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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Pick Up Your Pen and Put Down Writer’s Block

pen breaks writer's block canstockphoto18320543 (2)It may be that what you think of as writer’s block or resistance is simply the result of forsaking writing by hand.

To support that conclusion, I wanted to quote at least half of a NYT article about how losing handwriting affects learning and brain function. I decided instead to simply send you there to read the whole thing.

The key take-aways I see for us as adult writers are:

  • Handwriting engages more areas in the brain than keyboarding (I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating)
  • Handwriting stimulates the brain in unique ways
  • Writing by hand makes it easier to learn; taking hand-written notes while you’re doing research is one way to cement what you’re learning and, more importantly, to make new associations and connections that are the essence of creativity
  • Composing by hand yields more words and more ideas in the children studied; shifting to mind-mapping, freewriting, clustering or recording ideas on a white board can help you generate more ideas
  • The better your handwriting, the more your working memory, reading and writing networks are engaged when you’re looking for new ideas (so it pays to keep practicing your penmanship)
  • Keyboarding is still valuable; the more tools we use, the more creative results can we achieve.
Step away from the keyboard and no one gets blocked

Step away from the keyboard and no one gets blocked

I’ll admit, going to my keyboard is a deeply engrained neural pattern. When I start to write, I don’t even think about it, I just put my fingers on my keyboard. But sometimes my go-to tool is not the best tool.

Sometimes the best choice is to push away from the computer. When I need fresh ideas or I’m chasing my tail drafting and deleting and drafting and deleting in an attempt to figure out what I want to say, it’s time to pick up a pen and a notepad, or markers and a drawing paper.

I’ll still copy what I find in online research and paste it to a computer file because those files are easier to retrieve. There is simply no point in trying to copy complex links by hand.

But I will now also make notes on paper with different colored pens at the same time I’m cutting and pasting research. To help me remember to lift my hands off the keyboard and pick up a different tool, I’ll put my favorite pens and markers on my desk between my keyboard and monitor.

I suspect that how we research also matters. I’m willing to bet that finding a book on the stacks in a library, flipping through pages and reading a physical book held in your hands generates more ideas and possibilities than research done only online can.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Isn’t it great that a computer isn’t the only tool you have!


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5 Comments on “Pick Up Your Pen and Put Down Writer’s Block”

  1. Lori Nelson September 1, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    Ok… Right after I set up my Scrivener today, I will totally do some hand doodles! 🙂


    • rosannebane September 1, 2015 at 5:35 pm #

      Glad to hear it Lori! If you’re setting up Scrivener for the very first time, you might want to take doodle-breaks along the way.


  2. Joel D Canfield September 1, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

    When I switched from nonfiction to mysteries I started writing all my notes by hand. Bought a bunch of mini-legal pads and some nice pencils.

    When I learned architectural drafting I could do excellent lettering, perfectly legible. When I’m writing what’s in my head, not so much. But it’s the difference between something mechanical and something creative: eventually my hand can’t keep up with my head and I’m scribbling shorthanded notes until I can’t write anymore.

    And that’s where the good stuff lives.


  3. Maryann Miller (@maryannwrites) August 27, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

    Great post. I did not know that writing by hand can stimulate more areas of our brains. I did all my writing by hand for so long, and was very excited when I mastered using a keyboard as I could write so much faster, and read what I wrote. My penmanship is awful.


    • rosannebane August 28, 2015 at 9:51 am #

      Thanks Maryann. My penmanship is not very good either, but I think I might start practicing since good penmanship increases idea generation.


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