Typing vs. Longhand: Does it Affect Your Writing?

Do you write longhand or on a computer? How does this affect your writing process? I ran across a study with interesting results.

The researchers wanted to know how computer writing differed from pen and paper writing. They recruited university faculty and graduate students to write two reports, one on a computer and one on pen and paper. The participants were given background information for the reports (about a new system of bank charges and new company regulations) two days beforehand. When they came in for the experiment, they had three hours to write each report, and the researchers used keystroke tracking and video cameras to record their progress.



Here are some of their observations:

1. The computer writers took half as much time to write the first draft than pen and paper writers.

2. The computer writers wrote texts that were approximately 20% longer.

3. The computer writers had a more fragmented writing process than the pen and paper writers. They paused more, and more of their pauses were in the middle of a sentence (as opposed to sentence or paragraph boundaries). However, in the instances when pen and paper writers did pause, it was for a longer period of time than the computer writers.

4. Computer writers made 80% of the revisions in their first draft, as compared to pen and paper writers, who made only 50% of revisions in the first draft. Pen and paper writers tended to wait until a draft was complete and then revised systematically from beginning to end. Computer writers revised in smaller chunks throughout the writing process.

The authors observed that pen and paper writing seemed a more systematic and planned out process. This makes sense because it's harder to make a change on pencil and paper. With computer writing, you can just start writing and make changes as you go along.

After the researchers looked at average behavior of the entire group, they analyzed the writers as individuals. They classified the writers into different writing profiles, including nonstop writers who hardly revised at all, writers who revised more in their first draft, writers who revised more in their second draft, and initial planners who spent a lot of time planning up front but did little revising afterwards.

The researchers found that there was quite a lot of variability between writing styles, even within the same modality (computer/pen). The researchers also found that almost everybody changed their writing style when switching from pen to computer. The participants didn't all change their writing styles in the same way, but almost all of them did something different. This makes me think that it’s worth experimenting with yourself in different writing modalities, just to see how it affects you personally.

I kind of wish these researchers had to analyzed the final products to see if the modality affected the complexity of the sentence structure or the ideas presented. If anybody knows more about this, please let me know. And also, I wonder how the experiment would look for people using voice recognition software. :-)

Have you tried experimenting with different writing modalities? How has that worked for you?  Which modality do you prefer?

I hope you enjoyed this article!  To get regular updates on writing, neuroscience, and everything in between, use one of the options on the left sidebar to subscribe.

VANWAES, L., & SCHELLENS, P. (2003). Writing profiles: the effect of the writing mode on pausing and revision patterns of experienced writers Journal of Pragmatics, 35 (6), 829-853 DOI: 10.1016/S0378-2166(02)00121-2

55 comments:

  1. What a very interesting study. I wonder, too, about the finished products and whether the participants had a preference. My husband writes on screen; I find it much easier to write on paper. I'll pay greater attention now on posts that I draft on the computer vs. those I begin longhand!

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  2. This is fascinating! I have to write on screen. If I write on paper, I might jot down a dialogue exchange, or a bit of a scene, but I can't draft. When I draft on a computer, the backspace key figures heavily as I mull through word choice, description, etc. And I type faster than I scribe, so I am definitely more productive on a computer.

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  3. I write mostly on the computer. I can type much faster than I can writer, plus it's actually legible. If I'm writing too fast longhand (which happens when I really get into whatever I'm writing) it gets harder to read.

    I do write a lot of my planning/outline/random notes longhand though. I seem to get a better flow of ideas that way. But when I'm working on a novel or short story, it's always on the computer.

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  4. Interesting. I wish they'd included people who compose on an old-fashioned typewriter, too. I know writers who still compose that way. They like the feel of the keys and can only edit on hard copy. I could never write longhand. I can't read my own writing.

