"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
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Monday, March 8, 2010

Guest Post***The Roar Series**Cythia Clampitt

The Virtues of Writing Longhand

Reading recently that some schools have stopped teaching cursive writing, because almost no one writes longhand anymore, both saddened and alarmed me. There is more to writing by hand than just getting the information down, and there is much to be lost by eliminating this skill.

Of course, I readily acknowledge that using a computer has many virtues, especially for a busy writer, but in relying solely on computers we are forgetting one very important fact: we are physical beings, and certain physical tasks simply work better. For example, with note taking, the act of writing the information processes that information in a way that goes beyond merely copying. We must recognize the words, understand which ones are worth writing down, and then physically write those words on paper. Even if we never look again at what we have written, we are more likely to remember the information, because it has been processed and sorted by our brains and transmitted to our hands.

For writers, an equally important function of writing longhand is that it activates the right side of the brain—the creative side. If I’m staring at a blank computer screen and can’t think of where to start, I just grab a pad and pen and start writing, even if what I’m writing is, “I’m stuck and I have to do something to get unstuck.” Within a few minutes, the ideas begin to flow. (If I’ve taken notes longhand for a story, I may not get stuck at all, as the act of writing the notes will often have me ready to write by the time I reach my keyboard. However, I have had to rely on this time-tested trick more than a few times.)

I travel a great deal, and people are always surprised that I travel with a small, spiral-bound notebook and pens, rather than a laptop. I often simply explain that, if you’re camping in Mongolia, for example, the notebook has the advantage of not needing to be plugged in. A notebook is also easier if you’re in a 4WD bouncing along a rough track, and I’ve even jotted a few notes while perched on the back of a camel. However, I also know I will remember more and write more if I’m writing longhand. On average, for a three-week trip, I will return home with at least 150 pages of notes from the destination—and usually another ten pages of story ideas, poems, or character sketches that just come to me because I’m so locked into right-brain creativity while writing longhand.

So if you’ve stopped writing longhand, I urge you to consider starting again—and if you have children, make sure they know how to write longhand. It can be hugely satisfying, but even if you get no pleasure from the act of writing, at least know that you can use it tap into your creativity more quickly than with almost any other activity.

Brief Bio:
Cynthia Clampitt is a freelance writer specializing in food, travel, history, geography, and language arts. She is the author of the award-winning travel narrative Waltzing Australia, which recounts the six-month, 20,000-mile wander down under that marked her departure from the corporate world. Clampitt has written hundreds of articles for magazines and newsletters, including an award-winning food-history column, and has written history, geography, and language arts materials for every major educational publisher in the U.S., including the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Pen & Prosper welcomes your comments on this post. Writers, do you find any benefits to writing longhand? Or do you find computers to be more efficient? What's your process of creating?


  1. Cynthia,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here at Pen & Prosper. I can definitely relate to your creative approach. I still write things out long hand, for me it's easier to sometimes organize my thoughts first on paper and less intimidating. :-)

  2. good advise. I needed that. Thanks.

  3. One of the things I like about paper and pen is that, if you cross something out, it's still there. If you change your mind, you can still see what you wrote initially. That's particularly important for creative writing.

    Of course, the computer is great for writing assignments. However, even when writing a magazine article, I will usually have taken my notes longhand, so the information has already percolated through my brain and is ready for the computer.

    There are some topics I know so well I can just sit down at the keyboard and write, without the intervening interaction with pen and paper, but if it's a new topic, or I've done an interview of someone, I do rely on some actual writing. And even while sitting at the computer, I'll sometimes just noodle out a phrase on a separate sheet of paper -- just because of that kicking in the right brain aspect of the physical act of writing.