The Benefits of Writing by Hand

Do you benefit from writing stuff down? You’re not alone.

Sometimes it’s far easier to find our way through our thoughts by writing them down. A bit like making our own mental road map, it’s easier to stay focused, to not forget, to go from point “A” to point “B” and often gain clarity in the process of getting there. When we only mentally log our thoughts, distractions abound. We forget things and it’s tempting to stop short of completely thinking something (all the way) through.

In light of science and the very way our minds work, none of this is surprising. But yet so many of us still sit typing away in front of screen—and that’s if we write at all. So, why go analog with paper and pen when we can go digital and access it anywhere at any time?

Turns out there’s a number of good reasons why…

Writing by hand improves memory. The process of putting pen (or pencil) to paper activates specific areas of the brain that help comprehension (understanding), retention and recall. Ever feel like if you write it down, then you’ll remember? You don’t just feel this way. It is this way. It’s the way your brain was designed to work. Don’t fight it.

Writing by hand involves more senses. Journaling, note taking or just plain writing something down involves a wide variety of senses which increases brain activity and keeps you mentally alert. From the visual contrast of the ink on the paper to the feel of the pen gliding over a notepad to the sound of a pencil scratching the writing surface, writing the “old school” way is a sensory-rich experience that keeps the brain alert and active.

Writing by hand can reduce stress by increasing focus. By putting pen to paper, we can free up our brain to continue thinking rather than wasting mental energy trying to hold on to thoughts in working memory. It’s important to actually shut down (or restart) a computer completely from time to time so that it can flush its RAM (or random-access memory). This is the memory that’s accessed for stuff that’s not permanently needed. Writing by hand enables us to do this for our brain, too. In a sense, writing enables us to dump out all the “stuff” that our brain is holding on to and wasting precious mental energy and space on.

Writing by hand can increase our creativity and critical thinking. Writing is a personal process and not surprisingly it can be adapted and shaped to best meet our own individual needs and preferences. From creating thought or idea maps using shapes, lines and words to using various colors to represent meaning to just dumping thoughts out on a page to revisit later, writing offers us the opportunity to extend our thinking in more creative, critical and deeper ways.

Writing by hand can help us lighten our burdens. The process of writing by hand can actually help us improve our daily lives by enabling us to better let things go. It provides the opportunity to reassess (privately) what is and what is not worth our mental energy and effort. Additionally, it can be a wonderful way to practice an intentional perspective, too. In other words, are our feelings and thoughts truly representing where our hearts and heads need to be: in line with God?