Another reason to journal longhand

Ever since I gave journaling another try, I’ve done it longhand—writing three pages, non-stop, the old fashioned way with pen and ink.

Another reason to journal longhand

Despite the many excellent programs on the market to keep a journal, such as Day One or Evernote, I’ve found a number of benefits to hand writing my entries:

  • It’s personal. Writing longhand reminds me that my writing is for me. I’m not trying to impress anyone with sentence structure, properly spelled words, or even legibility—all things a good word processor autocorrects or suggests. In fact, there are many times when my writing is so sloppy, I can’t make out what I wrote. It doesn’t matter though. The idea behind this kind of journaling is to uncover my thinking, not to create good prose. When I’m on a computer or other electronic device, my attention shifts to creating something for others to consume; an entirely different focus.
  • It’s unstructured. My twenty or so journals are filled with words—lots of them—but also diagrams, arrows, and other non-textual representations of my imagination. Writing longhand retains the back-of-a-napkin immediacy precisely because it’s a blank piece of paper to be filled in whatever way your creative mind can imagine.
  • It’s slow. I can type faster than I can write by hand—provided that I resist the urge to rewrite; for me, a sizable and enduring battle. Writing by hand slows me down. Forming the words onto paper reminds me to think slowly. This is my time for contemplation and it need not be hurried.

And recently a friend of mine sent me an article adding yet another reason to write by longhand:

  • It’s hard. A study by Princeton University and UCLA reported by the Boston Globe discovered that students who took notes longhand performed substantially better on recall tests than their peers who took notes on the their laptops. This remained true for longterm recall as well, despite the benefits of the laptop learners being able to capture more information. The reason, the researchers suggest, is that learning is enhanced when there is a degree of difficulty associated with it. Writing longhand introduces that degree of difficulty and because it’s harder to write longhand than by computer, our minds pay more attention to what we’re writing, increasing our recall.

Of course, the biggest drawback I’ve found to writing by hand is searchability. You can’t beat electronic journaling for its ability to search what you’ve written. To make it easier to locate entries in my journal, I use Evernote to tag passages I may want to remember by highlighting the keywords of the passage. For me, it’s the best of both worlds.

Do you journal longhand? If so, what benefits have you experienced?

4 thoughts on “Another reason to journal longhand

  1. Make sure you print and don’t write in longhand cursive or your grand kids won’t be able to read it , heck they might not recognize a pen in 20 years !
    I keep an index of my journal entries because of not having a search capability.
    Writing your journals longhand is the only way it should be done ..

    • Ha! Good point Bob. It’s been so long since I’ve written in cursive that I probably don’t know how to do it anymore. Frankly, though, my journaling is for me alone. Whenever I write something and think, “My kids might read this someday,” it totally shift my attention back to writing for consumption, rather than personal discovery. I’ve had to resist that on a few occasions by remembering that I don’t need to impress the ones that love me most. 🙂

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