Growing up, I couldn’t wait to get home from school. I would open my top dresser drawer, pull out my spiral notebook and pencil, and write up a storm. My notebook was my adventure, my friend, my secret. I would whip up poems, create characters, record conversations that I overheard at school… I couldn’t keep up with my ideas and thoughts.
I still write longhand – first drafts, dialogue, revisions, plot twists, etc. Writing longhand sparks me, holds my attention, helps me think, and keeps me away from email! Some neuroscientists suggest that writing things out by hand can boost your cognitive ability. Studies have shown that writing longhand stimulates a bunch of cells at the base of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process and helps you hone in on the present moment.
“Handwriting isn’t just on the wall,” says Henriette Anne Klauser, PhD, author of Write It Down, Make It Happen, “it’s in the RAS that helps direct your attention. Handwriting triggers the RAS, which in turn sends a signal to the cerebral cortex: ‘Wake up! Pay attention! Don’t miss this detail!’”
According to Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, there might be something to this whole writing longhand thing. “The very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important. Maybe it helps you think better.”
Authors talk about writing longhand
I buy a special notebook and write down my character and idea. Then, I write an entire chapter outline and the first draft in the same notebook. Each book gets its own notebook. –Erin Entrada Kelly, HELLO, UNIVERSE (2018 Newberry Medal)
Whenever I got stuck, no matter what I was writing, I turned to paper and pen. And almost every time, the writing was better than what I’d struggled to generate via the keyboard. –Carmelo A. Martino, PLAYING BY HEART
…sometimes it’s nice to write longhand for the change of pace and to get my eyes away from a screen. Plus the sound of a pen scratching across real paper is very satisfying. —Silvia Acevedo, GOD AWFUL LOSER
I still keep a journal…it’s often the first place that the idea for a new story or poem occurs. Because I don’t have any particular rules about writing in my journal, sometimes I’m surprised by what shows up! —Kathi Appelt, MAYBE A FOX
For novels, I write longhand. I like the whole first and second draft feeling, and the act of making paper dirty. Often I use two pens with different colored ink, so I can tell visually how much I did each day. —Neil Gaiman, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (2009 Newberry Medal)
As I write a story, I have to be open to all the possibilities of what these characters are thinking and doing… For me, the best way to do this is writing longhand, the way I write the early drafts of a novel. Writing by hand helps me remain open…to all those little details that add up to the truth.—Amy Tan, Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat
If you’re having trouble writing, well, pick up the pen and write. No matter what, keep that hand moving. Writing is really a physical activity. Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart.–Natalie Goldberg, WRITING DOWN THE BONES: FREEING THE WRITER WITHIN
I know it’s quicker and more convenient to type notes and ideas into a cell phone or iPad. But, I’ve discovered that paper is everywhere! (Yes, it’s part of the adventure for me.) When I got the idea for this blog, I sat in my car and scribbled out the first paragraph on the back of two grocery receipts. Spiral notebooks are still my favorite. I use green Mead wide-ruled, 70-count, and I fill every inch, including the inside of the front and back cover.