And, Having Writ, Moves On…

So my handwriting is terrible. I’m not bragging, although it does have the advantage of protecting most of what I write, at least the first drafts, which I usually write by hand first, sometimes in a journal, sometimes in a little book I carry around in my back pocket. And good luck to anyone who finds either one and tries to read it because sometimes even I can’t read my own handwriting. Maybe it’s because I’m a southpaw, although other left-handers I knew in school didn’t have terrible handwriting. Mine just kind of stood out. Even in college my professors would say to me, “I can always tell which paper is yours–it’s the one I can’t read.” They were grateful my parents got me a Smith-Corona word processor with a small monitor that had little floppy disks that held about 32 kilobytes. I was the envy of the campus, really, because no one else had one and I feel old just writing that. Even with it I still wrote most of my rough drafts by hand because it was slower and made me think more carefully about what I was writing. Years later a coworker showed me a new laptop–this was before tablets–he’d gotten with a stylus.
“I found that when I typed notes in meetings I didn’t remember things as well as I did when I wrote by hand so this allows me to write down my notes and then it converts them to text,” he said. And of course that reminds me of The Simpsons and the Newton that turned “Beat up Martin” into “Eat up Martha,” and that reminds me of watching The Simpsons in college and now I feel really old, but that’s another story.
There really are benefits to writing by hand, though. This is from the article The Return Of Handwriting:

Separate research studies at Indiana University and UCLA have shown that writing by hand engages parts of the brain that typing and texting don’t, improving the way people process and remember information. That’s because writing by hand is slower, the UCLA researchers hypothesize, requiring the writer to listen more carefully and discern the most important points.

There are a lot of reasons for people to write by hand: some find the slowness of it therapeutic, others are looking for “authenticity”. Sending a handwritten note may seem like a special thing because so few people do it now, so in addition to whatever it says on the surface the subtext is, “I must really like you to go to this much trouble.”I mentioned the handwriting article to my writing group and did an informal poll of how many people still wrote any drafts by hand and I was surprised that I was the only one, although it was early and only three other people had shown up, which is why it was an informal poll, and maybe I should do another draft when there are more people around. When I’m writing a first, or sometimes second, third, or tenth, draft by hand it also has the advantage of preserving everything I’ve written so it’s still there without me having to hit <Undo> a bunch of times. I can still read even what I’ve scratched out–maybe.
And I can also do an informal poll here. Do you still write anything by hand? First drafts, second drafts–just quick notes? Put it in a comment below and don’t feel bad if you have to type it.


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  1. Bookstooge

    I only write in my journal by hand. And even that I’m lucky to do 4 times a month. Most of the time, I’d rather be reading or blogging than writing 🙂

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I would argue that blogging is writing–although I guess it depends on your definition of “blogging”. If it’s just reading blogs then, okay, that’s not writing, but if you’re writing blog posts or even writing comments I’d put that in the category of writing too. And a lot of writing goes on in the head before we put pen to paper or even fingers to keyboard.

  2. Ann Koplow

    I write on a white board at work, Chris, and people seem to be able to read my bad, South-Pawed handwriting. Or maybe they’re just pretending. I’m so glad you wrote this post.
    Ann Koplow recently posted…Day 2425: MessesMy Profile

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’ve often been able to read your South-Pawed handwriting on your white board–although maybe because I’m inclined that way myself. Writing on a white board is a wonderful way to put your thoughts out there.

  3. Arionis

    I have to say, I rarely write anything by hand anymore for the simple reason you already stated. I often can’t read my own handwriting. I do carry around a little notebook in my back pocket that I jot down notes at work but I spend a lot of time trying to decipher it.

    That was a pretty cool old school word processor you showed us. My first word processor was on a Commodore 64 computer called The Bank Street Writer. I used it to type out a list of vocabulary words and their definitions we had to look up for English class in 10th grade. My English teacher gave it back to me and told me I would get an F if I didn’t rewrite it by hand. She was not an early adopter of technology.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Sometimes when I have trouble reading something I’ve written by hand I think what I think it might be can be even more interesting than what it probably was originally.
      And your experience in 10th grade reminds me of when I was in high school and tried to turn in a term paper I’d written on my computer and printed on a dot matrix printer. The teacher handed it back and said, “You need to learn to use a typewriter since they’ll never be replaced by computers.”

