writing by hand
Journaling,  Slow Living

16 Powerful Benefits of Writing by Hand

A journal is a great place to unload your emotions. But the very act of writing by hand has many powerful benefits.

When I was a teenager, I kept a thick spiral notebook in which I chronicled my daily dramas. I wrote in sloppy handwriting about how I failed to land a double pirouette in ballet class. Or how my teacher had paid more attention to my rival. Or how my mom wouldn’t let me wear nail polish.

At some point I stopped writing and those journals were dismissed as a frivolous teenage phase. A bit narcissistic and largely pointless.

But lately I’ve been seeing more and more articles about journaling. Diaries are making a big comeback.

And it made me realize how much I missed my teenage, spiral-bound friend.

I missed rushing home to throw myself on the bed and unload my insecurities into the wide-ruled pages. Nobody would ever read them unless it was me going back to squirm over my follies. But my journal was where I didn’t have to justify myself.

writing by hand benefits
Once seen as frivolous and teenage, journals are quickly regaining popularity.

In an age where vast knowledge is available at our fingertips, it’s easy to forget how much wisdom can come from our own selves. And how it’s so worthwhile to organize our thoughts and express ourselves without needing to share it and say “look what I’ve created!”

A return to paper

And so I went down our main street in the humid Cairo suburbs to a stationary shop for a brand new notebook. A thick, spiral-bound paper brick that I could easily flip open and not worry about wasting paper.

My chosen notebook is practical, cheap and heavy enough to lay in my lap. I can write a grocery list on one page and a journal entry on another. Space is plentiful.

And I can take it to a cafe or out on my balcony with an iced coffee to write a few lines in the morning.

When I first wrote a post by hand, I was amazed at how smoothly the writing came.

handwriting benefits
Writing often just flows better when it’s done by hand.

So what’s the difference between writing by hand and at a keyboard?

There’s less pressure when you’re writing by hand. Since my handwriting is sloppy and hardly legible, there’s less pressure to make the writing itself perfect.

The print on a laptop screen looks similar to a newspaper or book. It’s too final and perfect.

But in my notebook, the page is already so messy that one more crossed out line won’t make much difference. The sheet is crumbled into a ball then my cat chases it around the room.

There are plenty of benefits of writing by hand that made me realize I wrote in those teenage journals for years because they served a purpose. They were a powerful and effective tool that improved my life and brought me comfort.

Here are the powerful benefits to writing by hand:

1. Writing by hand boosts your creativity.

writing by hand benefits

Writing by hand helps you think outside the box. It gives your mind free reign to breathe and express itself outside your usual daily routine.

Your mind can replay the same worries in an endless stream of consciousness. But when you’re writing, you’re not likely to write down the same thoughts over and over.

In this way, writing by hand pushes your mind forward towards new observations and conclusions. It forces you to slow down and fish out those shiny pebbles of insight from your stream of consciousness.

And this is a proven fact. In one study, children assigned to write essays by hand were found to express more ideas than those writing at a keyboard.

2. Writing by hand improves your memory.

handwriting benefits

The act of writing something down makes you more likely to remember it.

Students who take longhand notes during lectures have better long-term memory recall. The spatial relations between what you’re writing and the act of moving your hand across the page both help you better retain information for the long term.

Recent neuroscience research has uncovered a distinct neural pathway that is only activated when we physically draw out letters. And this pathway, which gets paved deeper with practice, is linked to our overall success in learning and memory.

Writer’s cramp, or when patients lose the ability to write but are still able to perform other motor tasks, tells us there’s something special about handwriting that makes it distinct from other motor movements, scientists say.

Handwriting requires a sequence of strokes to form a letter, not just a single push of a key for one letter. And studies have shown these sequential movements activate brain regions responsible for working memory.

Researchers say a physical activity like writing by hand uses nerves and muscles in a complex way, sending sensory feedback to our brains. The more complex the feedback, the easier our brain retains memories. Tapping away at a keyboard doesn’t give our brains as much feedback as the complex sequences in handwriting.

3. Writing by hand relieves your stress, depression and anxiety.

writing by hand benefits

Writing by hand slows down your thoughts, boosts mindfulness and increases calm. The act of writing increases activity in parts of the brain similar to meditation.

A lot of our frustrations and sadness come from muddled and unexpressed thoughts, which often repeat in a loop in our minds.

