When you ask most writers today if they type on a laptop or write longhand, most will raise an are-you-kidding-me-arched brow and say, Laptop, duh! We’re in an era of acceleration; technology now makes it possible for our fingers to keep up with our thoughts. The amusing irony is that while the purpose of technology is to make tasks easier (or sometimes possible) and, at the very least, to minimize the time spent on them, this has definitely NOT freed us up to do other things–it’s just maximized the quantity of tasks needed to be done. We’re trying to enlist the help of machines to make life simpler, but everything’s just gotten much more complex instead–a typical day has become denser, the rhythm sped up.
What’s lost in writing as a consequence of all this is a kind of depth that comes only with time. While our fingers may be able to fly across the keyboard and enable us to produce more, or churn things out quicker, sometimes an idea can only be fleshed out when it’s written out slowly, by the natural limitations of hand-speed. I can’t speak on behalf of the neuroscience of this process, but the experience, for me, can be equated to properly chewing food. If you wolf down a meal you’ll miss out on fully appreciating the layered tastes, the way they fade or become more prominent with each chew or bite. You end up with a full stomach and a disappointing lack of satisfaction. Chewing more deliberately, on the other hand, forces you to savor each mouthful. Writing slowly can sometimes meditatively engage you in what you’re writing in a way that typing on a laptop interferes with. Furthermore, writing on a laptop can sometimes exacerbate the tendency to edit, by frantically pressing delete or cutting words here and there without a lot of mulling over. Writing longhand not only slows down the process enough for such edits to have to be deliberate themselves, but also (if you write with pen) allows you to have a master copy beneath the superimposed corrections: the crossed-out parts, the added words, etc.
Write your next paper or creative piece longhand–try it out to see if it’s for you.