The Power of Writing by Hand
Updated: May 15
We all know that keeping mentally active protects your brain from aging. Reading and writing are two such activities which keep your brain challenged and slowdown cognitive decline. These two go hand in hand, because being a dedicated and engaged writer makes you a better reader; and vice versa.
Handwriting is as unique as the person. Slowly becoming a lost art, I suspect cursive writing will one day become an elective in secondary and post-secondary schools – similar as Latin is offered today. This is unfortunate, as there are numerous mental, physical, social, and practical benefits to the act of writing. There are so many reasons to not let this skill die as the digital age takes over; so consider the list below as just scratching the surface.
"The more that you read,
The more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
The more places you'll go!"
- Dr. Seuss
Some of the benefits to writing by hand include:
Brain Food. On a purely physical perspective, the act of writing stimulates and improves the neural connections in your brain. Like any other part of your body, your brain becomes less efficient when it’s not used to its full potential. Writing regularly in cursive – preferably daily – keeps your brain alert and curious in a way that typing just doesn’t. The continuous finger movements used when handwriting stimulates the areas of the brain in charge of thinking, language capabilities and memory.
Focus. Writing by hand helps us slowdown our thinking speed so we can fully participate in the process. This allows you to step back from the flood of cognitive input and sort through your thoughts methodically, allowing you to think through and formulate the entire sentence before putting pen to paper.
Improved sensory skills. Learning to write as a child you discovered exactly how much pressure to apply when touching the pencil to paper. You learned how to hold a pencil or marker and carefully planned how to form each letter. You created muscle memory for spelling patterns and cursive flow. Through repetition you learned how to make those letters glide on the paper with barely a thought as to how the letters are made. This is exactly what happens when a pianist learns finger positioning and patterns through practice, practice, practice.
Memory. Writing by hand not only improves your memory but it also enhances your comprehension. When students take handwritten notes during a lecture, they retain the information better than those typing on a laptop. This is because the sequential movement of handwriting stimulates nerves and muscles to send sensory feedback to regions in the brain responsible for working memory and recall, while the act of writing stimulates the part of the brain responsible for assimilating information.
Creativity. Ever hear the saying: ‘thinking outside the box’? Writing by hand allows you to pause and hold space for your mind to explore possibilities, forcing your mind out of old thinking patterns. You take the thoughts in your head and put them down on paper. When you’re worried or repeatedly having the same thoughts, you’re not going to write down the same things over and over again. So, you shift your thinking to start looking for options and solutions instead of spinning the hamster wheel. Don’t just take my word for it. A study in Norway showed that children assigned to handwrite an essay provided more ideas than those typing on a keyboard.
Stress relief. As mentioned above, writing by hand slows down your thought processes. This provides a feeling of calm and boosts engagement and presence. Those who write their thoughts down on paper on a regular basis, report feeling less frustrated and distressed as they are able to filter through muddled and confusing thoughts. As mentioned in the blog: January is for Journaling, writing by hand is regularly prescribed by therapists to help counteract feelings of depression and anxiety. Even the act of handwriting a daily gratitude list can go a long way in improving all around well-being. The efficiency of the computer is an analogy of life on a faster and more efficient plane. It is the soothing flow and rhythm of writing by hand that helps us find the balance we so crave in life – at work, at home and on a deeply personal level.
"Reading is like breathing in,
Writing is like breathing out."
- Pam Allyn
Whether you write in the most breathtaking script or the most brutal lettering only a doctor could read, it matters not. The benefit is in the act of doing. Start with five minutes a day and work up to at least fifteen. The benefits go beyond the six points listed above. At the very least it is a way to keep your brain young and healthy and creative.