A study found that writing about a stressful experience led to more therapeutic benefits than typing about the experience. It lead to greater and more honest self-disclosure.

Writing by hand is so effective in combating depression and anxiety that it’s often recommended by therapists.

4. Writing by hand improves your learning comprehension.

handwriting vs keyboard

Students who take notes during lectures retain information better than those typing notes into a laptop.

And while writing by hand may be slower, it lets you filter information and put it into your own words. And that helps with understanding.

Pounding away at a laptop to transcribe entire passages of a lecture isn’t nearly as effective.

Writing notes on a laptop likely leads to more multitasking and distractions, which are killers for focused concentration. But research has also shown that taking notes on a laptop results in more shallow processing than writing notes out in longhand.

Three studies have found that students who took notes on laptops did worse with conceptual questions than students who took notes by hand. Other studies found that students who use laptops during lectures show a decreased academic performance and have a harder time staying on task in the classroom.

Internet browsing during a lecture, even if it’s just to quickly check a fact, is disastrous to concentration because it forces students to switch their attention back and forth.

When you’re taking notes, you’re also summarizing, paraphrasing the teachers’ words or making quick diagrams of more complicated concepts. This is much more effective for learning than typing out what the professor says verbatim.

writing by hand benefits
Writing down and summarizing information is a powerful learning tool.

And when you’re on a laptop you’re more likely to type out the same phrases your teacher has used, which leads to poorer academic performance.

Other studies show that even reading from a page helps us better remember the information than reading from a screen – another case for analog if you’re looking to boost your study habits and avoid the distractions of the Internet.

And if you’re studying a new language with an unfamiliar alphabet (like Japanese or Arabic), studies have shown that you’ll learn the characters better if you write them down.

Here’s how to take better notes by hand:

  • summarize and condense the points being made
  • identify the main points and any frequent or emphasized keywords
  • use bullet points, arrows and other signifiers
  • underline or use your own shorthand
  • paraphrase, especially when it’s a difficult concept, and say it in your own words
  • highlight, sketch or make diagrams to help you better process the material
  • practice your handwriting: evidence shows that good handwriting is related to improved academic performance

5. Writing by hand improves your prioritization skills.

handwriting vs keyboard

If you’ve ever sat in a meeting and pounded away at your laptop, you’ve notice how easy it is to take pages of notes.

Writing by hand, however, is not as easy. So you’ll naturally pick out the main points in lectures or summarize long speeches into simple words.

This is because the sheer effort of writing by hand makes you less likely to transcribe material like you would on a laptop.

Writing by hand also lets you easier form points and subpoints, make arrows, cross things out or highlight. You can even use your own shorthand to take notes.

6. Writing by hand enhances your focus.

writing by hand benefits

Writing by hand forces you to see a train of thought out toward its conclusion.

Handwriting also helps children with ADD or AD/HD, because learning cursive improves the students’ concentration.

The process of writing uses a particular part of the brain that acts as a filter to block any irrelevant information. When you form letters on paper, you’re able to concentrate better and your brain considers carefully what’s written.

7. Writing by hand makes you a better writer.

benefits of cursive

Brilliant writers have been writing by hand ever since the invention of the typewriter.

From modern-day bestselling authors like Stephen King and J. K. Rowling to the authors of 20th century classics like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Kafka, much of the world’s greatest prose was first scrawled out on paper.

Famed director Quentin Tarantino writes his screenplays in notebooks with felt pens, while prolific writer Joyce Carol Oates prefers writing by longhand – for up to eight hours a day.

Writing on paper takes effort. And you’re not likely to waste many words if only for the sake of avoiding hand cramps. Writing by hand forces you to slow down and consider each phrase more carefully.

Writing by hand also gives you a record of your progress and the edits you’ve made along the way.

Researchers found that teaching handwriting not only improves legibility and fluency but also the quality of the students’ writing.

Another study at Washington University found that handwritten essays were richer and more complex than those typed on a computer.

8. Writing by hand reminds you of the value of privacy.

writing by hand benefits

In a world where millions share their daily lives and its most insignificant details on Instagram Stories, it’s refreshing to take back some personal expression and reclaim it for yourself.

And writing has value even when you’re only doing it for yourself. Your thoughts don’t have to go viral to be valuable. If writing eases your burdens, then that’s already enough.

