Everybody ought to write—especially in longhand—not just professional writers. Want to know why?
Writing helps us untangle the messiness in our minds. It allows for clearer thinking, which is perhaps the most beautiful thing about this craft.
In her insightful book, Why We Write, curator Meredith Maran interviewed 20 acclaimed authors on how and why they write. Nearly all of the authors interviewed gave self-serving reasons why they write. But, there was a delightful, recurring motive that consistently came up: Writing provides a pocket of time in the present moment to reflect, digest and think deeply.
Joan Didion, journalist and author of Play It as It Lays explaind the reason why she writes, saying, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.”
Armistead Maupin, author of Tales of the City, said, “I write to explain myself to myself. It’s a way of processing my disasters, sorting out the messiness of life to lend symmetry and meaning to it.”
It’s not uncommon for people to think that they have grasped a concept or idea until they begin to write it down. Then they realize there are aspects of the concept they haven’t quite grasped or thought through carefully. Therein, we see the benefits of writing.
Write to organize your thoughts.
Not only is writing an effective way to organize and channel out our inner thoughts and emotions, but it is also an effective way to reflect on those thoughts and gain new insights and perspectives.
You think more deeply when you write it down, and that helps you get more clarity and make better decisions.
What's more, writing in longhand can actually help you absorb more information better, and learn significantly more than when you simply write or type on a computer or laptop.
Yep, the good old pen and paper might just be mightier than the keyboard. And this is information backed by science. There is a lot of scientific evidence that writing in longhand is so beneficial.
Write longhand: Pen and paper trump the keyboard.
According to a study published by Pam A. Mueller from Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer from University of California, students who take notes on paper learn significantly more than their peers who take notes on a laptop.
"Prior studies have primarily focused on students’ capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops," wrote the study authors. "The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing."
The students who took notes on laptops generally typed almost everything they heard without according much thought to what they were writing. That means they were not processing the meanings of the words they were typing; rather they were mindlessly transcribing. Transcribing doesn’t require much cognitive activity, the researcher said.
On the other hand, students who took notes in longhand obviously could not write down every single word the speaker or professor spoke. So, they had to listen more attentively, summarize the lesson and list only the key points. As a result, these students who wrote longhand engaged in deeper mental processing. They saw things more clearly and learnt more than those who typed.
The study might explain why people attending conferences and meetings who take notes longhand also absorb more information and learn significantly more than laptop users and those who just listen to talks and don’t write anything down.
Your brain is fully engaged in the process of comprehension when you write longhand, the researchers observed, which means you remember more information and are a better learner.
It's true we live in a digital age and you probably can’t imagine not using your laptop or smartphone to take notes. But, remember you shouldn’t completely neglect writing the good old fashioned way using a pen and paper. The benefits of using a pen are worthwhile, too.