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  5. How interesting! I, too, would love to know how the finished products compared in the study.
    When I write, I start each book by writing long-hand, then move to computer when I feel I have a good handle on the characters. The longhand is almost like the learning process for me. I also tend to go back to pen and paper for "difficult" (high emotion) scenes, since that forces me to take my time.
    Great topic!

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  6. I used to be able only to compose on paper--then I took a journalism class and had to compose on computer.

    I now compose 90% on computer. I find that when I hand write I can't write fast enough, but when I type I type slightly faster than my ideas, so I do have to pause a lot.

    I found the part about editing interesting because I'm exactly the opposite. If I write longhand I edit as I write, because I might go back and add something to a previous sentence, or make notes to myself about what to look for when I revise later. I think that's too difficult to do in a word processing program.

    It would be interesting to compare this study to one in which the participants had to write more creatively. What I'm writing changes the way I write as much as how I'm writing it.

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  7. Conclusion #3 should not be trusted.

    3. The computer writers had a more fragmented writing process than the pen and paper writers. They paused more, and more of their pauses were in the middle of a sentence (as opposed to sentence or paragraph boundaries). However, in the instances when pen and paper writers did pause, it was for a longer period of time than the computer writers.

    If the computer writers were labeled "fragmented" because they started and stopped more in the middle of the sentences, then the researchers are unaware of a neat little brain trick / writing technique. It seems our brains hold on to whatever isn't finished - including sentences. If a writer stops working with finished sentences it actually can take them *longer* to get started again the next time. So, a neat trick is to stop in the middle. Your mind holds on to the state of the writing until you return (even a day later) and you can pickup right where you left off without a warm-up period.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Daniel,

      I'm new to Livia's blog so I'm a little late replying to your response regarding writing longhand vs computer, 2011 post.

      Anyway, what you said is true, your brain does hold on to unfinished sentences and thoughts - to complete them. As I was reading your response, I instantly recalled the numerous times working on a piece and having to stop midstream (jump off the train or my turn came in a long waiting line) yet I was able to come right back to the last place I was at in the piece and pick up the previous thought pattern that was going on.

      Thanks for your observation and input.

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    2. I too am a late comer but what you are both describing is the Ziegarnik effect, when the brain remembers unfinished work but drops it from memory once it is finished. It is fine if you're studying, to stop midway, or writing, and then pick it up again when you come back. I do not see how that connects to revising a sentence midway - as I often do when working on the screen - or coming back to it after the sentence is finished. What I find is that revising that way, on the trot, leads to carelessness as the brain presumably fills in words in your head that your eyes fail to see. Finishing a sentence, a paragraph of the work and then coming back to revise it is a more productive way favoured by writers/translators. You also have the benefit of seeing your work afresh. I do not know if one writes or types a better piece of work on the screen, but there are studies done on the haptics of writing, for example by Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger's Reading Centre that shows that writing by hand improves learning through the involvement of the sensorimotor with memory. Broc's area of the brain also reacts to verbs of movement. All very interesting for writers to know. Perhaps, as I have written elsewhere, one day neuroscience will be a required subject for creative writing courses.

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    3. I too am a late comer but what you are both describing is the Ziegarnik effect, when the brain remembers unfinished work but drops it from memory once it is finished. It is fine if you're studying, to stop midway, or writing, and then pick it up again when you come back. I do not see how that connects to revising a sentence midway - as I often do when working on the screen - or coming back to it after the sentence is finished. What I find is that revising that way, on the trot, leads to carelessness as the brain presumably fills in words in your head that your eyes fail to see. Finishing a sentence, a paragraph of the work and then coming back to revise it is a more productive way favoured by writers/translators. You also have the benefit of seeing your work afresh. I do not know if one writes or types a better piece of work on the screen, but there are studies done on the haptics of writing, for example by Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger's Reading Centre that shows that writing by hand improves learning through the involvement of the sensorimotor with memory. Broc's area of the brain also reacts to verbs of movement. All very interesting for writers to know. Perhaps, as I have written elsewhere, one day neuroscience will be a required subject for creative writing courses.

