Just Different: Writing versus Typing

nordwood-themes-524137-unsplashI love my laptop. I really do. It’s smooth-looking, lightweight, and typing on it makes me feel like a pro. But the other day when technical issues forced me to write by hand, I remembered why, for years, I didn’t want a portable computer: writing things out by hand is just different.

I tried to explain this to someone recently, and before I even had three words out of my mouth, she said, “Oh! I know!” And I’m sure she did. But what kind of different did she mean? Was it the same kind of different I meant? And what about all these kids? These kids who don’t write anything out longhand? These kids who don’t even know cursive? What kind of “different” are they experiencing?

If I sound alarmed, don’t worry. I’m not one of these people who thinks removing cursive from the curriculum is part of a conspiracy to make it impossible to read the original Constitution of the United States. Nor am I one who believes you can’t write decently without putting your thoughts down on an actual piece of paper first. But I do think that writing in longhand–especially in cursive–provides benefits for most writers. (Unless you’re a serial killer whose penmanship and personality is being publicly critiqued. Then no matter how you’ve written it, you’ve got a problem.) Let’s look at a few benefits to writing things out by hand:

1. Writing in cursive benefits the brain: it unites the two hemispheres so that they operate more cohesively, forming synaptic connections. And who doesn’t want better/ more synaptic connections? Call me old fashioned (or dumb, because I’m not going to cite sources here but rather pull stuff out of my memory which is, admittedly faulty, my own synaptic connections apparently suffering), but I think that even though computer literacy is super important, kids should still be required to learn and perform in cursive. It improves language and, uh, working memory, and is especially useful for developing brains and re-working brains that have been harmed by stroke, mental illness, or injury.

2. Students who hand-wrote the essay portion of the SAT and ACT scored significantly higher than those who typed it. The students who wrote in cursive, as opposed to printing, scored even higher. While this may or may not have to do with cursive itself (maybe it has to do with the type of thinker a person who does or doesn’t write in cursive is) those higher scores still remain.

3.  Writing by hand improves hand-eye coordination. I know, I know. I can hear you now: “Tell that to the nerdy dude writing poetry on the corner of the playground while rest of the boys toss a ball around!” Okay, so maybe it’s not hand-eye coordination. Maybe it’s just hand coordination. The muscles of the hand are used very differently in cursive versus printing or typing, which utilizes the fingers more. And since the muscles of the fingers are so widely used (think of all those video game buttons our kids need to press!) developing hand muscles is pretty important.

4. It reinforces learning. I have no clue what I’ve written these last few weeks on Quora, Facebook, or any other place that requires me to type a response. But I can guarantee you I remember what I’ve written in my journal–which by choice utilizes and actual pen, and a real live piece of paper–and that may be mostly because of the actual physical writing involved in the process.

5. More important than any of the previous four points, writing things out by hand is important because it connects me to my words–and via my words, my very self–in a way typing simply cannot. Every time I put pen to page, there is a tangible sense of relaxation that comes to me about ten words in. I don’t know how explain it, but I sure do enjoy it. When I open my laptop, though, I have a different sense of things altogether. One that isn’t always so great.

What do you think? What’s your experience in writing versus typing? Do you use cursive? What do you like–or not like–about it? Do you think it should still be a part of the curriculum? Leave your thoughts in the comments or email me at writerinresidence@racineartscouncil.org . I look forward to hearing from you!


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