The keyboard is mightier than the pen

I have always preferred fountain pens to any other kind of writing tool. I enjoy the heft of a good fountain pen, the different coloured inks, the smell of ink on paper, even the stains I invariably get on my hands. The lines a fountain pen makes have something special about them. They are determined but also interesting since the flow of ink through the nib isn’t constant. Strokes have lighter and darker areas that makes the text look attractive even in my ratty handwriting.

Unfortunately, I cannot write fiction longhand. I would love to have endless notebooks tightly packed with pretty lines of coherent writing. Instead I have a whole bunch of files sitting on my computer. To write with any speed I need a keyboard.

I’ve heard an argument for writing longhand that suggested that it kept a physical link between the brain and the written word. When you hold a pen you have to slow down – you can only write so fast and still be legible. Your thoughts are translated into the muscle movements needed to move the pen over the paper to leave a mark. It’s more direct, more organic, than using a keyboard.

I used to think that the brain-hand idea was pretty but nonsense. Then I came across an infographic that suggested that it isn’t:

University of Washington research suggests that physically writing activates regions of the brain that involve thinking, language, and working memory. Unlike typing, writing engages your brain during the process of forming and connecting letters.

I need to read more research, but it is an interesting suggestion. To me, the link between word and brain is feels as direct when transferred from brain to digital format through a keyboard. Over the last 20 years, I have learned to touch type and I have, more or less, lost the ability to write longhand. My hand writing was never great (one of my teachers told me it was attractive but illegible) and I have no interest in improving it. Saying that, I increasingly find myself talking as I type, telling the story by voice as I type it. It slows down my typing but improves my writing.

My keyboard and I are very happy together and I love my fountain pens. I just use them for different tasks. The important thing isn’t which tool you use to write, but that you find one that works for you.