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  8. Since I have dysgraphia and writing more than a line or two rapidly becomes a painful physical strain alongside legibility deteriorating from a baseline of "poor," I revise much less when writing by hand and tend to write in a more stunted and awkward manner. (It also makes the blatant longhand-chauvinism that hasn't quite died out yet among Old People really obnoxious).

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  9. I like to do my planning with pencil and paper - I find the visual/spatial aspect much less limiting. When it comes to composing though, typing is so much faster, so I can easily keep up with my flow of ideas. It also makes the revising process easier, even though I like to print the work, make notes on the hard copy, then revise on the computer. (Again, revising with the hard copy helps with the visual/spatial thing.)

    I wonder about the difference between using printing or cursive when writing on paper. Did the study say which the subjects were using, or did it ask them to use one or the other? I know there is research out there that says something about cursive being better because the continuous movement doesn't halt the flow of thought, (or something like that).

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  10. A more thorough study would be nice. As far as pen & paper goes, I mostly write ideas or a sentence or two. Overall, I'm more of a computer typist. My mind tends to open up more as I type, which improves upon the creativity.

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  11. I used to write everything on computer first and then one day I froze up and couldn't get anything out when on computer. I picked up pen and paper and the words flowed. I still mostly write first draft with pen and paper - and it's a big mess, but then when I go to type it up I feel like I have something to work with and I can revise as I go.

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  12. I've almost never written on anything but computer, all the way back. For me I just like how my ideas just flow without having to wait for my hand to catch up. I've tried writing with pen from time to time but it doesn't improve the quality, only the illegibility. But I do lots of sketches of scenes and outlines on a whiteboard.

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  13. Thanks everyone for your comments! I also go with computer because writing longhand just takes so darn long. I found that I was writing shorter sentences and being less descriptive because I was getting impatient.

    Meg - I like your idea about comparing the study to one with creative writing. It would be interesting to see if there is any difference.

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  14. Number 2 is interesting. I wonder if the 20% additional text is garbage. I'm serious. I imagine a longhand writer has their thoughts prepared more fully before writing them down, possibly because subliminally, they fear mistakes. (Obviously, I wrote this comment on computer because I didn't really take the time to properly word my thoughts. :)

    Carpal-tunnel and 6 year-old penmanship forces me to use the computer.

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  15. I do make more pauses when I am writing on a computer. And it feels good to write on paper. I feel like things flow better. And I think it's harder to hit writer's block when writing with pen and paper.

    I type faster than I write. So when I am typing, it's easier for my typing to catch up to my thoughts. I finished typing out my thoughts already so I am taking pauses. Then I can be sort of pulled out of the context while I wait for the next thought to come to me. When I write with pen and paper, I can never write as fast as the thoughts come. So I feel like so many thoughts that are just coming and coming. It's encouraging and it just keeps things flowing. So, it's harder to hit writer's block that way. That's what I think, anyway.

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  16. i write with a computer.

    I HATE to write anything longhand. Even since getting D's in handwriting in 2nd grade, I'm been ashamed of my writing and even dislike it myself. I write more slowly in that mode, as well.

    I got good a printing, though, when I studied ad taught phonetics and spent 6 hours a day transcribing using the phonetic alphabet. When I am forced to write by hand, I almost always print. It also changed the way I write small case t (with a curved tail, now). But I digress..

    I have been typing in my day job as a translator and consultant for countless HOURS every day for 30 years, so I type well and fast. I did this for years before I had a computer. It's even easier and faster now. Formatting and reformatting is easy. The font is perfect. I can make copies, revise on the fly... the benefits (to me) are endless.

    So now that I am writing fiction, I type. I can't imagine doing it longhand. Ack.

    For planning and conceptualizing a story and characters, I do what I do for other tasks... lots of separate documents and CHARTS. Mmmmm. I love Excel and use it for this. For example, as I think of scenes, I put them in order, but can easily insert a new line, delete, reorder, etc., to see the flow.

