I write plenty with digital tools, but I often turn back to pen and paper.

I write on a legal pad for my to-do list each day, and I’ve even written initial drafts of two novels by hand as well.

The flow feels freer, the space seems more open yet focused, and the distractions are limited.

Those are just a few of my reasons.

But I did a little research to see if any of it was justified.

Writing by hand helps you with conceptual thinking, better than notes on digital devices

Yes, studies show this. Take a look:

A behavioral neuroscience study conducted by researchers at the University of California and Princeton University published in 2014 showed that students who take notes by hand perform better with conceptual questions than students who record notes on digital devices. According to the study, one explanation for this exciting discovery is that writing with pencil and paper allows people to summarize and organize information in their own words and ensures more profound and natural coding. In contrast, the use of electronic devices inclines them to write passively.

2. Writing by hand helps you know where your notes are.


… the use of paper improves associating what and where of information, specifically in the hippocampus (the part of the brain involved in coding and memory retention that can be studied at a neurological level).

This can also apply to when you’re writing long-form as well.

For instance, I wrote the first draft of my novel by hand.

Yes, that’s right. I bought a notebook and I wrote in it. I think I bought a blank journal to start and then I finished it in a lined legal pad I got at CVS.

When I did that, I was able to better remember when and where I wrote things down and in what order things occurred. I could better remember what characters did what, when, and how.

That doesn’t mean I wrote the perfect novel. But it actually saved me time organizing it later on.

Do I write every article with a pen and paper? No.

No, I don’t write everything by hand.

But this is why I like to write by hand:

  • It’s physical. Doing stuff with your hands, is amazing!
  • It’s separate. You don’t need fancy Internet blocking software. There’s nothing to distract you on the paper except for your own thoughts and your surroundings, which can then actually help you write without interruption.
  • If I feel stuck, I will turn to writing by hand. It’s another way of freeing my mind and helps me connect to the words differently than on the screen.
  • There’s energy to it. Once you see the lines and the pages pile up, you feel better about the project.

Using pen and paper gave me a fresh perspective once I started editing on a computer.

Note: I do like using pen and paper for my to-do list as well.

Should you always use pen and paper?

It’s not necessary for every writing project, but you should definitely think about it for more complex projects and for brainstorming.

If you feel stuck on improving your writing and writing more often, using pen and paper should be in your arsenal for trying to write more.

It’s something to pull out when you feel stuck or, conversely, are struck by inspiration and want to capture it immediately.

Don’t overlook the power of the pen.

And paper.

Sign up for regular productivity tips for writers and try this Notion Writer Starter Kit to get going.

A version of this article was originally published on Medium.