I wouldn’t stress this beyond the first few years. you don’t want them to be overly-reliant non tech, but you don’t want to handcuff their ability to use it or they might be disadvantaged.


    BTW, thanks for the linkage on the side. I like that idea. Must include.

    1. Your welcome. I like the idea of pointing to other writers.

      I have to laugh at the idea of writing an entire novel in longhand, then transcribing it. I’d go crazy. Besides, I can’t read my own handwriting very well. If I had a few hundred pages of it – what a disaster!

    2. Nah, I can’t say that I see them being disadvantaged by having writing taught to them past ‘the first few years’. I’m not sure how long that is, but I had penmanship until I was about 6 or so, if I remember correctly. I think it’s quite possible to teach them both writing and typing at the same time. Better to have a good grip on both skills rather than be poor at one or the other. That way, the child wins.

      I can’t tell you how odd it is to hear someone say that a child who doesn’t learn how to type before puberty is disadvantaged. I learned in what you would call high school and got certified just before my first job. Seems to me, that’s when you need it. In schools in my country, we used to discourage kids from typing reports and essays to keep them from just copying things from Wikipedia wholesale. Now, we let them type. Guess what–a lot of my younger relatives would just copy things wholesale if I wasn’t helping them stay focused on expressing themselves and not just giving the teachers the easy answers. I’m quite sure a lot of the actual parents of other students don’t really have the time to help kids with their homework that way. I think kids today need to have certain tech skills when they reach the job market, but really, a good foundation has never hurt anyone yet.

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