    I recently bought Scrivener and love it. I imported my novel into that and have been happily writing there. I think I still might do lots of preplanning and charting outside of Scrivener for a new piece before starting to write there.

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  17. I'm a computer fan - I seem to be able to 'think better' while writing at the same time, whereas when I write by hand, I find myself pausing and reflecting more.

    The only other article I've come across which has similar content is this one:

    Alves, R. A., Castro, S. L., & Olive, T. (2008). Execution and pauses in writing narratives : Processing time, cognitive effort
    and typing skill. International Journal of Psychology.

    It compares slow and fast typists and looks at cognitive effort during pauses and typing and looks at narrative structure, syntax, vocab and lexical diversity between the two groups.

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  18. I know some people can stop in the middle of a sentence and remember where they were in their thought process, but if I stop before I complete the sentence, I won't remember what I was thinking. Mid paragraph is fine, but not a sentence. I usually end up deleting the partial sentence because I've driven myself half crazy with trying to remember what thought I'd intended to put down. And that goes for longhand and typing.

    Longhand is better for me when I'm struggling to figure something out. I can write and strikeout repeatedly with nearly identical phrases, even repeating something I'd just crossed out, until something unlocks the idea flow. But once I get going, I prefer the computer for the ability to insert more writing. My longhand drafts were incredibly messy with stuff in the margins and stars and lines to show what insert went where.

    But if I was stuck using Word to write in on my laptop, I'd still be using longhand primarily. Word is both limiting to my process and my copy does weird things like not formatting to my screen size properly, frequently sending my text shooting to the left when I brush the mousepad by accident. Thank goodness for Scrivener. Working with that program is like working longhand except that I type and it keeps things better organized.

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  19. Very interesting. I find that I write/edit better on screen, but I brainstorm/outline better on paper. I think movement helps trigger the subconscious. I get a lot of my best ideas while jogging.

    And I'm with Jaleh. Scrivener lets me write out of order and scribble notes on future scenes or ideas, and still keep everything organized.

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  20. Ok, this fascinates me. I write both longhand and on the computer. I hadn't thought of the mechanics of my process changing, but I have noticed a huge difference in my "writer's voice."

    I first noticed this when I was writing my last novel. I'd been making great progress on the computer, and when I got hungry I didn't want to stop, so I grabbed a journal and took it with me to the taco joint I patronized in those days. All through lunch I wrote.

    When I got home I started transferring it to the computer--and realized that the character was dramatically different on the computer. I wrestled for days with whether to just pitch the handwritten stuff, modify the digital character, or what. I finally bowed to the inevitable and added another character, based on the handwritten material.

    She turned out to be delightful, strong-willed, smart-mouthed, broken in unexpected places. She was also hilarious--something the original character was not.

    The funny thing is, I had to write her stuff longhand until I got a good feel for her character--then I could do it on the computer.

    Very strange.

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  21. Can't write longhand to save my life. No cut and paste on my pen. I just bought my 5th keyboard.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  22. Neat study!

    I have found that I must write my rough draft in long hand. My words flow better when I don't have the option of automatically editing myself. I hate the look of scratch-outs, so I don't make many of these--I just push on. If I get to a rough spot, I don't worry about pacing, word-choice, sentence structure, or any other writing fripperies. I simply write what happens next. That's my thing: my rough draft is just for plot.

    Then comes my typed draft. I start concerning myself with description and pacing. In my next go, I concentrate on how things sound--all the pretty stuff. :)

    In any case, I need both to produce a finished story!

    But that's just fiction. Nonfiction? Typed, all the way.

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  23. I use a combination of both. I'll write something out and then I'll type it out on the computer. While I'm typing, I'll make revisions.

    I usually writing by hand if I get a thought late at night. I use the computer during the day.

    It's the best way for me to write.

