|Sometimes the ideas just flow better longhand.|
When I’m brainstorming on a project, I find I think much better when I write by hand than when I try to type things out on a computer. I just feel more creative. It’s much easier to write in the margins, to draw lines out to new thoughts, or even to draw little sketches just because they help me think. The keyboard doesn’t let me do that.
For me, the shift away from precisely-shaped individual letters can actually increase the fluidity of my thoughts and my ability to enter what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls a “flow” state – basically, he means that state of complete absorption and euphoria where you’re “hot” or “in the zone.” The world drops away and you're just writing really good stuff.
Also – ideas often strike me in inconvenient places. In the car, for example, or in the shower. It’s a lot easier to scribble down an idea on a scrap of paper with one hand (I am never without a handy pen!) than it is to fumble out my phone or some other technological device, open an app that will let me record, and try to type it in.
When I have the time to sit down and focus, I do like using a computer or digital tablet to brainstorm.
I have an old tablet PC, and it records my handwriting faithfully, which is important to me (and sometimes crucial given how messy things get – I have a personal cursive shorthand). I’m still on the fence with the iPad, both because I have to think constantly about keeping my hand off the screen (which may just take more practice – I am borrowing a friend’s) and because most available apps don’t reproduce my scrawl faithfully. (The one that seems to come closest is Penultimate.) And I’m still getting used to the idea of writing with a (shudder) squishy pen. And then there’s the size of the iPad itself – the page size feels like a constraint to me, at least in the Penultimate app. I’ve found that I can push OneNote on my old tablet PC to scroll down and to the side when I need more room, which I always do. (I’m really interested in any input others have on using technologies with handwriting, so please feel free to comment below.)
In any case, I was curious about whether there was any research to back up my feeling that I’m more creative when I’m writing longhand. After a quick search, here’s what I found: one set of neuropsychologists discovered that dealing with handwriting seems to engage the right brain better; another neurologist argues that writing in cursive actually “stimulate[s] brain activity, lead[ing] to increased language fluency.”
Now, before you get too excited about that right-brain reference, do realize that even theorists who argue the importance of right-brain activity in creativity typically emphasize the use of both sides of the brain together. In her amazing book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain, for example, neuroscientist and writer Alice Flaherty says, “creativity requires not just more right hemisphere activity, but a balanced interaction between the right and left hemispheres.” In other words, the balance created by relatively increased right-hemisphere activity is what’s notable in someone who’s thinking creatively. (This makes particular sense for writing, since in most people, language is a left-hemisphere function.)
If you find yourself stuck on your project, try writing or brainstorming longhand. Don’t be afraid to scribble things out or write in the margins. It doesn’t matter whether you do it on a piece of paper with a good old-fashioned pencil or pen, or on a digital slate with handwriting capabilities. And if things are not coming in straight tidy lines, let yourself stop worrying about precise lines of text and try a blank, unlined page so you can write in bursts, connecting things as needed with lines, drawings, and added notes.
And then let me know what happens!
Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook or Google+!