Do Writers Type or Write by Hand? Creative Benefits of Each

In my writer circles, the question “Do writers type or write by hand” gets asked a lot.

There are little bells attached to both methods, you have to choose which method makes the less annoying noise for you.

Research seems to indicate that writing using longhand allows you to retain more of the written material than typing. But, when it comes to speed, typing will outrun longhand—Usain Bolt quick.

These benefits, which seem to be evenly distributed, create some sort of a conundrum, especially when you actually need both speed and retention of your material.

Like many novelists and authors who have come before you, you’re probably musing over what method to use at different stages of your creative writing process.

Fortunately for you, you’ve landed on the right post at the right time. Before I start rambling about which helps with creativity or which is the preferred method by your favorite author, let me outline the benefits that each method has.

do writers type or write by hand (2)

Handwriting Vs Typing: What’s The Difference?

The major differences are typified by the benefits and cons of both—the benefits of typing mirror the cons of writing by hand and vice versa.

Benefits of Writing by Hand

jotting thoughts down on a paper can help you deal with writer’s block
Jotting thoughts down on a paper can help you deal with writer’s block.

Taking notes longhand has its advantages; in fact, the hypothesis that you remember more of the content that you hand wrote than the stuff you typed has been backed by research.

Moreover, there are old-school writers like myself who’ve not fallen out of love with a physical journal notebook. From experience, I have learned that pouring one’s thoughts onto paper actually helps overcome writer’s block and establish a more personal experience with your concepts.

Here are some of the benefits of handwriting:

1. Writing by hand is a distraction-free type of writing. Typing usually involves the usage of a device that is probably connected to the internet. More often than not, if you are typing using a smartphone, tablet, or computer, a huge chunk of your time is spent jumping from one app to another or from one Twitter to LinkedIn.

But, shutting out distractions and maintaining maximum focus is essential to professional writers. A stylus might help you write, but it doesn’t do much in minimizing the distractions from your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

2. Writing helps deal with writer’s block. Writing by hand allows you to scribble some rhubarb in your journal or on a piece of paper. But unlike a word processing app, misspelled rhubarb—by hand—doesn’t result in any ugly squiggly lines popping on the page. This is just one of the ways in which handwriting gives you an extra edge over typing when you lack internal inspiration.

3. Writing by hand helps with retention. As I said, this has been backed by research. Researcher Daniel Oppenheimer conducted a psychological science research at the University of California that showed that writing notes by hand helps with memory and recall. The study results indicated that areas of the brain associated with recall and comprehension are more “engaged” when people use pen and paper for handwriting their notes.

4. Writing by hand is effective for visual learning processes. Sketching visual representation of information is easier and intuitive with handwriting. Writing by hand allows you to sketch infographics and manipulate them however you want—nothing is preset and you can freestyle everything, unlike in word processing apps and spreadsheets, where most infographic tools follow predetermined dimensions.

Benefits of Typing

typing provides speed and helps you avoid hand cramps compared to handwriting
Typing provides speed and helps you avoid hand cramps.

Nowadays, most writers type their first drafts on a word processor (well, since the first typewriter, “modern writers” have been trading the quill and fountain pens for a set of keys).

There are reasons why most professional writers have the entire writing process on word processing apps. It is faster to type on a laptop than writing by hand (for most people, anyway).

Moreover, a lot of things are automated; hence one can write mindlessly and let the apps brush up after them—seamlessly putting the text in check as they produce letter-perfect content.

Here are some of the major rewards of typing your work:

1. Typing allows formatting. There are some texts that need to be formatted in a specific way, formats that can only be done with a word processor. A publisher or a lecturer might require you to submit work with a particular word count, a particular font, or a specific referencing style. Typing with the help of a word processor enables you to automatically set and tweak such formatting specifics.

word formatting and fonts instead of writing by hand
Examples of word formatting. (Image credit: Dibbydib,on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

2. Typing offers ease and speed. If you are working on complex writing projects with deadlines, working on a laptop is more efficient than using longhand. Typing is also a very convenient way of writing when there is a lot of content that needs to be copied; transferring texts from an external source to your document only takes a few commands. With lots of grammar checking software extensions, word processors play a huge part in the editing process.

3. Typing is good for research and multi-tasking. Writing involves a lot of research and referencing. Therefore, the note-taking or draft writing processes require that you multitask—switching between tabs, media clips, and PDFs. When you are writing by hand you have to laboriously transfer all your researched material to your notebook—letter by letter. On the other hand, a laptop or tab allows you to have both the writing window and the research window open, side by side. When you find the required information, you can simply highlight and drag the text to your document.