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  24. Well, it looks like I should check out Scrivener! It's got quite the following.

    Charlie -- I certainly find myself using more flowery language when I'm typing, because it doesn't take as long to write down.

    Kelvin - I do agree with you that with pen and paper, it's nice that you have more time to think

    Bill - interesting thoughts on Excel for scenes, never thought of that

    Victoria - thanks for the reference! I'll check that one out

    Jaleh - I find I need to write down the entire sentence too, otherwise it takes up cpu cycles in my brain

    Gwen - I get my best ideas in my after jogging showers (and my voice recognition software just transcribed "after drugging showers")

    Bodie - wow, that's really interesting! I don't think my characters change that much from modality to modality, but I tend to be a big outliner

    Terry - five keyboards at a time? Or did the other four break?

    Christie - it's interesting how fiction and nonfiction processes are so different

    Megan - how's your handwriting late at night? :-)

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  25. Interesting. I write by hand and revise mostly on the computer. Here's an interesting blog post by Heather Sellers on the subject:
    http://www.heathersellers.com/blog/2008/01/25/writing-by-hand/

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  26. Very interesting! I have just added From Words to Brain to my kindle. Can't wait to check it out. :-)

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  27. This is quite fascinating.
    Personally, I type whenever I actually write the story, but most, if not all, my planning goes in little notebooks. But with this in mind, I should start writing some stories longhand to see if I write better that way.
    As for the voice recognition software, I'd say that it would probably be a "worse" version of the typing. As in, even faster (if it's well trained) and probably more revising afterwards, since you can more easily express your thoughts with speaking. It should be a more direct link to your ideas as such.

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  28. What a great study. I use pen and paper while I'm plotting, or I if I'm stuck. I can't say I've ever written a first draft on paper. It would be interesting to try a chapter, just to see.

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  29. I exclusively write on paper. My comment is in the post.

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  30. I write longhand first, then type it out, editing as I go. The reason I prefer pen and paper is because if I'm uncertain about something, I scribble a couple of alternate versions in the margin and go on. Later when I type it out I decide on the best version. Sometimes I return to my original idea. You can't do that with typing - you can change words in seconds but you can't recover your first ideas.

    For short stories, I generally wait till the whole thing is finished, but for longer works I sometimes write a chapter or two, type them, and then go back and write some more.

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  31. As a woman in my 50s who has written since she was a young girl, I started with pen/pencil and paper obviously. I have good penmanship and always have, so that doesn't affect my productivity. I don't write a lot of non-fiction these days (except blogging and commenting on posts like this ;p), but I wrote papers in school the same what I wrote fiction, by hand and then typed.

    However, I've noticed one consistency between handwriting and typing: My brain works so much faster than my hands that even while typing I often put letters from the third word down the line into the word I'm actually writing or typing. The computer sure helps with fixing that in a hurry!

    I especially appreciate the ability to move whole chunks of text with "cut and paste". However, there have been some occasions when I went back to pen & paper, one of which was when my laptop froze up an hour into NaNoWriMo (www.nanowrimo.org) 2009. I think - but could not confirm without performing some testing on my own - that I do fine either way.

    Elisabeth, I have two thoughts for you about "margin notes" if you use Microsoft Word: Comments and Text Boxes. You can insert your "margin notes" just as easily using a Comment (from the reviewing toolbar or tab, depending on your version). You could also insert a Text Box, type your alternate in that and go on.

    One of the things NaNo has taught me is to write the first draft more steadily without constantly revising. The motto there is, 'It doesn't have to be right, just written.' That is followed by 'December is for revisions.' (because NaNo occurs in November every year) I think NaNo would be an EXCELLENT situation for them to study creative writing, because (1) people get together at "write-ins", (2) you have people of all varieties [computer users, hand writers and old-fashioned typewriter users and (3) the focus is, as I said, getting words onto paper/screen.

