Many times in my journal writing workshops, I am asked the question, “Is it better to type or write in your journal?” Personally, I don’t think one way is better than the other, I use both methods myself and find that it is a matter of personal preference. I do not think one method is better than the other, but, I have found that the two different writing methods can affect the writing experience.
The most notably difference is in speed. When one is typing on the computer, they can type many thoughts quickly and get them down on the page. Whatever pops up in the mind can be typed without filtering. In contrast, a handwritten journal page requires the writer to slow down. Since, it is impossible to capture all one’s thoughts when they are writing in longhand, there is a natural filtering process that occurs as our minds determine what is the most important thing we can write about at that moment in time.
I journal type on the computer when I want to generate a lot of ideas quickly. Certain writing techniques lend themselves very well to this method: list making, unsent letters, dialogue and even catharsis writing. Certain types of journals work very well as typed journals such as: travel journals, health, diet and exercise journals, dream journals, business journals, etc. But, I must admit, there is an emotional “distancing” that occurs when I journal type versus journal write. My journal type doesn’t feel as intimate as my handwriting. I feel a closer connection to my own script. The slant of the words, the shapes of the letters, the flow of the ink across the page, all become a part of the writing process. I feel an emotional commitment to what I hand write much more than what I type. When you write in longhand, the writing in undeniably and distinctly your own. You are making a mark on the page. And, there is something magical about seeing words flow from the gentle twists and turns of the pen in your hands.
Then there is the physical form of the journal itself. I enjoy selecting journal books based on how they feel, their size, ease of use, design, etc. There are an amazing collection of beautiful options to choose from. The white LED computer screen just doesn’t provide me with the same mystique! And, there is a different sound when I journal type, as the keys are pressed down and released at various rates. This is very different from the quiet and almost rhythmic sounds of the pen on the page. Another plus for a handwritten journal is that it is fun to doodle, draw and use different color pens and pencils in a handwritten journal as well. You can personalize your journal by decorating and/or collaging the book. You can also paste photographs, bits of poetry and magazine cuttings into a hand-written journal. In this way, your journal becomes a physical representation of you!
There is a certain romance to handwritten journals. Consider the journals of Lewis and Clark, the pioneer women of the western frontier and the diaries of battlefield soldiers. I am lucky to have journals that my mother wrote in over 50 years ago. It is comforting to see her handwriting alive and vibrant on the page, long after she has passed. Her words and her script bring her closer to me than if I opened up a computer file and read her words on the screen. I also have a typed memoir of my father’s World War II prisoner of war experiences that he spent the last decade of his life writing. Although, I would have loved to see his thoughts and feelings written in his own unique style of printing, I cherish his memoirs and am thankful he used the method that worked best for him.
As a cognitive coach working with a stroke survivor, I introduced my client to both methods of keeping a journal: typed and handwritten. I found each method to be useful for certain cognitive goals and activities. When I wanted her to be able to generate words or express thoughts quickly, along with developing eye and hand coordination on the keyboard, we used the computer journal. When I wanted to give her brain a good workout, she hand wrote in her journals. This was an extra difficult feat for a person who only had the use of her non-dominant hand to write with!
Interesting, current neural research is showing that that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development and it improves the “functional specialization” of the brain. Functional specialization is the theory that certain areas of the brain are specialized for certain functions. And, the process of handwriting helps to stimulate all these areas all at once. This means that the brain is using memory, movement control, thinking skills and enhancing neural connections during the act of handwriting. Other benefits of handwriting include: activating both hemispheres (left and right), improving memory, sharpen thinking skills and even promote relaxation.
Research goes on to indicate that it isn’t just handwriting that is important for the brain, it is cursive handwriting. Printing and typing just don’t have the same cognitive impact on the brain. Through the repetitive process of writing in cursive, the writer integrates fine motor skills with visual and tactile processing abilities in the brain. As a result, the simple act of handwriting becomes a multi-sensory cognitive experience.
So, should you journal type or journal write? It all boils down to personal preference. I encourage the students in my workshops to journal in the manner that makes them most comfortable and that will keep them writing. You can experiment with both methods to see which works best for you. After all, it’s doesn’t matter whether you are journal typing or journal writing, but that you are keeping a journal and giving yourself the wonderful gifts that comes with this powerful, self-help practice.