9. Writing by hand helps your deep and critical thinking.

Writing by hand is slower and this lets your mind think more thoroughly over what you’re writing down.

It helps you expand your thoughts and form connections between ideas. Writing by hand helps you see the relationship between abstract concepts and helps you solve complex problems. It allows you to slow down and process your thoughts.

10. Writing by hand slows down your mental aging.

benefits of cursive

Your brain, like any other body part, grows weaker when it’s not used fully. Writing regularly by hand keeps your mind sharp and lets you stay curious.

A study has shown that reading books, writing letters and keeping mentally active protects the brain in old age. When you’re mentally challenging yourself, you slow down cognitive decline, researchers say.

Some physicians recommend handwriting as a cognitive exercise for baby boomers who want to keep their minds sharp.

11. Writing by hand eliminates distractions.

Laptops and computers, with their multiple tabs and notifications, can be a playground for distractions. And while there are programs that shut all of that down, the temptation is still there.

A paper notebook is a distraction-free zone where you can forget all about your email for awhile.

Writing on paper takes you away from the Internet and from other people’s opinions to focus on yourself.

12. Writing by hand combats dyslexia.

writing by hand benefits

Dyslexia is caused by a disconnection between the auditory and language centers of the brain. And writing by hand helps join those centers together.

Students with dyslexia struggle with learning to read because their brains associate sound and letter combinations inefficiently, says language specialist Marilyn Zecher. Learning cursive helps with this decoding process because it boosts hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and other brain and memory functions.

Although cursive is becoming increasingly rare in public education, it’s still often a powerful therapy for dyslexia.

13. Writing by hand stimulates your brain and helps it develop.

writing by hand vs keyboard

Cursive is important for cognitive development because it trains the brain to use different parts of the mind for different functions. Children learning cursive use fine motor skills and visual and tactile processing abilities that help their cognitive function.

When handwriting is cut from the school curriculum, it often generates controversy from the teachers who know all about the benefits of learning cursive.

Learning to write helps children pay attention to written language. And it’s been shown those who have good fine-motor writing skills in preschool do better later on.

Handwriting quality is linked to better writing and reading skills. Writing by hand makes you a better reader and improves letter recognition.

Handwriting uses more of your brain and integrates thinking, movement and sensation.

14. Writing by hand improves your hand-eye coordination.

writing by hand benefits

The hand-eye coordination is different for every letter and connection between letters, so your movements in handwriting are constantly different. And that’s more mentally demanding than hitting single strokes for each letter on a keyboard.

When you’re writing by hand, you’re challenged to think about what you’re doing. If your mind drifts it’s nearly impossible to form a word on paper.

15. Writing by hand improves your self expression.

If you’ve ever been at a loss for words, then you know how frustrating it is to get your viewpoint across.

Writing by hand helps you avoid that tongue-tied feeling. It teaches you how to flesh out your thoughts and consider them carefully.

Why not typing?

Writing by hand is slower and gives you time to consider your phrases. Writing by hand gives you some leeway to express yourself badly and do it better next time. Because unlike a computer screen, a handwritten page is less final – you can always cross out words and treat the page as a rough draft.

writing by hand vs keyboard
Expressing yourself well on paper will eventually help you communicate better in real life too.

Even if your field is less creative and more analytic, studies have shown that writing by hand helps you communicate complex ideas.

When you write regularly by hand, you gain confidence in your own ability to express yourself. It’s easier to talk about your feelings when you’re well-versed in methodical writing.

So much frustration in life comes when you feel misunderstood. It’s frustrating when you’re unable to pinpoint what’s wrong – let alone express it.

But the more you write, the more you get to know yourself. And then you’re able to better express your thoughts to others because you know how to express yourself in writing.

Writing by hand gives you time to come up with the right words, and this facilitates self-expression.

16. Writing by hand makes your notes and letters special.

handwriting

Nobody has ever treasured a printed-out email in a box of keepsakes.

Handwriting is unique to each person and this makes handwritten notes and letters so much more personal than email.

It’s why so many Christmas cards, birthday greetings and wedding invitations are still written out by hand. Such messages are prized because they’re more intimate and unique.

In this post:
Notebook: Abd El-Zaher Bookstore
Notecards: Usem (gifted)

Journaling is a powerful tool that can change your life. These 18 Incredible Benefits of Journaling show exactly how journaling improves your mental and physical health.