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  32. This is pretty neat. I had a typing --> handwriting experience a few years ago when, 3 days before a research proposal was due which I hadn't yet started, my computer blue-screened and died 10 minutes into my flight to Illinois. I was quite surprised how much I was able to get done simply by switching to pen and paper for the duration of the flight. The next day my computer started working again, which was good, because I needed it for other things as well.

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  33. Interesting. I always wondered if I was the only one noticing the difference between writing on a PC and with a pen. For me, writing on a computer requires some knowledge about what I want to write about, where on a paper I can freestyle more easily. Maybe it's because of the monitor brightnes or something, I don't know, but it's like my thinking process is freer when looking at the paper. Writing on a computer is so much easier and faster though. Maybe it is just about habits and what you're used to

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  34. As I write longhand in pencil for my first draft, I found this a very interesting post. When I write straight onto the computer I'm more superficial & don't "connect" with my writing. If that makes sense :/
    Judy (South Africa)

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  35. see Anne Mangen's research on this in Norway. !

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  36. I came specifically on the Internet tonight to look for this particular topic and found my way to this blog. I switched to computers some 10 years back and have been typing since. My typing speed is quite good but I have found that I am able to write "better" when I use pen and paper. My take on it is that using pen and paper slows you down and makes your brain spend more time on the particular thought you are writing down. Typing, because of its faster speed, leads to a rushed feeling which I don't enjoy personally. I like to dwell on individual thoughts and think them through. This might be a reflection of how my own brain works best. But there are certainly people who enjoy working fast and I wonder if they are the people who work best when they type. Another thing I find liberating about writing as opposed to typing is that it is freeform. I can place in symbols I want, draw connections etc. which will be difficult to do when typing. Typing is linear which makes me feel constrained while thinking.

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  37. marion ds dreyfusJune 24, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    My post disappeared before manking it to print in the thread--very disappointing in view of the time and length of my first post that disappeared.

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  38. Marion -- sorry about that. I don't see it anywhere in blogger or in the spam filter.

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  39. I imagine the responses of both groups would also hinge upon whether or not, growing up, they were conditioned to write in longhand, as many of us were in the 'pre-computer' days.In which case, longhand becomes a more natural process and the brain would process thoughts at a more regular and rapid pace.

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  40. I write long hand when beginning a story, usually the first page or more. Then the computer takes over. I've written entire stories long hand too.

    I just switch from one modality to another whenever I'm stuck or want to renew my writing inspiration. Now that I think back, I've almost never begun a story directly on the computer.

    This is interesting research....thanks for sharing.

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  41. I am very interested in the connection between long hand writing in fountain pen on decent paper and attention. I encounter a great number of people taking up fountain pens as a way of slowing down their scattered thought processes.

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  42. In commenting on your blog, I’ve made a pact with myself not to say the words interesting or fascinating. Hmmm. Some handicap, that. I guess I’ll just have to call this little segment delicious then. But, indescribably delicious? Oh, heavens no. Discovery and insight this titillating, and for most of us on one of our favorite subjects -- tada, writing and the writing process -- is worth its weight in description. But I’m going to be difficult and pose another possibility instead.

    You mentioned the voice-actuation variable that was not in the study criteria. Well, that’s me. I can no longer type because of a movement disorder, so I have to rely on Dragon 11. And that’s not good, because Dragon’s not even close to being ready for prime time. But it gets it 80% right, and I can do three-finger corrections from there. And just by coincidence, Dragon-Nuance is doing its weekly analysis exactly as I write this, so instead of dictating, then polishing, I’m having to do this entire comment with three fingers getting neurodegenerated messages from the brain. Oh, my. Wouldn’t I love to have seen that little comparison in the criteria. Well, you betcha.

    Still, it’s quite enough just tuning in to your blog. No matter what, I just love it. It is always so fascinating. I mean -- er, so, uh, titillating? Titillating. Oh yes, titillating. So very.

    penelopegurl
    AKA @penelopetaylor

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  43. I keep thinking the word fascinating every time I read your blog. And from the looks of it, I am in very good company. I suspect we all love writing so terribly much, and find your dissection of it so thought-provoking, that we have to ooze a little at first just to unburden ourselves of joy.

