Hand or Keyboard — Does It Matter?

Flickr photo by SwimParallel

Within the online writing community you’ll find an ongoing discussion of the merits of writing by hand versus keyboard. Virtually all articles and posts are anecdotal, with a conspicuous lack of research. One exception is an intriguing blog interview Joy Castro  held with author and writing teacher Heather Sellers that comes close to supportable evidence. Heather claims that she can tell with near 100% accuracy by reading a student’s work whether it was written by hand or on the computer. “The best work is always written first by hand.”

As I’ve noted several times, I have become a true convert to journaling, on paper, by hand. When I recently had an idea for a focused journal on a specific topic and  wanted to share part or all of it with others, I reached for the keyboard. My attempt failed miserably. After much stumbling, fumbling, and frustration, I turned to my paper journal, and words flowed again. Eventually I realized that I was writing exclusively about feelings, emotions, and inner sensations — heart and gut stuff. That stuff is analog and organic, difficult to transfer to a stiff digital medium.

I became aware of the grandfather clock tick-tocking away across the room. When I’m aware of the clock, the river of time seems to fragment into discrete pixel-like seconds. That seems a metaphor for the way thoughts emerge from my fingers on the keyboard, in click-tocks rather than a free-flowing river. Thoughts spray forth in a wide swath through eight fingers and a thumb onto the keyboard. When I write by hand, my thoughts are forced to converge with laser-like focus into that single point at the end of my pen.

Words written on paper have an earthy, sensual feel. They seem more real, more vital and durable — not quite carved in stone, but worth the effort of recording. Digital words seem are ephemeral, easily poofed off the page, remaining only as long as I approve them.

Letters on the screen are discrete, not touching. They are fragments, pebbles in a pile. Handwritten letters flow together. Even my hybrid of print and script flows, though somewhat jerkily, along a continuous line. That flowing line forms a smoother path for the arrival of new insights. While it is true that more than a few e-mails I’ve sent over the years include some line like “I don’t know where that came from — I’m obviously thinking with my fingers!” I’ve never once been transported to that “Place of great peace beyond all the words” by keyboard writing.

For deeply analytical, insight-seeking writing, I’ll keep that pen firmly in hand! When I want to crank out the words as fast as I think, the keyboard keeps its edge. What a wonderful world we live in, that we have this choice!

Write now: conduct your own experiment to learn where you fly best with each style of writing, paper or keyboard. Google some search terms like “handwriting keyboard” or “benefits of writing by hand” and follow several links. Form your own conclusions.


Karen Walker said...

yup yup yup. Me too. Love how you express yourself, Sharon. So glad you're blogging regularly now.

Kendra Bonnett said...

Hmmmmm. I'm actually surprised by this. I remember during my transition to keyboard only, I would often feel that I wrote my best by working ideas out on paper first. But that was a long time ago...probably late 80s. Today I do everything on the keyboard. I'll have to experiment with this. Thanks, Sharon.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

Some of my best story lines, character descriptions and passion come from the times I hand write on my notepad. I write so fast that I swear my pencil is smoking! Of course I have to go back later and try to read my scribbles! LOL!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thank you Karen. Always nice to hear from you.

Sharon Lippincott said...


I also spent decades on the keyboard, using a pen mainly to sign credit card receipts. It feels good to be back. The keyboard is still important, and I use it most of the time, but paper is chocolate for my soul.

Sharon Lippincott said...


I love that image your words evoke of smoke rising above your fingers and scorch marks beside the words. Does the heat keep your hand from cramping? Your words also put me back in a hard chair, scribbling essay question answers in a blue exam book with rapidly dulling pencils or draggy ball points. My hand always cramped.

Maribeth said...

"When you relax the hand you relax the mind and the words will flow." A teacher and friend repeated that to me often.
In other words, a tight gripe on your pencil meant you weren't ready to share your thoughts.

Always look forward to coffee with your posts!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Maribeth, this is truly profound! I might add that it helps to have a pen that flows along the page, and smooth paper. My current journal has richly thick, textured paper that soaks up ink like a sponge, and this morning my lovely gel pen ran dry and I switched to an old ball point. Oh, did my hand cramp!

ybonesy said...

I'm with you, Sharon. I tend to be able to write better when I use a pen versus a keyboard. But once I get that first draft down, I key it in and then start the revision process on the laptop.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Ybonesy, your writing shows the connection. It takes longer to write by hand, and I don't always get better results, but for seriously intimate topics, and especially for free floating creativity, it's hard to beat.