A month or so ago, I smashed my thumb hard enough that it split open  and I had to go to the urgent care clinic where a surprisingly cheerful doctor who moonlights at a free clinic for the homeless in Camden patched it up.

“What do you do? Oh, a writer, huh? Are you a righty or a lefty?”

“Well, a righty,” I said — the smashed and unusable thumb was the left one — “but I mostly type.”

“Don’t we all!” he said.

“My hand cramps up when I write by hand now,” I said.

“I know, right!?” And with that he was off to do more good in the world, God bless him.

In fact I am writing this blog post by hand, in cursive (and typing it in later) but not because my thumb is still sore, but because I’m trying to see if writing by hand helps me to think better — and therefore, to write better.

For some weeks I’ve been doing a program called The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I know, I know — the title sounds pretty unforgivably cheesy to many ears, but on the whole it has been surprisingly helpful.

"The first word is the hardest." Photo courtesy Alex Murphy via Flickr Creative Commons.

“The first word is the hardest.” Photo courtesy Alex Murphy via Flickr Creative Commons.

Perhaps the most important element in The Artist’s Way is the practice of “morning pages,” which involves scratching out three pages, every morning, by hand. I think that the author of Artist’s Way intends these to be soul-searching pages of 1970s era ‘freewriting,’ but I usually pick a topic and drag it out, by hand, for three pages.

At first my hand was indeed tired and crampy. Then I found myself writing first drafts of chapters and articles in longhand, and typing them up later. I found that I liked my first drafts a lot better and that, counterintuitively, since cursive takes longer than typing, my first drafts were composed faster.

(Some of the speed gained, no doubt, is because it takes more time and intention to stop writing and start mindlessly wandering the web when you’ve got a pen and notebook in your hands.)

Serendipitously, a New York Times piece came out highlighting research on handwriting that confirms again and again — and in various ways — that writing by hand engages our brains and is good for them — and that this is the case not just for kids, but for adults too.

I’m not sure if there is anything clearly spiritual about writing by hand versus typing the computer, but if there is, it probably has something to do with quietness. In the hyper-connected world that many of us both love and fret over, it can be hard to quiet our minds enough to focus on one single thing.

A blank notebook and pen might help us do just that.

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