Monday, August 22, 2016

Hand on the Page

Coloring has made a resurgence among adults, and this does not surprise me. We're so keyed into to our tech devices that the simplicity of a crayon and a page holds vast appeal.

Writing is now in the news, too, as in, hand writing. Today in my local paper there is an article about calligraphy. It's titled "An invitation to more beautiful writing" and indicates that calligraphy is one of those lost arts that's again becoming fashionable. "It is part of society's fascination with handmade things in a high-tech world," the story says.

Yet the New York times published this essay that claims that "Handwriting Just Doesn't Matter," a response to calls for educational institutions to reinstitute the teaching of cursive handwriting (as well as print).

I do not have beautiful handwriting. In recent years, my handwriting devolved so badly that I had to purchase a little netbook to take notes on at meetings because otherwise I couldn't read my own words. I print. I use cursive for my signature, but that is all. For everything else, I use block lettering.

My handwriting is small and cramped. No one could ever call it beautiful. However, the connection of brain to hand to pen to paper is one that is completely different from that of brain to fingers to keyboard. There's a slower flow, a different feel, and a desire to stop and think about what one says when the thoughts come with pen in hand instead of fingers on keyboard.

Fingers on keyboard is rather like mouth running without monitoring - you just type away and the words flow and autocorrect fixes your errors and you don't realize you've used the same word three times within a single paragraph because you're just typing away. Then you go back and edit (I hope) and discover that what flows out of your brain to your keyboard and onto your screen is not Shakespeare. Not even close.

That's not to say that what flows from the brain to the pen to the paper is master work. Far from it. I think, though, it is more thoughtful work, and therefore a bit more accurate, perhaps, particularly with regard to emotion. Because with pen on paper, one can see anger when the pen is forced down a bit harder, in the change of the looping of the letters, and in the way the words are written with more slant (or less).

On the screen, though, it all looks the same unless one takes the time to go back and add in bold or use ALL CAPS, neither of which is very satisfying. In fact, when I edit books, I remove those types of "invisible modifiers" from manuscripts and make suggestions that authors rewrite the sentence. If you have to bold something to indicate your character is angry, then the sentence or paragraph isn't conveying the emotion. The words have to carry the emotion, the sound, and the fury - and relying on geek inventions in a manuscript is weak. Certainly such illustrations have their place, but better writing should always be the goal.

Which brings me back to the use of pen and paper. I do not write poems on the computer. I write them on a yellow note pad, frequently with a pencil. There are slips of paper with half-finished bits of poetry scattered all about my office, shoved in files and stuffed in folders. None of them are worth anything, but all I need do is read a line and I know instantly from the words and my hand writing what I was trying to convey. If my handwriting was stiff or tight, I was writing about something that was rigid and controlling and having trouble conveying it. If my handwriting moved quickly on the page, my thoughts were flowing and I was probably one with the muse at that small point in time.

I could not make those assumptions about my own work from something written on the computer. My handwritten notes eventually are placed into a computer, but the result is different after that process.

Sometimes when I was writing articles, and couldn't figure out where to start, I did what I called a "notebook dump" and simply started typing up my handwritten notes. Eventually I'd hit the thing I needed to start the story, or the meat of the matter, and I could move on from there, ordering, rearranging, and creating an article that hopefully made sense to the masses.

For 30 years I generally used pen and paper to start with, even for news articles. The last time I went out on an assignment, I used pen and paper and left the netbook at home. It was the first assignment I'd been on in a year, and it did not take long to get back in the groove. However, my hand shook more, and my writing has worsened.

Lack of use? Maybe. I'm not sure one whose handwriting was insufferable to begin with could ever make beautiful penmanship.

However, regardless of the calligraphy, I can write beautiful words.


  1. I actually do have fairly neat/legible handwriting. It amazes me how many people can't even sign their name these days, because they never learned cursive. The problem with not learning to write cursive is that they then have greater difficulty reading and analyzing old handwritten documents when doing research. Anyway, I believe handwriting should continue to be taught. Have you seen the following article?

    1. my niece was showing off her writing o FB the other day from something she called journaling pens.


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