When you’re struggling to get into the habit of journaling daily, sometimes it’s best to forget the usual advice. Here are my 17 Journaling Tips For Beginners (And How to Actually Start).

Whether you want to manage stress, get organised or boost your creativity, read about 13 Powerful Journaling Techniques (And How To Use Them).

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writing by hand

52 Comments

  • twobrownfeet

    I enjoyed reading this post! I have many diaries — each for a different purpose. ? My diaries last for years and it’s always nice to look at my thoughts and how I evolved over the years. I love to write on paper and I agree, it’s also stress relieving. Does make you a better writer because, you don’t think about editing before writing. ?

    • misterkaki

      Many thanks, a very worthwhile article. I am in no doubt as to the value of hand written letters, received, or not. For instance I have relatively recently written, a letter, to my long departed parents, as therapeutic exercise. Likewise you should see the half asleep scrawl of my waking state poetry notebook! To behold the messy stuff, if life, scratched out, crossed out, annotated on a page, is to reveal the heart of the very process, my heart, body and soul in action, as the scribe.

      • Dee

        I’ve never tried writing a letter to anyone long departed, but that sounds like such a powerful exercise to get some closure and clarity.. I love seeing the scribbles as well. It always reminds me that writing is a process, and very seldom a completely finished product.

    • Dee

      Yes it does force you to forge ahead and worry about the big edits later.. It’s so much easier to clean up a text on a laptop than on a sheet of paper.

  • Basia Korzeniowska

    All very true. But I find I think a lot as if I am writing. Full sentences. Bullet points; inverted commas. And then I no longer need to write stuff down. But one of my few regrets is that I burnt all my teenage journals. I think I would really like to read them now

    • Dee

      I got rid of mine as well! They felt so childish and immature to my rebellious teenage self.. But of course now, like you, I would really have loved to go through them.

  • thewonderer86

    Great post. I write a journal, not every day, but whenever I feel like it. Been doing it for years. It helps me to slow down, to process, and it’s private – different to writing a blog, the journal is just for me. I like that no one can read my hand writing, I always pick a ‘pretty’ book, and just love the act of getting it out, seeing it on my nightstand… and I really like your point that type-written = perfect and is more of a block than a hand-written record.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Tracey! I’m still finding it a bit of a challenge to get really personal and honest in my journal.. I think it’s not easy to just write for yourself like that after years in journalism and writing for a public. But I’m getting there 🙂

  • Isabella

    I love my journals and I’ve kept them all : ) I used to be randomn journal writer, only when I had the time or really felt like I needed to get something off my chest, then it would go in the journal. All the high drama as you wrote – love it when I read it back now hihi. These days, I make the effort to sit down with my journal and a cup of coffee each morning, before I start looking at my phone , and just write. Sometimes only one page, some bullet points or a quote I don’t want to forget and other days, it’s a whole three pages whitout any effort. But it feels really good and enhanced my train of thought, my goals became much clearer, the way I write better. I’m finding my words more easily. xx

    • Dee

      That’s such a great habit to have, and I try to write first thing in the morning as well before my waking mind can think of reasons to procrastinate. I can’t always do three pages, but I always get through at least one – including my priorities for that day. You’re so right in how writing can help to clarify goals and direction.

  • Brittany

    I love this post and could not agree more with all your points. I love my journal, and the act of first writing by hand gives me more creative freedom, as you mentioned. I carry it with me everywhere just in case an idea or thought hits me when we are out and about. Thank you for this post and the great reminder of the benefits of getting our thoughts down on REAL paper!!!

    • Dee

      Thank you, Brittany! I’ve been using the notepad on my phone to jot down thoughts while I’m out and about, but you’ve inspired me to start carrying around a small notebook too and get the benefits of paper on-the-go.

  • Alice

    I still journal by hand after all these years (I started keeping a diary when I didn’t even know how to properly write) and it’s my personal way to slow down and step away from technology. I love that you’ve picked up a notebook that works for YOU rather than going with the popular ones you see online (like I did in the past)!

  • Mary

    What a thoughtful and thought-filled post! I’m a huge fan of journal writing as well and keep a spiral notebook and pen on my bedside table for jotting down thoughts and ideas when inspiration strikes. Best of luck on your journaling journey 🙂

    • Dee

      Thank you, Mary! It still feels like I’m a bit rusty after all of those years of not journalling, but I’m definitely getting better at it.

