The Pencil and the Keyboard

By

What’s better for your creativity: handwriting or typing? Here is a short but fascinating video making the case for both as essential tools:

The basic suggestion here is to use handwriting for note-taking, brainstorming, and synthesizing ideas for yourself, but to use a computer to create pieces that give information to others. Or more simply, always carry a pencil and learn to type faster.

As a writer who frequently switches back and forth, this rings true for me. All my poems begin as scribbly drafts on paper, but many an article or blog post was written completely digitally, when my fingers need to keep up with my ideas. (This may also explain why, since breaking my arm a few weeks ago, I’ve come up with a ton of ideas but have nothing to show for it. Science! One-hand typing is hard. Yes, I am making excuses.)

So let’s discuss. Writers, what’s your preference, and when do you pick a keyboard over a pen? Do you find your medium affects your ideas? Artists of other types (music, visual arts, etc), what role does technology play in your creative process?

(H/T Austin Kleon)

Profile photo of Jen Rose Yokel

Jen was born and raised in central Florida, but now lives in the strange land of southern New England. Her words have appeared in TS Poetry’s Every Day Poems, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she recently released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms. Some of her favorite things include used bookstores, good coffee, messing about in the kitchen, and local adventures with her husband Chris.


17 Comments

  1. Chris Yokel

    I carry a Moleskine a lot to write down quick ideas. I find that I do most of my brainstorming/idea jotting this way. Then when it comes to actually creating something cohesive I type.

    I find particularly when writing poetry, it just feels different/weird to type out initial ideas.

  2. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @zpeteman

    I can’t imagine ever writing anything more than a few lines of poetry in longhand. I cannot write cursive at all, and my print is just an all-caps mess.

  3. dawn

    I’ll use longhand to capture ideas or lines for future pieces when I’m on the go. Otherwise I’m all keyboard. But, a lot of times my process is to think whatever I’m working on out thoroughly in my head, so by the time I sit down to write it’s less creative and more mechanical. All the creative stuff has already happened.

  4. Bailey Gillespie

    I’ve actually been terrible at ever keeping a notebook on hand (in my purse, car, etc.), so my handwritten scribbles usually end up on the backs of napkins or receipts or any other single piece of college-ruled paper I can scrounge up. And Jen, like you, all my poems and shorter pieces begin and develop handwritten, but once I start revising, I switch to typing. All my longer works (blog posts, articles, stories) happen digitally unless I’m just jotting down a brief idea. I’ve found it takes way too long to rearrange, copy/paste, filter thoughts and sentences with an actual pen – my paper ends up looking like a mess, and I’d rather delete it nicely on a Word doc.

  5. Glenn

    I’m with you, Pete. The sheer illegibility of my longhand makes it a Very Bad Idea for writing anything which will later be expected to be articulate. Yet, I can’t match the connection I feel with the ideas when I write longhand in a notebook with a good G-2 07 pen (fetish?). I think the physical sensation is a big part of this – the feel of the pen against the inside of my fingers, the noise of the pen scratching on the paper, even the occasional blob of ink left on the page – all very satisfying. (Ha – reminds me of the Heaney poem- “Between my fingers and my thumb/the squat pen rests; snug as a gun.”)

  6. Helena

    Glenn, you’re on holy ground with the G-2 reference. Good stuff.
    I love this discussion! I do all my initial brainstorming in a notebook, writing out questions and ideas with a good black pen. After I finish a first draft, I always print it out and scribble notes all over the thing, and I find that when I sit down at the computer to work on the second draft, the things I’ve written by hand have stayed with me.
    How funny that I never work on Story Warren posts in the same way! Those always begin and end at the keyboard. Do you suppose that most of this is instinct? How big a role do our individual personalities and working styles play?

  7. Kathleen Mahoney

    I have dysgraphia, which is the a learning disability that has to do with 1) the motor skills it takes to write, and 2) the cognitive process of translating what is in your brain to paper. Between the difficult of forming the letters itself, trying to keep up with what is being said organizing it on paper, my handwriting is often pretty bad So saying, I do mostly keyboarding. If I was just taking notes my hand (like in a lecture) I would most likely not be able to hold as munch information as I can by keyboarding. By using my laptop, it frees my mind to focus completely on what is being said and thinking about it, instead of having half my brian trying to work so hard on the handwriting itself.
    I do journal all by hand though, which is a good thing, since I believe it helps me to slow down more and focus on my emotions. Also, I think that God moves within my heart more, or I can sense his presence more, when I take my pen in hand, and work through difficulties, or praise, or prayer.
    Great video and informative, thanks for posting!

    ps. Did anyone else think Clive Thompson looked a little like Tom Hanks? I did 🙂

  8. Loren Warnemuende

    This is great, and relieves my mind considerably. There is definitely something thrilling for me in sitting down to write an update to family or friends and being able to get all my thoughts out as quickly as possible with typing. However, there are so many places where I need to use a pen and paper, and I do think it’s more for mapping things out or taking notes. I can shape those better.

    I must say, though, the idea of using a pencil rather than a pen does not attract this left-hander.

  9. Michael Herrington

    And here’s the “argument” a few centuries back between the ball point and the quill:

    “Look here, what form is this I dare to grasp?
    I shall not leave my work that calls me long.
    Less like my quill and much more like an asp,
    How can this crude thing help me form a song?”

