Is the pen mightier than the keyboard?

Dubai-based yoga teacher Liz Terry, who has been journalling since the age of 5, says that writing is a way of giving legitimacy to her thoughts and transforming them into actions. Pawan Singh / The National
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Grab a pen and a piece of paper. And then what? Then, you are a writer. We all are. Yet, with the advent of personal computers, phones and emojis, many of us have forgotten the beauty and the mightiness of the written word. Do you remember the last time you held a pen between your fingers, the sensations you felt as you formed a letter, and another one, to carefully craft a personal thought, the colour of a mood, an emotion; or, the beginning or the end of an idea?

Author Lawrence Norfolk wrote: “A writer’s notebook is a junkyard; a junkyard of the mind.” Writing – whether journalling, creative writing or blogging – is a vehicle for the mind. You don’t have to be the next Alexander McCall Smith or JK Rowling to put pen to paper; only the curiosity, and sometimes the courage, to discover what lies in the space between the tip of your pen and a naked sheet of paper.

“It [writing] is an outlet to express our emotions, thoughts and opinions freely,” says Sharjah-based cognitive behaviour therapist Hend Al Badwawi, who was one of the 140 authors at the recent Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. “People who express themselves through writing have been found to have better health and a stronger immune system. They had a better psychological state and were able to manage their life in a better manner. They had the capacity to be aware of, control, and express their emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”

Not only does writing allow the mind to process and let go of the stresses of life in a private and safe way, studies also show that expressive writing is regularly used to deal with and overcome emotional sequelae linked to trauma.

Psychologist and counsellor Jeyla Shikhlinskaya says that writing promotes emotional balance and mental clarity and is of tremendous therapeutic value. “I often talk to clients about keeping journals of their feelings and emotions, especially those surrounding challenging situations that bring on feelings of frustration or anger or stress or anxiety,” she says. “Writing down exactly how you feel, putting words to paper, helps us ‘name our demons’. And, specifying the surrounding circumstances of those feelings, what happened immediately before and immediately after, helps us identify our triggers, which is paramount to therapeutic success when dealing with depression, anxiety or anger management, for both children and adults.”

While all forms of writing are valuable in releasing emotions and pent-up feelings, when it comes to the benefits, experts agree that the pen, which allows for expanded graphic freedom and a more "felt" experience, boasts more cognitive advantages than the keyboard. A study conducted in the US and published in the April 2014 issue of Psychological Science concluded that college students who typed copious notes on their laptops fared worse in grasping and retaining information than students who took fewer notes, but used a pen and paper to do it.

“Our brain is wired to process information in a multi-sensory way and will connect the content to the feeling of the paper, the grip of the pen, the sounds and the smells of the environment; but, typing everything up on your laptop robs you of the multitude of senses that can enhance your memory, leaving you just with the memories of the screen and the keyboard,” says Shikhlinskaya. “Handwriting allows us to retain our ideas better than typing, it’s more intimate, it feels warmer and more connected, rather than typing, where the letters and the words look the same because they will not take on any of your own personality, or reflect any of your emotions at the time. Anyone could have typed your letter to your future self, but only you could have written it.”

Writing by hand regularly is nutrition for the brain and the benefits are manifold. They include a better memory, an increased ability to read and comprehend, and richer vocabulary, as well as enhanced neurosensory and fine motor skills; and, an improved critical thought process and focus; all of which are key ingredients for the mind to be able to liberate ideas that would otherwise remain trapped within.

Dubai-based yoga teacher Liz Terry, who has been journalling since the age of 5, says that writing is a way of giving legitimacy to her thoughts and transforming them into actions. “In my adult life, I continue to journal because of the power behind it. To put my thoughts, dreams and intentions on paper has brought passion into my daily life. I can feel a big difference when I’m on a writing hiatus.”

For fiction writer and Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop member Constance Owens, journalling stokes the fire of the imagination. “I’ve journalled in some sort of way most of my life. I carry a notebook everywhere and jot down thoughts, things I see, the daily-ness of life, writing prompts, lines I see on a billboard that might spark a good story, people’s names, or lines from a current book I’m reading that I believe to be poetic or especially good; or even the first ideas of a story or novel as they pour forth at inopportune moments.”

So how does one get started? “Start at the beginning,” says Owens. “Pen down on the paper. Move your hand. Let the thoughts flow through the pen via the ink to the paper. Usually once a good thought begins, another follows, then another, and another comes along after that, and before you know it, you have a sentence, then a paragraph, an idea. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees it. It’s for you. And you alone.”

What your handwriting says about you

Graphology, or handwriting analysis, examines words and letters to attribute personality traits. “Graphology claims that one’s writing style, size and proximity of letters reflects the nature of the personality,” explains Sharjah-based cognitive behaviour therapist Hend Al Badwawi. “For example, big handwriting reflects a generous and social personality, while small handwriting indicates an organised person.”

Do you want to know more about a potential work hire? Are you intrigued by a friend’s behaviour? Do you seek to understand a family member better? Or perhaps, you are simply curious about what your words could potentially convey to the people around you. Graphology can indicate thousands of personality traits. Here are some features of writing that are commonly analysed in graphology:

Size: The larger the letters, the more outgoing your personality, while smaller letters indicate a more reserved and detail-oriented personality.

Slant: If you're a fan of writing with a right slant, chances are you are a friendly and emotional person who cherishes family. Meanwhile, a left slant points to a more reserved nature. No slant at all? Logic and pragmatism are some of the attributes that best define you.

Speed: If you write as fast as you type, then time-wasting and delays are your pet peeves. On the other hand, a languid writing style belongs to a methodical individual who pays attention to detail and is highly organised.

Pressure: Does your handwriting leave a mark beneath the paper? Then you've got character. But if your pressure is light, you may have low energy levels.

Signature: Is your signature legible or is it more of a scribble? The former indicates you are comfortable with who you are and are open to people seeing you, while the latter highlights a person who values privacy.