  4. The Huntress915

    I love that you write everything down, when the mood hits, or that you might get a great idea on the bus, or wherever you may be. I do the very same thing, I have a notebook in my work bag and a small pad in my purse. I love to write things down before hand so I can cultivate the idea later on. Or look at it again and decide maybe it wasn’t as good an idea as I thought. I love writing things down because for me it’s cathartic, it helps be get through emotions I may have a hard time processing. What a wonderful post Christopher, thanks! 🙂
    The Huntress915 recently posted…Impersonating Law Enforcement, Gaslighting and Getting on the Huntress’ Bad SideMy Profile

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s great that writing is cathartic for you. I guess it is for me too, and for most of us. I never know what it is exactly that drives me to write–it’s just an impulse I can’t resist. The funny thing is back when I got my first smart phone I thought, well, I don’t need to carry a notebook anymore, I’ll just use the notes app and never have to worry about trying to read my own handwriting.
      I can’t remember the last time I used the notes app on my phone, but I still carry a notebook and write things down in it all the time. Go figure.

  5. SkyeEnt

    I write a lot of lists (#1. make list). I also like to do my plotting and scheming with pen and paper. Although the current subject is plastic recycling – I’m thinking of using an iron to make sheet plastic (or maybe waterproof fabric…) and this is too simple to require writing down yet.
    I have to say that, without being left handed, it does help if I can remember what I wrote when I’m reading it. I also find that since I write less, when I do write any amount my hands ache!
    I got a letter from one of my sisters in Australia yesterday – bless her. Much nicer than an email!
    SkyeEnt recently posted…Midsummer grassMy Profile

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      There is something really nice about getting a handwritten letter, and I’m glad to hear it’s not an entirely lost art.
      I also find making lists is easier with pen and paper, especially since most of the lists I write are going to be thrown away later, although I should probably feel guilty for wasting the paper for such an ephemeral purpose.

  6. Allison

    So much in common! I am a lefty, and growing up, my handwriting was atrocious. When I was 14, I used my babysitting money to buy a Smith-Corona typewriter that had an LED readout so that you could type a line and review it before committing to paper.

    I use the computer for most of my writing because it allows me to move things around easily, and provides central storage. I still take handwritten notes in meetings, though – because I doodle. I have to doodle.

    I also find that I can’t write long passages without my hands cramping. So, any letter longer than a few paragraphs is typed – which again, allows me to edit on the fly more easily.

    I was gifted a computer for high school graduation – cobbled together by my cousins with old components of theirs. It was a 386, was massive and must have weighed 50 pounds (another 25 for the monitor). I had a dot matrix printer. I was the only one on my hall with a computer. I wrote all my college papers on it, though I would sometimes take a disk to the computer lab to print it more easily.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Doodling is the only thing that makes most meetings bearable.
      And it’s funny you mention the dot matrix printer because I got in trouble in high school for printing a term paper on one of those. The teacher told me I needed to learn to use a typewriter because computers would never replace them. Funny enough when I got to college there was a computer lab but all the printers there were dot matrix printers. I, or rather my Smith-Corona, became very popular because so many people wanted to use it to write their papers.

  7. Tom

    I write everything on computer. I do make some gaming notes by hand and, extremely rarely, I’ll write out a paragraph or something in a notebook just to make sure I can still do it. Sometimes it’s sloppy as hell, sometimes almost perfectly drafting quality letters. Some of that may be related to the number of units consumed the night before. 😉

    At work I write all phone call messages by hand. So I still got it!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s all a matter of whatever works for you. Writing on the computer is a lot faster and tends to be a lot less messy than writing by hand. Although the funny thing is I never have to write down phone call messages. The system where I work automatically records phone messages on the rare occasions that anyone calls me.


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