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You keep staring at that blank screen.

You type a phrase, a sentence.  Then press delete.  The minutes, hours tick by.  Your deadline looms.

How can you find the inspiration, the ideas, the words that you need?

Put away the keyboard

Pick up a pen and begin writing by hand.

“Handwriting activates massive regions of the brain that are involved in thinking, language and working memory,” says Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington.

“This is because handwriting requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter,” she says “whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.”

Study after study suggests that handwriting helps people to generate and express ideas.

In Professor Berninger’s research, students produced more ideas and more words in less time when they wrote by hand than they did when they used a keyboard.

Prepare like the President

When Barack Obama had to write an acceptance speech for his Nobel Peace Prize, he used handwriting to organise his thoughts.

He prepared by hand-copying the drafts which his staff had produced for him.  This helped him to work out what he wanted to say and how he was going to say it.

You can easily use handwriting in your preparations by:

note making – connects you to your subject as you turn the data into notes

doodling – occupies your body which gives your brain space to think

mindmapping – helps you to visualise information, see connections between data and generate new ideas

first drafts – you may find it easier to rough out your ideas on paper than on a screen.

Write like a novelist

You may not need to write anything as long and complicated as a novel.  But, like the world’s greatest novelists, you can use handwriting to power your writing.

The novelist, Robert Stone, described the role that handwriting plays in composing his novels in an interview with The Paris Review

“I type until something becomes elusive. Then I write in longhand in order to be precise. On a typewriter or word processor, you can rush something that shouldn’t be rushed — you can lose nuance, richness, lucidity. The pen compels lucidity.”

He is not alone.

When The Wall Street Journal asked eleven renowned authors how they write, handwriting featured in most of their answers:

Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall, is an avid note taker and always carries a notebook

Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Remains of the Day and six other novels, develops his ideas by filling folders with notes and flow charts

Margaret Atwood who has written 13 novels scribbles notes on napkins, restaurant menus and in the margins of newspapers

Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, favours Muji notebooks

Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer-prize winning novelist, perches on the edge of the bathtub with his notebook when he is working on particularly tough passages.

What works for you?

Do you use handwriting to break your writer’s block?  Or are you a strictly keyboard-only kind of a writer?

Personally, I am devoted to the smooth nibs and luscious colours of Staedtler triplus fineliner pens and the pads of blank white paper which I buy from Rymans in packs of five.

If you have a favourite pen or notebook for your notes and doodles, let us know by leaving a comment.

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