    “You don’t know me, master? I have critiqued and analyzed you down through the years. Why, I have written about you more than any other.”

    “‘Crude,’ I said, and I hold that line in truth.
    No meter thou possess or stanza true.
    Where now hath thou placed the bottle, forsooth?
    I’ve yet to add the liver of the Jew.”

    “But, Sir, I can save you half the time,
    No dipping needed, and if need be I can rhyme
    Just grab hold and see what slips
    If I were you, though, I would add a Tartar’s lips.”

    “Tis true thou run and run without a fault,
    And time thou sure wouldst save me in my task;
    For Cleopatra still lies in my vault,
    And, too, Stephano must still carve his flask”

    “I can see it now, our names in lights: The Bard and the Bic. Your prolificity will soar; they’ll love you, Willie! We could be great together.”

    “Ah, but if I stop not to dip the quill,
    The mind has not a chance to think while still.”

  10. Jess

    I can write longhand if I must, but I generally prefer my keyboard… Not for the sake of keeping up with my ideas (because my brain works a lot more slowly than I type), but for that wonderful backspace key. Gets rid of the clutter of crossed out lines and eraser shadows. That said, every once in a while I blow the dust off my journal and hide in a corner and scratch away with a pen. To everything there is a season…

  11. Oscar

    If I get a sudden inspiration for a full-grown article, I type the whole thing. But generally, I follow the same program as Helena. Write draft; type draft; print; write on printed draft; repeat. I print in black and write in blue or green so my notes stand out.

    I find it difficult not to edit on a computer; I find it impossible to truly edit my sloppy written draft, so a hybrid of both is my solution. I only really write on paper, and I only really edit on paper, but this way I have progressive drafts, Plus, I don’t have to struggle so much to read my own writing underneath a huge smattering of editing notes.

  12. Linda

    I’m not a “real” writer, but for me it is quite simple. Information coming in that I want to remember, I write longhand, like class notes or notes to myself from when I talk on the phone. But when I want to get ideas out of my head (which usually is just in my journal), I type. Why? Because I have too much to say and could give myself carpal tunnel if I tried writing it out. Typing is much easier on my wrist.

  13. Heidi Johnston

    This is really interesting – I’m not sure I’ve given it much thought before. I carry a little leather notebook and pen and quite often stop in the middle of a task to scribble down a sentence or phrase that wanders into my brain, encapsulating an idea I’ve been mulling over. Anything new generally begins on an A4 pad which ends up covered in sentences, arrows and circled numbers. Next comes the typing. Then, like Helena and Oscar, it’s back to writing on top of the printed draft for editing.
    Also, I really want one of those pencils.

  14. The One True Stickman

    This is awesome! The way I work backs up the delineation between synthesis and output, and now it makes sense.

    I almost always draft or take notes on paper, regardless of whether it’s writing, design sketches, schematics, or whatever – I carry index cards in my pocket for general notes and always have a couple standard size moleskin type notebooks in my bag, one for words and one for not-words. I often just work from those, but for stuff that turns into more finished products, it goes into the computer (be it typed or drawn with CAD, schematic capture, graphics software, whatever…) and thence onward.

    Also, fellow implement nerds – beware of the black hole you will fall into if you have never visited the website of Jetpens. Also, they have the Palomino Blackwing pencils and Kum Long Point 2-step sharpener. My weapon of choice for everything these days is a Pigma Micron 01, as I still haven’t found a fine/smooth enough non-blobbing ball-point.

  15. CWill

    This is interesting. I have wondered, from time to time, how the technology trend of moving from a physical keyboard to a virtual touch keyboard, typically seen on smartphones and tablets, has impacted the amount and quality of content creation. My generation (millenials) especially, seem in general to gravitate away from physical keyboards to tablets and similar devices. It seems as though there is something of a shift starting to take place from humans being producers of content to consumers of content. Devices like the iPad seem to almost promote that.

    That being said, I certainly wouldn’t suggest that will ever fully take place. But I do wonder as a new generation grows up with more exposure to tablets and smartphones than to pencils or keyboards whether this trend could potentially stifle the creativity of some who could end up being wonderful writers?

  16. Jen Rose Yokel

    A part that resonated with me in a surprising way: if I’m writing something personal, like a poem or journaling, handwriting is the way to go. If I’m going more informational, typing seems to fit the flow better. (Bailey, sounds like we’re alike on this! :))

    Pete and Glenn, the longer I write by hand, the sloppier my writing gets. I get this too!

    Loren, writing with a pencil feels so weird… and I’m right handed!

    CWill, that’s a super interesting thought… I would imagine that technology totally plays a role in the kind of creative output we make. For example, the emphasis these days on clean writing, short paragraphs, and concise ideas (and the insane rise of click bait headlines and listicles… ugh.) seem to reflect the influence of written communication through social media. I’ve noticed my own writing has gotten a lot less wordy since I discovered Twitter and Facebook. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it does make sitting down to write something long and articulate and beautiful a challenge sometimes.

    I’m going to ponder this some more. For the record, I don’t think I could write anything coherent on a touch keyboard, but maybe that’s me. 🙂

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *