Being creative is an excellent way to keep the mind sharp in your older years, and one of the most rewarding creative activities is writing.
Whether writing poetry or prose, journaling or journalism, you’re actively engaging your mind and senses and thinking more deeply about the world.
This is especially true when you write by hand rather than on a keyboard, phone, or tablet.
Handwriting and Information Processing
Studies have shown that writing by hand improves memory more than writing on a keyboard. That’s one reason psychologists suggest that students should take notes by hand.
Taking notes by hand is slower than taking notes on a keyboard, meaning students who handwrite their notes must use fewer words. Doing so impels them to transcribe the most pertinent information, rather than everything a lecturer says, and as a result, they more effectively process the information and store it in their memory.
The same is true when handwriting for other purposes. When you write by hand, you process and memorize information better than when you use a keyboard.
Handwriting and Memory
Retirees at senior residences are encouraged to write by hand for good reason. Writing has been shown to not only keep the mind sharp but also improve memory.
Using pen and paper is a more sensory experience than writing on a keyboard, and engaging the senses activates the brain in more areas.
More, by transcribing information in a material location—your notebook, for instance—you place that information in space and, in so doing, enhance your ability to recall that information later on.
Interestingly, memory competition champions store dates, numbers, faces, and other information in space, physical or imaginative. This mnemonic device is called “the method of loci,” or “memory palace,” and you can trace the device back to ancient Greek and rhetorical treatises like Cicero’s De Orate.
Neuroscience today supports the method of loci. Studies show that when you place information in space, you boost your brain’s encoding process, which refers to how the brain transforms sensory information into external events and internal thoughts stored as short- or long-term memories.
Without this encoding process, it would be more challenging to learn from our mistakes, make plans, and build relationships.
Storing information in space by writing by hand boosts your brain’s encoding process. That is to say, writing by hand not only improves memory but also helps us make important decisions and enjoy life.
Writing by hand also helps us identify and understand our emotions and feelings, making us more self-aware and reducing stress.
Writing before bed may also improve the quality of sleep.
What Should You Write?
Any kind of handwriting is good for the brain. That means if you don’t want to journal, it can be equally rewarding to write fiction, essays, poetry—whatever you’d like.
The form you choose doesn’t matter. What matters is that you write by hand.