The Writers Interrogation List: Penmonkey or Typist

Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter whether you are a keyboard tapper or a pen whittler when it comes to writing it only matters that you write not how you write. Yet, penmonkeys continue to ask one another how they made the journey from black page to completed manuscript. Pantser or potter, morning or midnight, home or cafe, caffeine or … well, look I don’t know what beverage that person reaches for … gin? The final dot point on The Writers Interrogation List is computer or notepad?

Personally, I find handwriting my drafts incredibly useful. I discovered this by accident during my half-hour lunch break one day. The morning tea room was empty and I’d left my latest read on the bedside table at home, so I decided to make the most of it and I pulled out a pad and pen. A short story followed out, stream-of-consciousness style. My break ended and I returned to my cubical. That night, I transferred the story into a Word document and was surprised that it required little reshaping and only minor edits. I showed my partner, and at this point in time, he said it was the best thing I had written. (Naw!)

It’s common knowledge that handwriting notes results in better memory retention, but how does handwriting improve the creative process? Is it merely because it is slower? Because our brain simply has more time to think? Because we are forced to be more selective in our word choices as there is no ‘un-do’ button?

Apparently, writing by hand has been proven to increase creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving. And isn’t this the crux of all novel writing? We have to create characters, time and setting, we need to think about what this piece is trying to say and then we slot obstacles in front of said character to solve (never mind the writer’s problems like ‘does this read real? How the heck am I going to finish this damn thing? Where did I put my gin?’).

If you would prefer to fling forward a more authorial argument the next time this topic rises, take note my friend cos I got you covered.

‘Writing by hand is a complex cognitive process involving neuro-sensory experiences and fine motor skills: feeling the paper, holding the instrument and directing movement with precise thought. Typing, however, is a memory based action. Executing keystrokes in a repetitive motion based on letter placement on the keyboard.’ Clicky clicky.

BOOM!  (shake shake shake the room).

Here’s a scary statistic: 1 in 3 people in the UK write long form letters or documents two times per year. Bananas right? Especially when handwriting boosts such juicy cognitive activities like literacy, memory recall, reading comprehension, critical thinking, conceptual development and yes, creativity.

Now, I know. Yes. We live in a digital age and ooohhhh look, this blog was clearly typed using a keyboard making me a little hypocritical so and so.

Obviously, no-one is going to stop using their computers, but perhaps handwriting still has a place in modern society. I can testify that when I do drafts by hand the work is better. I word things differently because my thoughts come quicker than my hand can move. I can edit a line before I ink it onto the page.

Yeah, it takes longer but who cares.

What else are you gonna do? The laundry? The dishes? They can wait my friend.

Pick up a pen and pull out that leather-bound notepad you bought three years ago because you “had to have it” and do an experiment. Write. Who knows what could happen next.

*image: Interrogation – Samuel Leo

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10 thoughts on “The Writers Interrogation List: Penmonkey or Typist

  1. Hey Tara, great work a comment if I may? Writing by hand alows me when I edit to actually see the emotion in my words. Different strokes same words but when I come to typing it, I am rewarded with feeling? Less editing, and I enjoy the transcribing from one medium to another


  2. Mmm. Good piece. I do find writing by hand slow, cumbersome and somewhat frustrating with lots of crossings-out. I have to think twice: first in forming the letters (and dammit, this pen’s running out of ink/this pencil needs sharpening) and secondly, what it is I am trying to express. Whereas with typing, because I am a touch typist, it is like driving: one has learned the basic hand movements, so they are done automatically, leaving the mind free to concentrate on the job in hand.


    1. That sounds very similar to Diana Gabaldon’s practice. Apparently, when she is working on a new scene she will edit her sentences as she writes them. By the time she has filled a page, she has already been over its contents a hundred time (allegedly). She too prefers typing over handwriting, claiming that if she took to paper the page would be un-readable by the time she filled it.


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