I was experiencing writer’s block more frequently. Staring at a blinking cursor on an empty Word document isn’t something I can allow to continue. As do many of you, I face countless deadlines in the fast-paced world of PR. One day, after a few minutes of staring at the screen, I shut my monitor and grabbed a notebook. Immediately, my outline flew across the page. I even had the idea to create a longer essay than I’d intended.
At one time, my head hurt from the idea of handwriting a 900-1,500-word article. But now, handwriting has become a tool that I use to generate ideas. I think it’s resulted in some of my best writing.
After my notebook helped me out of that first jam, I went back to it. I noticed the difference as soon as I picked up the pen; where blinking cursor would mock me, the notebook page called out ideas and words. It’s made me wonder whether technology has taken us backward. Are pen and paper optimal for writing?
Typing Too Fast
Studies have looked at this, with one from the University of Waterloo finding, “Typing can be too fluent or too fast, and can actually impair the writing process.” To test slow typing's benefits, researchers asked subjects to type with one hand. The study found that slower typing “allowed more time for internal word search, resulting in a larger variety of words. Fast typists may have simply written the first word that came to mind.” The same would be true for writing by hand, where the word-selection process can benefit from handwriting, which is slower than typing.
Using pen and paper to jot down ideas seems to make brainstorming flow better. Another benefit is total focus. When writing on paper, your head is down, away from notifications. This allows you to focus fully on the task at hand – pun intended. Unless you disable desktop notifications and sounds on your computer, it can be difficult to resist breaking focus to quickly read an email. This is especially so in PR, where we're always hoping for a reply to a pitch.
Speed Counts, But Does It Help Writing?
As you know, PR, and nearly every other industry, has moved wholly to computers for several reasons. For one, we can type almost as fast as ideas come to us, which can be useful to get out a rush of information. True, pen and paper is slower, but it provides time for better word choice and organization. The computer, though, allows the writer to conduct research instantly. While our focus may be better when we write manually, it can be slower to source information, content, and quotes.
It’s common practice to print out your writing and/or read it out loud. I have found revising on paper vs. computer is more effective for structural elements and larger revisions, down to grammatical edits and typos.
Since anything handwritten must make it back onto the computer, it’s another benefit of the handwriting process, where transferring work from a notebook and into a Word document leaves yet another opportunity to improve structure, word choice, grammar, flow, etc. Once there, further additions can be made.
I realize many readers are wondering if they have time to handwrite a first draft. I've found handwriting to be a more efficient use of time. It takes longer to write by hand, but I save time because my initial draft is better and there are fewer rounds of edits than work composed on the keyboard.
Proof is in the Writing
For each piece of work that I've handwritten, I was more efficient at providing higher quality first drafts than I was for my typed content. My copy needed fewer edits since it was part of the transferal process from paper to computer.
While advancement in technology helps us become more efficient, certain older practices can be useful. Handwriting my work has helped me with creativity, flow of thought, and editing and revision. After my experience, I would argue that handwriting has made me a better writer. This article came out of the pages of my notebook. Could you tell?
Laura Shubel is an account executive at Caster Communications