    I’m a latecomer to your blog, but this may be the best segment I’ve read yet. Longhand has always been constraining for me. My mind would race ahead as my writing hand struggled to keep up. Handwriting played havoc with my timing and stripped my sentences of life. By the time I’d caught up, my mind would be off onto some other track and I’d lose or reevaluate the thread altogether. My first correcting Selectric helped some, but, so far as I’m concerned, word-processing is the miracle that truly split the atom of writing.

    You mentioned voice-actuation. I, too, would love to have gotten some glimpse of its effects. Because of Parkinson’s, I can no longer type (or handwrite), so I am heavily dependent on Dragon 11 – and not to mention, very grateful. That gets the first 80% into print, and I do three-finger keyboard corrections from there. This latter part is very slow. But it could be much worse. There are so many new adaptive technologies for writing, most of them in their infant stages. Along with the liberation they bring, they will also have their own particular limitations and frustrations. So the mechanics of the creative-writing process is apt to become more diverse than ever.

    penelopegurl
    AKA @penelopetaylor

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  44. I fell instantly and irretrievably in love with the word processor when we met in 1986; at last, here was an instrument that would allow other people to read my writing!

    I can't call myself a Writer, as I only do it when the Muse visits - which is an infrequent occurrence. However, in my amateur dabbling, I might write something in the notebook I always carry, if I am away from home, but feel that the proper 'knocking into shape' occurs back at the computer.

    One thing that annoys me about handwriting is when the hand writes something other than what the brain was thinking; for this reason, I almost never handwrite a letter, personal or otherwise. The thought of trying to write a novel longhand, and then transcribe it to electronic form later, just gives me the shivers.

    I doubt whether taking a break mid-sentence would prove beneficial for me; I reckon there's a great chance the thought would be gone. This, of course, could be a good thing.

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  45. Yes well what about poets, hm?

    I work in rhyme and meter - iambic pentameter mostly. Computer or pen, it doesn't matter really, because I write by first reciting it into the air. And pacing.

    On a good night, say, 140 words in 3 hours. The researchers may have noticed that I pause a lot.

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  46. I know quite a bit of research has been done on kids and the effects of writing on the computer versus paper and pen. Here is a summary of some of it: http://www.edtechactionnetwork.org/ed-tech-and-student-achievement

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  47. I scribble Haiku thoughts down with pencil and paper, but a computer is used to write everything else.

    Twenty six years ago, I was inspired by Natalie Goldberg's book, "Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within." At the time, I use to write with a typewriter, and her advice about using a fast-writing pen, because your thoughts are always faster than your hand...

    Comparing those long ago methods of writing, pawing through an unabridged dictionary, tissue paper copies, and the horrible eraser and brush that preceded white-out - I would put up a fight if I had to give up, my computer, electronic dictionary, spell checker, grammar checker, Scrivener App, cut and paste, find and replace - you can all add to this list of attributes you all may take for granted in this high-tech world. The speedy fountain pen may be as fast as the wind, but I'll take the convenience of my computer!

    Enjoyed this interesting post and all of the comments - I’d would have loved to see the comparison between writers using a computer and the older generation of writers that never knew about personal computers or seldom used a typewriter.

    Does anyone remember the feel of a wooden fountain pen or a leather moleskin? I loved the feel of certain books, but I'll never trade my Kindle either.

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  48. I'm really curious to know how reflexes play a part in the process. For example, just today I used pen and paper to write on my to-do list "Tommorrow" (spelling it wrong and clearly lacking sleep), and noticed that it didn't look like it was spelled correctly. I then went to type that word into Google so I could find the correct spelling, and here I typed "tomorrow", spelling it correctly this time. Does this mean typing was automatic and unconscious, is it always, and if so, what was the explanation for spelling it incorrectly with pen and paper?