  • Duaa Magdi

    Writting by hand soothes me to a great extend, writting down your thoughts, your errands or even your grocery list is like getting rid of a beehive living in your head.
    You free lots of space in your mind just by getting it all out on paper, then you can take a clear look at that list, prioritize then ….. the gloreous feeling you get by ticking off your list one item after the other, until you’re all done…
    Wow… what a relief 🙂

    • Dee

      I feel the same way, Duaa! Especially with lists.. whenever I make a to-do list, I can stop worrying about trying not to forget all those odds and ends. Journalling even for a few minutes each morning is also really helpful in mapping out your priorities for the day.

    • Dee

      Thanks so much, Erin! Journals are a lot more comfortable for me as well.. I can’t imagine taking my laptop out to my balcony 🙂

  • Ama

    I have so many of these points to be true: increased memory, appreciation of words, improved mood (like coloring)… I’d even add to this list and say it’s convenient, which you touch on by saying you can take your journal/notepad with you anywhere, and the extra space allows you to write on multiple topics. Honestly, I find my notepad easier to use than opening an app and texting notes on my always-there phone.
    Great post!

    • Dee

      Thank you, Ama! I’ll have to get one of those small notebooks for my purse because I often want to write when I’m out, but my big spiral notebook isn’t always on hand.

  • Hse Huey

    Great post! Absolutely agree, I find that in school & uni writing down notes helps me remember and understand what is being taught better. I have not consistently write journals, somehow I have the fear that someone will read all my secrets, how do I shake this off? Lol.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Hse Huey! I know what you mean about that fear.. I figure my handwriting is so sloppy that nobody will be able to read it, even if they wanted to.. But also, you could try writing in another language (if you’re bilingual) and finding a nice hiding spot for your journal, maybe at the bottom of a big pile of papers or stacked between a row of books.

  • Mundanemagpie

    I really enjoyed this post 🙂 I do write quite a lot by hand too – there’s just nothing quite like it. And it feels good to write something knowing that nobody will probably read it. Ever. It’s actually really relaxing, taking away all pressure like that.

  • Sharon

    Great post, enhanced by lovely images. I am a lifelong journal keeper but for the last few months it has seemed hard to find the quite time to just journal, you have inspired me to make more of an effort.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Sharon! It’s not an easy habit to pick up, but it helps me to schedule it and make journalling a part of my daily work routine.

  • Giulia

    Before I broke my hand I was in a daily journaling habit which I loved for all the reasons you mentioned above. My favourite line of this is: “In an age where knowledge from the world’s top experts is available at our fingertips, it’s easy to forget how much guidance and wisdom really comes from our own selves. “

  • Gretchen Wing

    Hooray for longhand journaling! I’ve been keeping mine since 1975, and am working on my second steamer-trunk full of notebooks. So much cheaper than therapy! Thanks for the great post.

    • Dee

      That’s amazing, Gretchen! I wish I hadn’t got rid of my teenage notebooks. It must be so great to go back now and re-read them.

  • Sathya

    I have never kept a journal or record of any sort, and I’m considering starting now.

    Seeing all these great comments about journal successes has been tremendously inspiring. I have been playing with the idea of blogging as a means to slow down and introspect, while perhaps helping others who can relate… but a private expression in the form of a handwritten journey sounds wonderful. I feel like I cannot do both, but thinking now how amazing that would be!

  • Karolina

    I agree so much!
    It’s like the art of hand-writing is bringing us closer to knowing ourselves. It’s such a mindful time – when we write with our pens. This year I came back to the idea of using a fountain pen again and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s like going back to basics.

  • Viv

    Nicely put Dee! I find that keeping a few different journals, each serving varying purposes, works well for me. Although this isn’t the most convenient idea when travelling a lot, it helps me organize and compartmentalize different thoughts and aspirations; i.e. story writing, journalling on personal/work-related matters, poetry, and etc.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Viv! I love the idea of keeping multiple journals for different purposes. I do this especially with my personal diary and my travel journals.

  • Marina Stoyanova

    Thank you for the great article! I can realte to it so much! I truly believe that writing by hand brings us stress-relief, inner peace, creativity and so much transparency of our thoughts! It brings ideas and solutions! The benefits are endless!

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