How many of you use a pen and paper to write? A handwritten journal? Post-it notes??

Yeah, I thought so. Not very many of you. I’ve learned in doing Prompt Group meetings for the last couple years that modern Americans don’t seem to write much anymore. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; after all, I am a Technorati of the first order, a modern-day “power user.”

Yet, philosophically, I have a lot in common with Luddites.

What’s a Luddite? They were a sect that shunned technology and modern contrivances. As I type this on a laptop in a friend’s home whilst using her wireless, for use on a group blog the authors of which reside all over the planet, I can’t in all honesty claim to be a Luddite, but still. I love me a pen and paper!

And here is something I’ve learned: there’s something alchemical that happens when one sits down to write that doesn’t happen in the same way when one sits down at the keyboard. I believe that it’s the kinesthetic process of one-handedness.

Say wha?

Bear with me. Kinesiology is the study of muscles and how they work. “Kinesthetic learners” learn, literally, by doing: by working with their hands or bodies. When we write, we do so one-handed – even if we are the rare ambidextrous person, when writing, we’re not doing so with a pen in each hand. We write with one hand, one pen, on one surface. When we type, we do so either with one finger of each hand, or we know how to touch type and use all ten fingers.

We know from the treatment of Epilepsy and cognitive developmental theory that things that bridge the left/right brain hemispheres helps, literally, to teach the brain to think. That’s good, right?

I believe, though, that writing with one hand can, if done for long enough, help us to bridge the hemispheres in another way: by literally giving one “side” voice to the other side. We can, over time, get to know ourselves better and to even start to communicate with our own subconscious minds. This happens more easily, I’ve observed, by the tool of handwriting and not the tool of typing. I don’t know why this is so, but I’ve seen it happen so consistently that I’ve accepted its reality even if I don’t understand all of the methodology.

My long-time readers have heard my arguments on Morning Pages, an idea put forth by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way and others. Three pages of longhand writing, done in the morning, can alter our waking reality. I have seen this to be true in my own life as well as others that I’ve known that have used the tool. What’s more, at the end of a Prompt Group, where we write to prompts for two hours, I see it happen in the writers who attend. (For more information on the Prompt Group, please visit our website.)

I urge you to try it for yourself: try writing three pages a day, or hand write a letter or card to an absent friend. Postcards are good, too. Try writing the response to a story prompt (if you don’t have one, just Google “writing prompt” and pick one). See if you can unlock the magic of the pen for yourself.

3 thoughts on “Wiley Wednesday: In Defense of the Pen

  1. Awesome! I used to write stories instead of typing and ought to try going back to that. I really had fun, then! My thoughts took longer to put down but also seemed more of an experience instead of just a recorded idea. 🙂

  2. I've noticed I get different results if I compose stories by pen. I prefer to write stories on the computer, but do journal work by hand – unless I'm REALLY in story mode, in which case I'd write on paper towels if I had to.

  3. Nikki M says:

    I find that writing by hand is the best way to beat the Critic a lot of times. I do not allow any editing when I'm hand writing (I'll cut or move whole paragraphs at times, and that's just too distracting when you're handwriting and there's no mouse or delete key), so it forces me to keep the idea flowing without getting bogged down in the execution of it.

    And sometimes there is something about the quiet space of pen on paper. Email or IM doesn't pop up, I don't think about the 10 or 15 websites I haven't visited in a while…If I've got pen and paper I'm writing and that's it.

    I still don't do morning pages much. Too often I begrudge the time it takes to write them or something. That being said, I was surprised to realize the other day I'd gone from Oct to March (and then from March to July) without doing pages. I don't normally re-read them, but I took a look at the Oct ones quickly before starting something new and it shocked me to hear my tone on the page. At least it means I was using them honestly, lol. And it was interesting to see that I'd wound up in almost the same place in June as I was in Oct, although from a totally different direction.

    Of course, if I actually did pages every day there'd be a better balance of content, I suspect.

    I do agree that making time to physically put pen to paper is something everyone should do more often, whether it's pages or postcards or whatever. It's a great way to make sure you're really present in the moment you're in.

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