Writers working within the past 20 years have been blessed with the widespread introduction of personal computers in their professional and recreational lives. Whereas once editing and rewriting were laborious tasks undertaken with Wite-Out and scissors, nowadays writers can simply command-c, command-v their ways to a masterpiece.
And while I am the first to acknowledge the tremendous value of computers when it comes to editing, restructuring, and saving longer projects, I’ve also increasingly come to recognize the advantages of longhand, pen-and-paper writing when it comes to producing first or second drafts and line edits. Here are five benefits of writing longhand versus on a computer:
1. You can’t go online.
When it comes to ease of communication and access to research materials, the internet is an undeniable gift to writers. But there’s a fine, fine line between using the internet to aide your writing, and using the internet instead of writing. If distraction is the enemy of a writer’s concentration, then the web is your arch-nemesis. And it’s no surprise why, when several the 21st-century’s most popular apps and programs—Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Gmail, Instagram—were specifically designed to addict users, with time spent on their sites as the primary quantification of their success.
If you have to write on a computer, I suggest employing a site blocker to make it impossible to visit social networks and other distractions while you work. But a much easier approach is to simply do your writing longhand, free from WiFi requirements and the chance to end up in a Wikipedia link-clicking wormhole.
2. You can’t self-edit as easily.
The clean, mechanic precision of computers makes them a lot easier to edit on versus a pen and paper. And although it may seem counterintuitive to favor a form of writing that makes it harder to edit, I promise you that this is actually a blessing in disguise.
If you’re a writer who fixates on perfecting each and every sentence you write, to the point of lingering over the same paragraph for an hour instead of continuing on with your draft, your solution may be as simple as shutting off the computer and finishing your first draft by hand, instead. If you compartmentalize your process by getting as much writing down on the page as you can by hand, correcting sentences minimally along the way before transcribing and editing the writing on the computer, you’ll save yourself a lot of time wasted lingering and push out a completed first draft much faster.
3. You’re free to be wild and risky.
There’s something about writing on a computer that feels a lot more public and official than writing longhand. When you write in a notebook, you feel as though no one else is going to read what you put down; there’s almost something subversive about it. You may even feel a sense of security in the fact that the paper you’re writing on could be torn up and thrown away if you simply don’t like what you write. This sense of freedom and privacy may allow you to write more bravely, absurdly, and recklessly than you’re used to, and you may be surprised about the quality of ideas and phrases that can come out of it. It’s healthy to get a little crazy, sometimes.
4. You’ll remember what you wrote more easily.
There have been a number of studies that confirm the benefit of writing down notes during the studying process as a way to successfully remember information over long periods of time. The same goes for creative writing—if you work on personal writing longhand, you have a better chance of remembering what you’ve written. That means that even when you’re away from writing, in down moments during a commute or in line, you have a better chance of working through mental edits that you can take back to your work later that day. And in general, remembering your work and what you’re writing on is just a healthy way to make writing a 24/7 process instead of a one-hour-a-day hobby.
5. You can doodle.
Never underestimate the power of doodling; it’s a useful way to move through writer’s block without distracting yourself for hours with the internet or television. And the nature of the paper medium makes it easy to draw arrows as a way to connect points in your writing without losing momentum as you get it all down on the page. You may also find the combination of visual with textual expression is a new way to help you realize and expand upon your arguments or themes.