One day a few years ago, a package arrived in the mail. It was a big box of stuff from my brother. We had been cleaning our parents’ house and getting it ready to sell. Each object I pulled out had a rich story attached to it—and evoked a flood of memories. My 7th grade geography report card (do they even teach geography anymore?). My dad’s antique railroad pocket watch. The black-and-white photo of me at seven in my Annie Oakley cowgirl outfit, biting my thumbnail and squinting at the camera.
Then I saw it. A letter written in a first grader’s clumsy printing, on lined tablet paper. It said:
Dear Grandma, I love you. Do you miss me? I got a doll. I love her and her shoes come off. Mom is helping me spell my words while I do my letter. See you soon. Love, Kelly.
It was my six-year-old daughter’s love note to her grandma. And it got me thinking. Before desktop computers, before iPads, laptop computers, smart phones and Skype chats, there was the pen. Or in this case, the pencil. Writing was a flowing process. It went from the brain, to the arm, to the fingers and it spilled out on the paper, many times along with the emotions the writer was struggling to express.
But writing by hand is dying. We send emails. We type a blog post or story on the keyboard and save it. Schools in Washington state aren’t even required to teach cursive writing anymore. (I thought that when I started learning ‘cursive’ in third grade that I would have to learn to write using swear words, but that’s another story.)
How writing by hand makes me a more creative blogger
The research shows, and I have discovered it myself, that writing by hand engages the brain. The hand has a unique connection to the brain when we are generating and expressing ideas. Writing with a pen forces us to execute sequential strokes, while typing on a keyboard just requires selecting a whole letter by striking a key. And pictures of the brain have shown that sequential finger movements activated the region for thinking, language, creativity and memory.
I have found that when I plan my posts in longhand first, that ideas come to me faster, I can express myself more freely and my thinking is more divergent.
How could writing by hand make you a more creative, interesting blogger? What if you set aside 15 minutes a day to give it a try? Here are a few ideas:
1. Doodle and draw.
If you are already a doodler, you are in great company. George Washington and Leonardo da Vinci were known to engage in scribbling words and pictures in random, spontaneous ways. Doodling gives your brain a chance to process ideas. And according to Lynda Barry, in her book Picture This, doodling can help you express yourself in more creative ways.
2. Try three pages of writing in longhand every day.
I’m a big fan of morning pages, from Julia Cameron’s amazing book The Artist’s Way. Even without the book, you can write them anytime and anywhere. All you need is a pen and paper. Let your thoughts spill out, all wild and uncensored. You may be surprised at what comes out. You don’t have to use any of it (though you might), but it will free you up to write what’s really on your mind.
3. Brainstorm blog post ideas by mind mapping.
Mind mapping kicks your brain into the visual mode, which helps you produce ideas faster, as one concept or thought triggers another. Although there are now software programs for mind mapping, I still use the old-fashioned paper and pen method. There is just something about the process that gets my brain working in overdrive.
4. Keep a small notebook to jot down post ideas.
I keep a small spiral notebook in the car, one by my nightstand and one in my office. If you are ever stuck waiting somewhere (I do this a lot in the ferry lines waiting for the next boat to the island), you’ll be surprised at how jotting down an idea here and there can trigger even more interesting ideas.
5. Experiment with planning your post in longhand first.
Getting your rough draft ideas out on pen and paper can stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain, the area that is a rich source of emotion and creativity. I always grab a legal pad and a pen. My pen of preference is the uni-ball roller, which makes my writing free-flowing and fluid. It has the feeling of a fountain pen without all the mess. (Although I’m not afraid to pick up a fountain pen, either.)