4. It’s easy to back up typed writing. Writing on a computer offers more storage options than writing in a notebook. Most of these options offer easy, instant, and secure ways of backing your work compared to storage options you have when you write using longhand. For example, working on a word processor—like MS Word or Google Docs—allows you to save and backup your documents on backup drives or the cloud. Writing by hand affords less storage options, and you might easily lose your work because there are usually no advanced security options—i.e., digital encryption.

Discovering What Does the Job for You

There are factors that need to be taken into consideration when choosing a method best for you. You should know that what worked for someone—even in the same genre—might seem a burdensome writing method for you.

Moreover, you will find out that, in specific scenarios, one writing method might work better than the other. This might depend on the nature of the material you are writing and how you want to use it later.

Therefore, I would recommend experimentation; before making up your mind on whether to write by hand or type, you should give both methods dummy runs in order to find out which way of writing works better for you.

To get a better picture, take a look at some of the scenarios that fit each method.

What Scenario(s) suit(s) typing?

Since it’s easier to edit and fix, search through, and backup typed work, typing is convenient for writing bulky material that has tight submission deadlines. It is also perfect for work that needs to be decently edited and securely stored.

What Scenario(s) suit(s) Longhand Writing?

Writing by hand works best when you want to retain a lot of the material which you’re writing. Take for example, when you’re note-taking during a lecture or watching a video tutorial; what you need—to have the most out of the learning process—is to have an abstract understanding of the content and maintain focus on the most substantial elements of the material.

Not only will your brain retain more of your handwritten material, but you can also draw visual pointers to help you remember parts of it.

Which One Helps with Creativity?

large regions of ones brain are involved in handwriting
Large regions of one’s brain are involved in handwriting.

More often than not, typing seems to produce better quality content, but that’s at face value. Sometimes, your idea reservoir dries up, and there usually isn’t much your stylus or keyboard can do to help you get your mojo back.

A perfect solution is actually one that has induced creativity for writers across centuries—pen and paper.

The aesthetic element of longhand and the freedom to write and sketch anything makes writing more fun than typing, and that can inject the much-needed creativity into the writing process.

When you are writing by hand, your cognitive processes are more involved than when you type and this can lead to some random springs of ideas. And at the pace of handwriting, you’re not worried about your hands outpacing your brain.

Do Writers Write by Hand or Computer?

typing vs handwriting
To pen or to type? a never-ending debate for most writers.

There are still a bunch of writers that use longhand writing to craft their first draft before transferring the material to a word processor for editing.

Although typing enables a writer to finish books much faster than writing using longhand, there are a couple of authors who believe the benefits of the pen-pencil-paper setup outweighs the rewards of typing. Therefore, they still prefer getting the work done the old way (of course, they have to get the draft typed later).

In fact, most writers who still use longhand believe—in line with the benefits of handwriting that I have already outlined—that using longhand helps them process their thoughts and poppy ideas more efficiently.

For some old-school authors, writing by hand offers the only way to completely eliminate the distractions brought by the many widgets that have flooded the digital era.

Authors Who Write by Hand

ernest hemingway prefers the pen over typing
Ernest Hemingway is an American short-story writer and novelist who developed a writing technique which he called “the iceberg theory.”

Here are a few authors who wouldn’t (God bless their soul) and those who won’t let go of their beloved pen and paper when writing their draft:

  1. Ernest Hemingway
  2. Jack Kerouac
  3. Quentin Tarantino
  4. Joyce Carol Oates
  5. Stephen King
  6. J. K. Rowling
  7. George Clooney
  8. Neil Gaiman
  9. Tom Wolfe
  10. Joe Haldeman
  11. Andre Dubus III

My Verdict

“Having reviewed all the evidence brought before this honorable blog, it is the decision of the court that writing by hand has more creative benefits compared to typing.”

If it were up to me, I would say write by hand when crafting your bestseller. However, I do realize that writing by hand can be a taxing process for most writers.

Moreover, the creative process is supposed to be flexible, and depending on the type of prose or the reason you’re writing, you might be bound to fulfill some formatting requisites easily attained when typing.

Ultimately, the onus of choosing whether to type or write by hand is on you. As for me, I have my pen and Moleskine ready to pour my thoughts.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.