Does Handwriting Actually Help Your Writing Process?
Some writers swear by physically writing every first draft out, but does handwriting help your work?
There are some writers who either live or die by the pen versus the word processor. It’s easy to wonder of handwriting helps. It’s a particularly good question when we’re moving into a time where handwriting skills matter less and less.
Since I started writing all the way back in 2005, I’ve had different phases. I’ve had my Microsoft Works or bust phase, my handwriting phase, and my I-don’t-really-give-a-hoot-anymore phase. I almost exclusively handwrote drafts for the better part of three years since at the time, not everyone had tablets and smartphones and paper was simply the most convenient option for writing on the go.
There were definitely some pros and cons to living the life of lined paper.
Yet if you’re a writer — whether you write fiction, a blog, or anything else — does handwriting actually help make a better-finished product?
Pro: It’s an extra stage of editing.
When you handwrite your first copy then transcribe it into a word processor, even if you’re going at absolute top speed, it’s easy to still look at your work with an editor’s eye.
For me, I’ll often think about word choice a lot at this stage and change out a word here or there as I’m typing it up. It’s also a good chance to take a good look at your dialogue and get a feeling for how natural the flow of it is.
It comes in handy because this stage of editing doesn’t feel like editing because you’re primarily focused on transcribing. It’s nice because you start making some of those early important revisions long before you’re truly editing and proofreading your work.
Pro: Handwriting improves your spelling.
Using word processors and tools like Grammarly are infallible and wonderfully helpful, but if you only ever write using those, you get sloppy. I’m completely guilty of this, so no judgment, we’re in the same boat full of holes.
Handwriting challenges your mind because if you have any small smart of perfectionism in your blood, you want to get things right. Preferably the first time for the sake of making your life a little easier. You really have to pull on your memory of how to spell difficult words and try to do it properly when you’re writing on paper.
Alternatively, when writing digitally, you can just key smash Farenheight — Farenheit — Fahrenheit and your spell checker is going to figure out what the heck you’re trying to say sooner or later.
Does this actually help you in any way when pretty much all professional writing is done digitally nowadays? Probably not, but it can be fun to be the friend who everyone turns to when they can’t remember how to spell something. If nothing else, having sharper spelling skills makes you feel a little bit better about the semantic quality of your writing.
Pro: Handwriting helps your vocabulary.
“How?” Your thoughts, at this very moment.
If you’re trying to find the right word or a good synonym to avoid repeating another similar word, it’s a lot more mentally engaging to do this when you’re writing on paper. It’s so absurdly easy just to pull up synonyms in Microsoft Word or Google that when you write digitally, you’ll find one so quickly, you’ll have a perfectly acceptable alternative without putting any effort in.
However, if you break out a physical dictionary, you’re probably going to stumble across a few other interesting words on your way to finding the word you need. Having a dictionary app or just Googling synonyms on your phone is efficient, but using a seemingly archaic paper dictionary can sometimes let you learn a few more things than you initially set out to.
And learning is never bad, right?
Con: Always be mindful of carpal tunnel.
Now, ultimately — I don’t recommend or discourage handwriting.
It has some solid benefits, as we’ve gone over. However, I started this jokingly talking about carpal tunnel, and I’ll end this talking about carpal tunnel.
Is handwriting worse than typing? Probably, especially if you hold your pen or pencil as wrong as I do. Plus, orthopedic surgeons at Cleveland Clinic share that typing isn’t always the leading cause of carpal tunnel. Typing all day can irritate carpal tunnel if you already have it, but it probably wouldn’t be the singular cause.
With either method though, you should try and do carpal tunnel syndrome stretches frequently when you’re taking a break or when you’re just brainstorming your next line. I’m not a doctor or anything, I’d probably be stuck doing a rectal exam right now if I was, so definitely check out the links if you’re looking for medical advice and the ins and outs of doing those stretches.
Con: Handwriting takes a while.
The biggest drawback to handwriting your first drafts is that it will inevitably make your writing process take a bit longer. It does provide a valuable opportunity for editing, but if you’re cranking out a lot of content, transcribing from paper to word processor is going to take time.
On top of that, almost all of us have a smartphone, a tablet, and probably two or three old versions of those devices sitting in our closets. Keeping a physical notebook in your bag to jot down an important idea just isn’t the most convenient option anymore. If you really want to write all the time, be able to write anywhere, or maximize the time you spend commuting, a smartphone will probably be your best friend anyway.
There are two ways to handwrite.
Either you predominant move your hand or you move your wrist and arm. If you do the later, your hand health is going to be dramatically better and you are much, much less likely to develop carpal tunnel.
However, if you move your hand mostly when writing, handwriting is going to be even more taxing on you than typing will be. Typing is no walk in the park for your hands either, but it’s a lesser evil. You get more words out faster and the hand movements of typing are still a little less detrimental from the movements associated with handwriting.
As a fun fact, in my aforementioned handwriting phase, I actually taught myself to write with my left hand. It took months before I could even form letters and have them come out reliably legible. It was like being a child again learning to write. But I could feel the carpal tunnel developing in my right hand, doubly worsened by the fact that my other hobby is drawing.
Handwriting can be helpful, but it’s not always life-changing to your writing process.
I used to love handwriting, but frankly, I can’t do it in any great volume anymore. I’ll handwrite poetry when it’s convenient, but I use the notes app on my phone most often. Half of my blog posts are drafted in the notes app on my phone. It’s not glamorous, but it’s the most efficient tool for getting a rough outline done.
If you can’t bring yourself to do serious writing on your phone, I’d encourage you to keep trying. Start with short things, like poetry or flash fiction if you’re primarily a creative writer. If you’re really lacking motivation, it can be one of the goals you set as a creative writer.
If you’re primarily writing non-fiction, start with drafting outlines on your phone. It’s a bite-sized way to get used to tapping those tiny letters on your screen for something other than texts and email.
It’s worth it to experiment with how handwriting can help your writing process. After all, in my eyes, the pros do largely outweigh the cons as long as you’re careful. The biggest question is if handwriting really brings you enough inspiration to warrant the time spent on it.