I’ve become an avid journaler, and I write my journal longhand with a pencil. It started two years ago as I was preparing to attend the Modern Elder Academy, a midlife wisdom school in Baja Mexico. I was turned on to MEA by a good friend who suggested I read Wisdom @ Work by Chip Conley. After I read the book I was sold. My week-long session on Becoming a Modern Elder was a life-changing experience.
As part of my preparation for my week in Baja, I began to keep a journal. I was going to write my journal on my computer. But after reading a few articles about journaling I decided to go old school and write in a notebook with a pencil. I’ve come to really love the sound of my pencil scratching out my thoughts in that notebook (I’m now on my 18th notebook).
Studies show that writing longhand stimulates different parts of the brain
The first big difference is that writing longhand forces me to slow down and think as I write. The act of writing longhand forces my brain to process things differently. Research by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University shows that handwriting helps with memory and recall. Her study shows that areas of the brain associated with recall and comprehension are more engaged when writing by hand.
According to Patricia Ann Wade from Indiana University School of Medicine, “Writing entails using the hand and fingers to form letters… the sequential finger movements activate multiple regions of the brain associated with processing and remembering information.”
Writing by hand has several other benefits
When you are writing longhand distractions are less likely to sidetrack you. The notifications popping up and your email alerting you to incoming messages won’t bother you. I find that when I’m writing in my journal I’m more connected to what I’m writing. And I find myself stopping to think about what I’m writing far more often than when I’m sitting in front of the keyboard.
American author Paul Auster said, ”A pen is a much more primitive instrument. You feel that the words are coming out of your body and then you dig the words into the page. Writing has always had that tactile quality for me. It’s a physical experience.” This may be the reason so many famous writers write the first drafts of their books longhand. Susan Sontag, David Foster and J.K. Rowling among others write longhand.
Writing longhand also boosts your creativity and improves your memory. It forces you to slow down and focus on what you are writing. The act of sitting down with a notebook to just capture what’s going on in your mind is now one of the most important parts of my daily routine.
Thank you notes are more memorable
Another item that benefits from being written longhand is thank you notes. Thank you notes are a great way to build trust in a relationship. And writing those notes longhand and putting them into “snail mail” is a perfect way to make a lasting impression on the recipient. Hardly anyone ever says I got a great thank you note emailed to me. But that same person will likely remember a handwritten note that was delivered to their mailbox.
Now I’m not suggesting that we scrap our computers and iPads and revert back to pencil and paper for everything. But in many instances, it is a better way to capture your thoughts. Sitting down with a blank page in front of you, you can go anywhere your mind wonders. You can draw, write a list or just let your imagination run wild. There are no engineers forcing you to capture your thoughts in some predetermined format. You can create as you go and switch gears on a whim.
In this age of digital everything, sitting down with a pencil and paper may be exactly what you need to capture your thoughts in the best way possible. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
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