Writing: Is Pen Mightier than Keyboard?

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How do you write? Are you like Patrick E. McLean and prefer to put pen to paper? Are you a writer whose words flow better if your fingers are in connection with a keyboard? The choice of writing methods is a debated topic among writers. Some argue the pen is too slow. Others say writing by computer is too distracting. When all is said and done, our writing methods are a simple matter of personal preference. There isn’t a right way to write.  But does how you write affect what you write?

It could.

Livia Blackburne of A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing, shared a study where university students were asked to compose reports using both methods of writing. The results of the study showed not only differences in writing speed, but also in the revision process.

Wall Street Journal reporter Gwendolyn Bounds reported on an Indiana University study that showed how writing by hand engages the brain in ways that are different from writing by computer keyboard.  These differences may affect the way you express thoughts and ideas.

I find the whole topic fascinating. While I’ve never had an MRI done while I composed sentences longhand, I can tell you from experience that I write differently with a pen in my hand. Sure, I can peck out letters faster on a keyboard, but, for me at least, faster isn’t always the answer.

I won’t make an argument for one method of writing over another, but I will make a recommendation. The next time you feel stuck or sluggish in your writing, engage your brain by changing the method you use to write. Set aside your pen and boot up the computer for the next few pages. Or if you usually write via keyboard, put pen to paper instead.

What method of writing works best for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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4 comments on “Writing: Is Pen Mightier than Keyboard?

  1. Great post and links! I’m firmly in the keyboard camp and am thankful for the reminder to shake it up occasionally. When I was a journalist, the paper-and-pen method triggered work-related feelings in my brain. Notebook–deadline, school board, another article, need more sources. Of course I used the computer at work, too, but coming home to my laptop was a sort of release. Slipping into my fictional world.

    • Laura: Thanks! I find that I tend to use certain methods of writing for certain tasks. For instance, I always write greeting cards longhand, but query letters are a computer task. I know that swapping things around sometimes shakes new things loose for me.

      Charlee: Not being able to read what you write by hand can definitely slow you down. 😉 As long as the keyboard works for you, it’s all good.

      • Good point about various types of activities. I’ve just started taking notes by hand while reading one of my research books, and the freedom of a blank piece of paper (no notebook, no lines) has allowed me to draw associations–both in terms of linking sets of words together in a certain area of the page and literally drawing circles and lines.

  2. I think the keyboard is best for me, I can write long hand but as my handwriting is so terrible I tend to not be able to read it afterwards…

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