We’ve all had mental blocks. Whether it’s writer’s block, a total lack of ideas for projects, or just feeling “stuck” about what to do next, everyone experiences creative dry spells. In those moments, I’ve noticed that a pen and paper, rather than a blank screen and blinking cursor, are an immense help. Here are seven reasons why.
|ONE| Hand-writing is a more creative whole process than typing.
You don’t just choose which key to press. An expert explains: ‘“Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought,” says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva. “Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: you need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.”’
|TWO| Hand-writing involves a more creative space than typing.
Think of the possibilities that come with a blank, 3-D, space: Another expert, ‘Claire Bustarret, a specialist on codex manuscripts at the Maurice Halbwachs research centre in Paris. “Obviously you can change the page layout and switch fonts, but you cannot invent a form not foreseen by the software. Paper allows much greater graphic freedom: you can write on either side, keep to set margins or not, superimpose lines or distort them. There is nothing to make you follow a set pattern. It has three dimensions too, so it can be folded, cut out, stapled or glued.”’
|THREE| Hand-writing makes the whole of your creative process visible.
Not only are you not limited to the size of your screen, but paper allows us to see every little scratch, change, or mark of indecision. Claire Bustarret again: “’The software does keep track of the changes somewhere, but users cannot access them. With a pen and paper, it’s all there. Words crossed out or corrected, bits scribbled in the margin and later additions are there for good, leaving a visual and tactile record of your work and its creative stages.”’
|FOUR| More variable creative outcomes are possible with hand-writing.
When you choose a key on the keyboard, you know what will happen. But when you sit down to write a letter – even one actual letter of the alphabet – you can draw it differently every time. “Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable,” writes Maria Konnikova.
|FIVE| Hand-writing forces our brains to slow down or get creative.
Most of us can type as quickly as we think, or just about. But writing by hand forces us to either stop thinking so quickly, or get creative about how we put those thoughts on to paper. We invent our own shorthand, draw diagrams, choose key words that will jog our memories in the future. When children “were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks,” explains Konnikova.
|SIX| The complexity of hand-writing can lead to clarity of thought.
Andrew Brown writes, “we are physical, embodied creatures, and need to use muscles when we think properly. Just as walking is much better than sitting still if you want to work out a difficult problem, so does the varied co-ordination required to write cursively drive thought more efficiently than simply moving fingers up and down on to the keys.”
|SEVEN| Hand-writing makes us better readers.
The same parts of our brain that are activated by hand-writing are activated by reading. Reading opens up new worlds to us, introducing us to new words, new ideas, new experiences: all fonts of creativity. Dr. Claudia Aguirre cites one study which found that “when kids practiced handwriting letters freeform – rather than tracing or typing them out — they activated the brain’s reading circuit. This means that reading letters is influenced by drawing out the letters, not by typing or tracing them. And the better we write, the better we read.”
Have you ever tried handwriting to get out of a creative rut?