I have a confession to make. In the 21st century digital age, I write longhand.
I don’t necessarily want to write longhand, but I don’t have much choice. When I type, my brain just doesn’t generate engaging text, interesting sentence structure or creative word choice. It’s just bland, boring and blah. However, when I take pencil to paper, I feel a sense of ease and comfort. Longhand gives my brain space to create with no restrictions.
If I try to create a piece of writing on the computer, my thoughts are somehow stilted. Something in me clenches and halts the flow of ideas, almost as if that blinking cursor is waiting for me…hurry up, let’s go, tick tock, time’s a’wasting.
One of the key reasons I prefer longhand is that it works well with my writing process. I need the freedom to quickly cross out, draw arrows, write sideways in the margins or move to a new page. Eventually I transition my writing to the computer but not until I’ve numbered and re-numbered the paragraphs multiple times.
Maybe it’s a posture thing—-I’m generally not comfortable sitting for long periods with my hands on the keyboard, neck at an awkward angle and my back slouched. Writing longhand is different—-my neck doesn’t ache, my eyes don’t strain, there’s no glare and incidentally, there’s less of a temptation to get distracted. On an electronic device, there’s far too great a chance that I’ll click on a new window to check email, check the weather, check anything to avoid writing.
A technophobe I’m not. iPhone, iPad, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…check, check, check. I’ve embraced technology hook, line and sinker. (With one exception…I just can’t get jazzed about my Kindle Fire, but that’s a topic for another post.) You might ask if my typing skills are lacking. On the contrary, I type very fast thanks to my high school typing class where we learned to use the keyboard without looking…none of this hunt and peck nonsense for me. The speed of my typing, though, doesn’t translate into good ideas; it’s just fast typing.
Truth be told, I love the feel of pencil on paper and I adore writing in a funky little journal—-kind of conjures up a retro vibe like Hemingway hanging out in Key West writing in his martini-stained Moleskine journal. So much more intimate than typing on a plastic keyboard. I’m usually a pencil snob too, preferring the Dixon Ticonderoga #2, although I do love a whisper-thin ball point pen, never roller ball. I will, however, settle for a crappy hotel pen and the proverbial cocktail napkin if necessary…any port in a storm. My actual handwriting is a literal mashup of printing and the cursive I so diligently learned in 3rd grade from Mrs. Chesnes. I strangely connect my a’s, e’s and g’s to other letters but everything else stands alone. I’m sure a handwriting analysis would uncover a deep-seated aversion to commitment and lack of discipline in my personality.
I know next to nothing about brain chemistry—-scratch that, I know nothing about brain chemistry. But I’m certain that my neurons fire differently when I’m writing longhand than when I’m typing. Interestingly, there’s scientific proof that putting pencil to paper affects brain function differently when typing versus writing. The Wall Street Journal published an article in 2010 called How Handwriting Trains the Brain. The article cites a study by the University of Washington, led by Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology. The study found that “handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter.” The article goes on to report that “…pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activate massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory.” I knew there was a connection.
So there it is—-my longhand, and perhaps long-winded, confession. Longhand sounds so old fashioned…I’m willing to bet that most millennials, my teenagers included, don’t even know what it means. I suppose I’ll just have to make peace with that. If I want to write, and write well, I have to ditch the computer temporarily and grab a nice sharp Dixon Ticonderoga #2.