To survive, you must tell stories.
— Umberto Eco
What is it about using our hands, wielding pen and ink on the paper’s surface, that continues to captivate us?
The world in which we now exist is rife with the tools of technology — our lives have become faster and more efficient — with results seen right after the tapping of a key. Yet, some of us still adhere or keep coming back to the old way, that time-worn practice of using writing instruments, particularly fountain pens and inks.
Is it a conscious choice, born of a desire to connect with methods that call to our personal sense of what is beautiful and satisfying? Or is it also something that helps us in ways we yet don’t fully realize? Whether it is one or the other or both, let us discover together why this analog endeavor still remains attractive in the midst of seemingly better ways of capturing our thoughts.
How Handwriting Helps Us
Various studies have been conducted to determine how writing longhand provides several advantages that make it a practice worth developing and maintaining. Experts in the fields of developmental education, psychology, and neurosciences have agreed that, simply put, it enhances our minds. To summarize, here are the main reasons —
The very act of writing engages several vital neural pathways. The Reticular Activating System of the brain is set in motion, and this automatically refines all the data you receive into concepts that matter most to you. This makes for better organization during note-taking, and not simply copying everything verbatim. Given that this method is slower and more laborious, it encourages you to comprehend the information given, distill what is essential, and make meaningful associations.
Developmentally speaking, handwriting is a complex task that requires various skills involving the different senses — the feel of the pen in hand, the movement of pen on paper as spurred on by thought, and the dexterity needed to make the correct marks. Focus is a prerequisite for this precise exercise. Spelling and composition are sharpened. Reading comprehension, articulation, and communication are enhanced.
Visual processing is also put into play, honing a sense of direction (right, left, top, bottom) and decision-making (whether or not words will fit in a line). Consequently, this act of encoding creates a spatial relationship between relevant bits of information that stimulates parts of the brain concerned with short- and long-term memory, with your own handwritten symbols serving as memory aids.
As we age, writing by hand can be essential in maintaining good cognition. Since this process entails utilizing various neural pathways of the brain, engaging memory, and sustaining fine motor skills, having a pastime like journaling or solving word puzzles aids in slowing the decline towards senescence.
Cursive writing, in particular, has likewise been found useful for people with dyslexia. The mechanics — letters starting from a baseline and the fluidity of movement from left to right — are helpful for this kind of learning disorder.
The physical act of writing and the sensations that result from it can be quite calming. It is an approach that usually takes its time, as your mind seeks to organize those thoughts that you want to write on the page. The process motivates you to be more deliberate and considerate in your choice of words in order to express yourself adequately. It is a conscious act that urges you to be present in the moment.
The importance of keeping a journal for mental health as well as for the cognitive benefits cannot be emphasized enough. Writing by hand — with a fountain pen in particular— is the one immersive experience that pairs well with this mindful practice.
How Writing by Hand Helps Writers
I must admit, I have yet to write my first novel. Journaling and poetry are my two main media for self-expression that make use of longhand writing with fountain pens, inks, and paper. However, I have already felt the transformative benefits of putting pen to paper. I think no matter what you write, how you write it has its own rewards.
Focusing now on writing as a creative and artful pursuit, here are some of the benefits to be had from wielding a pen in your hand, to start that first draft —
Writing by hand lets your personal style shine through.
Since your own penmanship is used, there is that touch of uniqueness to your work. It carries your distinctive personality as a writer visually, and you become invested in putting more of your own voice into it. It does not look like finished or published writing and it may look chaotic, but that in itself keeps the words in your subconscious. So your brain does not let go, delving deeper into your creative well, and becoming more sensitive to your own ideas. As your writing becomes more idiosyncratic and specific, it becomes increasingly engaging to others.
Writing by hand opens up your subconscious.
The more creative aspect of your mind thrives on less structure. It is more diffuse and prefers the meandering path, but this enables you to make connections while the ideas marinate. Your subconscious latches on to abstract thought, and when you feel that pen in your hand, the texture of the paper under your palm, and the flow of ink, those associated ideas become grounded in the physicality of the writing process. Your body and the way it moves as you write adds life to your words as they are born on the page.
Writing by hand gives you time to slow down.
Time is what good writing needs. It takes a while from that first hit of inspiration for the concept to develop, your own words to express it to be discovered, refined, and carried beyond immaterial thought. This deliberate pace allows for deeper insight, and gives your writing a character that echoes your distinctive voice. The sensate act of writing allows you to enjoy the creative process as well.
Bound to your body, this journey also lets you stop and avoid being burnt out. Your hand will usually cramp before your brain lets go. Take this moment of rest, to let your subconscious play, so you will have fresh ideas for the next day and the next. The space and the effort it takes to make your marks on the paper encourages you to be more thoughtful, careful, and more present each time.
Writing by hand makes your efforts more concrete.
Ah, the pleasure of seeing those pages filled up by your own hand, made heavy and crinkly with words and edit markings, it’s quite heartening. Having something to hold in your hand strengthens the tangibility of your progress. This visual and tactile affirmation of your thoughts helps you focus more on the positive aspect of accomplishment, of gain, instead of being mired in the gap or the things yet to be done. It encourages you to keep at it and continue to write.
Let’s face it, you did have a good reason for acquiring all those notebooks and journals, right? In addition, that fountain pen that writes so smoothly with that special ink is just begging to be put through its paces.
By the way — Using a pen loaded up with enough ink and a small notebook lets you write anywhere, anytime. No need for batteries or a charging cable and an electrical outlet. You can always have it with you in your satchel.
I hope these points have helped inspire you to write and use your tools. It is an endeavor fueled by effort, but the journey is as rewarding as the destination.
To celebrate World Creativity and Innovation Day this April 21st, and World Book Day on April 23rd, EndlessPens and I would like to invite you to harness your creativity by writing your first book or story by hand.
Use the code
LEKZ10 to get a 10% discount!
* Not applicable for HopDrop, Clearance, On Sale items, and select brands.
Written by @lekzumali
Check out her musings on Instagram!