Why Legendary Authors Swear By Classic Writing Methods
Using a typewriter or the traditional pen-and-paper method could boost your creativity.
The way we compose text has changed dramatically over the years. From quills to ball-point pens, from typewriters to digital touchscreens and even to voice-recognizing robots, there’s nothing static about how writing—or “writing”—is done. A new piece from Quartzy shows that the evolution isn’t quite that linear. Famous authors, from Don DeLillo to J.K. Rowling to Robert A. Caro, avoid the most common modern methods and look backward. It turns out, trading your tablet for a typewriter could help improve focus and may spark creativity.Listen to this story on your smart speaker!
Many of the world’s most successful writers use older methods, including pen and paper and even the typewriter. They’ll give different reasons for their choice. Some say that the physical feedback of older methods is, well, nice: you can really feel and see the response when you write longhand or clackety-clack on a typewriter. Some like the permanence of these methods; the act of actually putting ink on paper is a commitment, something that can’t be easily changed or erased with a keystroke. There’s also surely an element of simple habit. This is the way these writers have always worked, and it’s worked for them, so why change it?
These writers are, of course, not the norm. The vast majority of modern writers use modern tools, most especially a computer. But maybe there’s something to their resistance to iPads and Siri.
There are some studies that indicate that physically composing words actually does make a difference. One study found that writing by hand is associated with increased brain activity, compared with typing. A study of note-taking students found that those students who recorded their notes by hand retained the information better; the theory is that because writing by hand is so much slower, students have to really think about what they choose to write down, and that extra processing helps them remember.
Typewriters and ink-and-paper methods also have another advantage: no internet connection. A Pew Research Center survey found that educators are very concerned about internet connections with their students, primarily due to reasons of distraction. When there’s an infinite world online, it can be hard to focus on the task in front of you. The typewriter is a solution to that problem.
Of course, tech companies haven’t ignored the distraction problem, either: there are word processors designed to reduce your distraction, like this one from Calmly. As soon as you start writing in the text editor, all distractions—like the menu bar and formatting tools—disappear from the screen. A company called Freewrite even makes a device that amounts to a modern typewriter: sleek, small, capable of syncing your writing to an app like Evernote, but basically a typewriter. No web browser, no Netflix, no games.
If you struggle to stay focused or need a boost of creativity, try taking a page from the many great authors who put pen to paper. There might be something to these old-school methods, but most important of all is to find what works for you and stick with it.