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Monday, September 2, 2013


Recently, a read an article about writers using the old-fashioned way of putting "words to paper" so to speak and of using a digital source. I read with fascination about how scientific studies being conducted that prove this.

In a 2012 study at Indiana University, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans were conducted on two groups of preschoolers. One learned letters and symbols by typing and the other by handwriting. The scans showed that the brains of the children who typed couldn't distinguish between letters and shapes. The brains of the handwriting group could interpret the difference. The conclusion made was that handwriting "primed the brain to respond to letters in a literate way, typing doesn't." Psychology professor Karin Harman James was the study's co-author. In short, the study went on to say children learn letters by printing and they have an easier time learning to read. Fascinating!

This also holds true with adults, not just preschoolers, in learning a foreign alphabet. They retain more, for longer periods of time, when writing by hand instead of using a computer according to another study done in France. Writing by hand, whether notes, diaries, journals, lists, is all helpful to those with memory loss. When elderly subjects experienced mild cognitive impairment and took up Chinese calligraphy for eight weeks, their brain function improved compared with those who didn't study. They got worse. Like wow!

When we write, we're not only memorizing the letters on paper, but we are allowing our brains to process the shapes of the characters. Typing creates uniform shapes on a very evenly spaced area on the screen, and when we write there are variations in letters, words size and position. As a result, we remember the information we've created, records in our brain and allows us to envision where and how it landing on the paper. Handwriting is a visual spatial activity. Case in point, I used to record my appointments on my iPhone, but I'd sometimes forget to check them, especially when I didn't have my day job anymore. Now, I hand write everything. I don't keep a calendar on my computer anymore, I have a handwritten spreadsheet. I tried on my laptop, but I always forgot to check. I keep my monthly events in clear view that I've written down. Amazing! And all this before I read these studies.

I remember having penmanship as a subject in grammar/elementary school and that isn't done anymore. Handwriting obviously fosters creativity. Writing our stories by hand may take longer, but with it comes a deep thought process that requires consideration and time. Even doodling can turn on the neurological networks in our brains responsible for imagination, emotion and discovery.

I may not completely give up using my laptop to create my stories, but I did hand write this blog post and retyped it on my laptop to cut and paste here. I had a great sense of accomplishment and the words flowed so easily. I also bet I'll remember this post more than any of the others I've ever written.

So, I think I'll occasionally resort to pen and paper to do some writing, if for nothing else than to stimulate my brain to remember more, because the idea of growing old and having dementia, unable to write my stories, is depressing. Hey, maybe that's the key to staying young. I can only hope.

Keep on writing everyone!

Cynthia Arsuaga
Erotic Romance Author


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Cynthia. Never considered the dynamics of penmanship. Hopefully, texting doesn't ruin the newest generation when it comes to actual writing (words spelled correctly and used grammatically).

Cara Marsi said...

When I started writing, I wrote out all my first drafts in longhand. I felt I could think better that way. I keep paper calendars with my appointments. Like you, I tried putting my appointments in my iPhone but forgot to check. It's easier to pull out my calendar diary from my purse and add an appointment than put in in my phone. Good blog. I think it's a shame they don't teach penmanship in school anymore.

jean hart stewart said...

I too think a lot is loss by texting and forgetting how to write. I keep everything on a calendar.. and still forget some stuff. Geez....

Paris said...

I've always relied on handwriting my notes and story ideas as a way of processing my thoughts. I usually transcribe them into the computer but I do find that my brain connects with the story on a deeper level when I put pen to paper.

I wonder about the day when someone is going to have to interpret cursive writing for future generations that will no longer utilize it.

Melissa Keir said...

Wonderful post! As a teacher, I see this as important research on how vital it is to teach handwriting. Many schools are putting a lot of emphasis on typing and keyboarding vs. handwriting and cursive.

Thanks for sharing!

Mary Corrales said...

I can no longer handwrite stories due to issues with my fingers, but this study makes a lot of sense. If I have to handwrite a note, I'm more likely to remember what I wrote.

I hope kids don't lose being taught cursive writing.

Marianne Stephens said...

Handwriting is no longer viewed as necessary since keyboards are so readily available. How sad. Writing is an art; a creation of how we hold our pen and "make" something on paper with it.

Sandy said...

Fascinating post, Cynthia. I'm not surprised because so many kids using text on Smart phones etc. use abbreviations and can't spell. Kids print and don't use cursive either.

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