Sensory Details: Handwriting Trains the Brain 26

GIVEN my preference for journaling and writing on the computer rather than writing by hand, I thought a recent Wall Street Journal article, “How Handwriting Trains the Brain” (10/5/2010), was interesting. The gist of the article was that the practice of handwriting improves the ability to develop and express ideas. The study was conducted with children, but they found that adults also benefit from handwriting.

Though I do enjoy journal writing with pen and colored pencils from time to time, particularly when I am traveling or want to write in a natural setting, I have always “pooh-poohed” the people who say the pen is more directly connected to the brain than the keyboard. I mean, how can that be? They both operate through the fingers, right? Well, this study gives credence to all you pen-and-paper journal writers.

I propose a three-week-long personal experiment:

  • Week 1 — write only on the computer
  • Week 2 — write only by hand
  • Week 3 — Do a little of each, each day.

Afterwards, review and compare your writing. During which week was your writing the most creative and inspired? In which were you able to form and communicate your ideas? Is there any difference? What other factors should you consider (mood, life events, etc.)? And what bias did you begin with? Did the results surprise you or did they simply confirm your bias?

I’m curious.

If I can get ten people to take up this challenge with me … five of you who prefer to journal on the computer and five who prefer to journal by hand … we’ll conduct the experiment together and post the results on the blog.

If you’d like to participate, leave a comment below. We’ll conduct the experiment beginning Monday, January 3, 2011. (No sense trying something like this during the holidays).

Ready? Let’s do it!


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26 thoughts on “Sensory Details: Handwriting Trains the Brain

  • Beth

    I would LOVE to do this. I like how quickly I can write on my computer, and my novels are proceeding my faster because of it. But all the notes I make for them, as I get ideas or research some component, are handwritten in a spiral journal. And it is amazing to me how once I begin writing by hand, the ideas continue to burgeon and blossom until what might have been just a line or two for the novel has become much more…in many ways. 🙂

  • Anjie Branch

    I discovered last year some time that if I want to write something personal, I need to write it by hand. I can always type it into the computer later, but the initial writing has to be done with pen and paper. It seems to make a connection from my heart through my arm to the pen and onto the paper.
    However, if I just want to write a story, I am able to spill it out more concisely on the computer and stay within the structure of my outlined plot much easier. It is almost like a slight disconnection, a step back to keep the big picture in perspective.
    I thought it was an interesting revelation. I wondered if it was just me, but I guess not! 🙂

  • Renee Cassese

    Hi Amber
    I’d like to try this little experiment, especially since you are so kind as to let us begin in January! I will be one of the five who prefers handwriting my journal entries, poems and fiction first drafts.

  • Karen

    I find this very interesting. My teenage daughter hates the physical act of writing it is too slow. So we have put her in programs at school where she can use the computer more often for school work. I have also heard the connection from hands to brain and have utilized journaling myself to help me with healing issues of my past. I will now be more of an encourager to my daughter to get her to journal in handwriting.

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    Thank you all for your responses and comments, joining in the experiment or not! Okay … so far we have three volunteers: Carol, Renee, and Beth. (I’ll email you privately about which side of the computer/handwriting bias you fall). I’d love to have this experiment evenly balanced. Are there any others out there who are normally inclined to use the computer? Join in the fun!

  • Nora Harrison

    I would love to try this out. I still cannot find a happy balance between computer or pen. I just signed up for a 45 day online journal software program. Ugh. Count me in.

  • Nazlie (Cape Town South africa)

    Hi Amber. I dont have a website. I have been planning for the past 2 years to write journals for my daughters to present to them on their wedding days, which is not close. I prefer handwriting it and jsut need to get down and do it. I am taking on the challenge to start on the 3rd Jan and will keep you updated. At least i’ll get my project done 🙂

  • Kathleen Pooler

    If there is still room,I’d like to participate. My freeflow tends to be at the keyboard but since I started journaling putting pen to paper, I’d be interested in trying it again. The experiment sounds fascinating!

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    Sandra, no you don’t even have to have ever written in a journal before to participate in the experiment.

    Sharon and Kathleen — Great. There’s no limit to the number of people. In fact, the more the better. We may even discover something new! Who knows? Kathleen, like you I tend to flow more with a keyboard than a pen, but I am also curious to see if there is a qualitative difference in my writing between the pen and computer (never having really looked at it that way before). Welcome one and all.

    I’ll be sending an email out on the January 3rd to remind everyone.

  • sammie

    I have problems writing on the computer. I had the same problem with typewriters. I use the computer only after I have hand writen my poems or stories and I don’t think I could ever journel on a computer. I don’t why but the minute I sit at my computer to write my mind goes compleatly blank. I do like the spell check tho!

  • Marjorie Webb

    If it’s not too late, I’d like to participate in this experiment, too. I just learned about it but it sounds like a terrific idea to me.

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    Hi Sammie. You’re not alone in having problems with the computer. I prefer the computer (I type about 90 wpm) to handwriting, because being left-handed I constantly smear the ink and it’s slow going compared with writing on a keyboard. I have a feeling that people who don’t like writing on a computer are also slow at the keyboard (I might be wrong about this, of course). And those who like the computer can type quickly. Just a theory. Perhaps we’ll find out more during this experiment!

  • Rossandra White

    Phew! I see I’m not too late to participate. After 19 years of writing, here’s what I discovered. I love writing on the computer, the speed and fluidity of it. But when I’m stuck, I take to pen and paper. That’s the only way I can move forward, usually by making a laundry list of specific elements I need to get in the scene I’m working on. This usually leads me to rethink the whole scene. I got stuck for a reason.

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