There are different opinions on handwriting (longhand) vs typing. The arguments boil down to either personal preferences about speed and efficiency or theories about retention and immediacy. I’ve used longhand for decades, and I’ve used laptops, tablets, phones for years. The analog and the digital both have their advantages and disadvantages, but for me, personally, based on my experience, the old pen/pencil and paper wins every time when it comes to drafts, notes, ramblings.
Here are 5 reasons why I think everyone should use longhand (or cursive, or print, or whatever works, as long as it’s pen(cil) on paper).
1. Emotional Link
Emotions and immediate reactions to the act of writing can be captured, and later felt anew, through strokes, line thickness, pressure. When something is physically underlined, maybe twice or thrice, with a flourish, it’s easy to see its importance. It is NOT an italicized or underlined typed word — it’s more, and the line(s) from that very moment in time are immortalized.
Strikethroughs are essential to capturing the instant meaning of the writing. The mistakes, retries, frustrated attempts are all captured, frozen, ready to be revived whenever you read your notes. None of this exists in the digital, erase-as-you-go world.
Writing on paper gives you the ability to add drawings, flow charts, arrows, bullets, palimpsest-like notes over notes. You can circle, reorganize non-destructively, reformat without losing the original intent as it came from head to hand. A list of points, say 5 reasons to slow down and write, can be written in the original order produced by the brain. Then, with a few lines, arrows, scribbles, the order can be changed, however, the original intent is saved. Maybe it was better the first time. If reorganized on a digital platform, the genesis has long vanished. Tablets and styli come closer to giving the writer the ability to mimic pen(cil) and paper, but the urge to cut and paste neatly may be too hard to resist. Also, see point 3…
3. No Distractions
Your notepad will never beep, run out of batteries, notify you that your friend posted/ate/procrastinated something/somewhere/sometime. No email will pop up, no text message will ding, no weather alert will take your eyes from the task at hand. Also, you will not accidentally hit a wrong key, drag another app from the edge, swear at the screen when your devices freezes up even for a second. Apps have tried to push “focus” modes and “clean writing” interfaces, but, it is almost guaranteed something will pop up and mess with your train of thought.
4. The Retention of Flow
Error and juxtaposition can subconsciously contribute to a final piece. If those connections, be they side notes, eraser-ghosts (you won’t catch me erasing), aren’t preserved, a big part of the reason for a piece of writing can be lost. I have caught myself wondering what the hell did I mean here? More than once. When everything is retained in a longhand draft, the answer may be right there. Forget about answering the question if all that’s left is a clear, focused, clean version on your device. The list order, the birth of that original idea, the bastardization thereof, the tangent that became more important than the first premise, all of if contributes to the flow and eventual feel of the final work. Give yourself the chance to capture all of it.
5. Longevity & Legacy
Notebooks will never need updates. Notebooks will never disappear when a company decides to pull its cloud services. Notebooks will never be obsolete, replaced by new compression or encryption methods. With sufficient care against rot or fire, the paper, the ink, the graphite, all should survive, legible and complete.
On a more sentimental level, the notebook is a legacy. It is a genuine, physical artifact that tells a story. The best example would be gramp’s notes about the war, or grandma’s cookbook, passed from generation to generation. The mistakes, scribbles, drawings, they are all as important as the entries or recipes. They are a snapshot of a place, at a specific time. The same wouldn’t hold true for gramp’s Evernote login or grandma’s OneNote account.
The real story is in that notebook with the dirty spine, the one that ate pencils and drank inkwells dry. There is a life in there.