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  49. I am going to try my 'hand"--hee hee--at longhand writing. I've hit a roadblock with the Mac, and it's labyrinth of "save as" and "file" commands, nevermind the lugging it to the library every few days.

    Many other famous writers, such as John Irving (Cider House Rules, Garp, etc.) write longhand. Many have hired typists to enter the longhand into the computer. Heck, some--like the late Sidney Sheldon--transcribe their novels. Yes, he literally dictated them. Barbara Cartwright, romance queen, used to have a courtroom stenographer write down her novels. Barbara sat on a couch and stroked her cat and dreamed up the novel No joke!

    And should we forget about all the fabulous authors--JD Salinger, Gertrude Stein, FS Fitzgerald, Hemingway, some of the best ever--who had to type directly into a Smith Corona typewriter, one peck at a time. That was before White Out! No wonder the few modern typing writers, like Cormac McCarthy and director Woody Allen, savor their typewriters so divinely: they're almost irreplaceable.

    Longhand, by pen, is slower, but more thoughtful. Longhand can be input with Dragon Naturally Speaking v.11, and even if it gets one in 20 words written like alphabet soup, we are going back and editing the entire thing again, right? If you've not tried it, at about $60, it's much better than prior versions, and one can read their longhand into a desktop $20 microphone and save boatloads of keyboard time. That is one tip I might suggest to you, my fellow free-hand writers.

    John Irving writes his first drafts in fancy $35 Boorum and Pease bound journals. For the rest of us, stenographer's pads--the kind with spiral bound at the top and flippable for a flat lay on the desk--work wonders, and can easily poise on a monitor side stand for easy transcribing. Try that with a leather bound journal.

    Many, from my online search this morning, espouse freehand writing as a remedy for computer snags and viruses. But, don't forget, although computers get the sniffles with a virus and might lose our hard work in one massive "ka-choo", paper is not forever.

    Just ask my neighbor down the way whose house is now cinders after their cat, Jinxy, kicked over a tea candle.

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  50. I find that my outline and flow of ideas is better on paper...this is always my starting point. I can go to a different place of the house (no laptop) and get away from distractions. Then I fill in the gaps until I can't stand it and feel that I have to get it on the computer so I can later do the major revision and tweaking. The major revision is also done on paper--the Times New Roman printed out version is scratched over with blue pen until nearly unrecognizable.

    I loved reading people's comments and will come back again for inspiration. Thanks for writing.

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  51. I used to do the 3 pages a day writing exercises that Julia Cameron teaches in her book The Artists Way. I both typed and used pen and notebook, although she says to use a notebook. I also used to do Pms instead of the AM's like she suggested to do….first thing in the morning. I just recently 'mind scanned' some of my journals and realized that my best writings were done when I used notebook and pen as well as when I did them in the morning.
    I know that the teacher that I used to work with and I often discussed how the fine motor use of the hand and fingers tend to stimulate the brain in different ways than a typewriter. I personally love to type, but in regards to what I wrote, and have often written, I think that the ideas, if they are there at all, tend to be stronger and more subconscious type thinking when done with a pen a and paper, because….I am guessing, of the extra stimulation. I have to admit, i do a lot of revisiting regardless of my writing module, this tends from some aadd, but it was the realization that my two favorite journal entries that surprised me the most

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  52. Since I began to use the computer to communicate (early 1990's) I observed this phenomenon. Initially, it was difficult to express my thoughts typing on the computer. Also, I found it laboring to switch from writing work to computer work....as though I was using 2 seperate thought pathways. Now I write primarily on the computer....I find the assistance the computer offers more expediant (spellcheck, syntax, format etc). I have also observed, my spelling has become atrocious....I love the feeling of pen in hand with a clear moleskine palate before me, yet often stare at it with empty thoughts as though my brain is stuck, with frozen pen in hand.

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