Back in the day—before we all had a computer (or even a typewriter) of our own—I did all my writing by hand, then typed it up later. First on my mother’s manual typewriter, later on the fancy ‘portable’ electric typewriter my parents bought me for university, and eventually on a computer (though for some time I still had to go to a copy shop or the university computer lab with my file on a floppy disk to have it printed). Eventually, I had my own dot-matrix printer (the kind that used those cool pages with the feed-holes down the sides), and now an ink-jet printer. Of course, who prints anything these days…
But I digress. The point is that, because I type fast, I’ve largely moved to typing instead of writing with pen and paper. It’s just more efficient.
But writing has its benefits.
Educational researchers have studied the role of writing in learning, and have found that when we write notes out on paper, we actually think about what we’re writing, and we tend to rephrase things in our own words—we process the information, and learn it. When we type notes, that doesn’t happen—we tend to type verbatim, and it essentially goes in one ear and out our fingertips, bypassing the brain altogether. We don’t learn the material.
That’s fine, but when I’m writing, I’m not learning, per se. I’m expressing what’s in my head already, so it shouldn’t make any difference whether I type it or write it.
But it does.
Writing is slower for me than typing, so I spend more time considering each word as I write it.
I can pack more meaning into each word when it’s written by hand. How I write something is a reflection of my meaning. When I’m typing up a handwritten document, the typed words are often different—trying to capture in the barren lines of Times New Roman what an extra-loopy ‘y’ means, or the precise emphasis meant by an aggressively crossed ‘t’.
When I write by hand, I not only see the words, but I feel them. They have more substance than when I type them. They are more intimate. And if I’m writing something that is emotionally charged, or personal, I need to caress the words—make sure they are just right and formed correctly. I can’t do that through a keyboard.
So I often step away from the computer, pick up a pen and paper, and write by hand. It keeps me in touch with words in a way the keyboard cannot.