The Hand Written Word

JournalsI wrote my first novel  longhand in a plain coil scribbler and later transcribed it on my clunky PC that lived in the basement office. A decade later, even though I have a skookum laptop, I still use notebooks as part of my writing process. Invariably I have three notebooks on the go at any given time each with its own purpose.

One is for my personal journal. My writing routine includes a morning date with my journal to get out all the random things pinging around my brain. For me it is the most effective way of gearing up to focus on my current WIP. Three pages of personal writing clears the mental decks to allow the story full reign in my thoughts.

The second notebook I use for new story ideas that I don’t want to forget but don’t have time to explore, character sketches and blog post topics.

And the third scribbler I use for my current work when I come up against a plot problem or the characters’ motivation seems a little murky. I simply write down questions and answers with no attachment to whether the answers fit the problem. And more often than not, I come up with the solution, or find where I am pushing a character to do something they wouldn’t do.

Cursive writing; connecting my thoughts through my hand to the page creates a magick allowing possibilities to emerge that I wouldn’t have found stabbing away at my keyboard.

Recently there has been debate in both the US and Canada whether to scrap cursive writing instruction in schools. Proponents believe this mode of communication is no longer relevant in an age of texting and keyboarding. Arguments for the other side reveal that cursive writing is more than just a means of putting words on paper.

A recent article by William Klemm, D.V.M., Ph. D, professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University for Psychology Today addresses the importance of cursive writing and its positive effects on brain function.

In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.

Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor at the University of Washington, reported her study of children in grades two, four and six that revealed they wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.[4]

There is a whole field of research known as “haptics,” which includes the interactions of touch, hand movements, and brain function.[5] Cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual, and tactile information, and fine motor dexterity.

So what I felt intuitively about the power of hand writing to unlock ideas and engage the whole brain to a problem and its solutions seems to be backed by science.

Is cursive writing an archaic method of communication whose time has past or is it a necessary link to developing all our mental capacities?

Will the next generation of writers who haven’t been taught the most basic skill of hand-wrought words be able to generate ideas and feelings in the same degree as past generation of the pen enabled?

In the future will novels be written in an abbreviated language of texting and twitter posts and if so will they be able to convey deep emotions and complex ideas? Is eliminating cursive writing just the next step in our evolution as a species? Or will something of our humanity be lost without it?

Author’s Note: The day after I finished this post I came across Andrew Fitzgerald’s TED Talks entitled Adventures in Twitter Fiction. The talk is fascinating on its own as he explains how some authors are exploring new ways of storytelling using Twitter as the medium but what caught my eye was when he spoke of  Jennifer Egan’s Black Box which was published  as a serialization on twitter by The New Yorker. It took her a year to condense the story down to the 140 characters that Twitter allows. And how did she write the first draft before it was posted online? She wrote in a notebook using longhand.

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