The Write Time

Like many authors, I keep a pad and pen beside my bed. I do this not because I wake up with brilliant story ideas, but because I read before I go to sleep. When I come across an interesting quote, a new word, or just a word I like but lost sight of (pertinacious), I write it down. I hope this is a way to telegraph to my soon-to-be-sleeping brain: Words are fun! Clever words are big fun! Make lots of clever, fun words!

Last night’s words, courtesy of the late mystery genius, Dame Ngaio Marsh, DBE, were fossick (to dig and root and poke around for treasure) and gleek (to tease, jest, have on). Are those great words or what? (But not, alas, around in the Regency). Some nights, though, the act of writing legibly nearly defeats me. I’m old enough that I write mostly cursive and… chicken scratching is more pleasing to the eye than some of my attempts at penmanship.

So I did some research on whether typing or handwriting serves my creativity and productivity best, and the answer so far is, “Yes.” For big picture ideas, for taking notes that I can recall and learning new ideas that I can synthesize with what’s already in memory–get out the pen or pencil. For conveying information to another party, fire up the keyboard.

There’s even data (shout out to artist Austin Kleon for the link) that says we write better the faster we type, though it’s limited data and measures the essay writing skills of people who cannot type at all against peers who’ve had eight weeks of typing lessons. The explanation for the improved compositions from those who learned to type is that we think far faster than we can hand-write. Once we can type at 24 words per minute, our composing speed keeps up with our brain, and we don’t edit our communication “down” to the speed of the pen.

But again, that’s for writing that conveys information to others. I know when I’m doing a fiction-writing prompt, I get much better material from pen work. I need to mentally fossick around in that half-second gap between the thought and its expression to find the exquisite phrasing or lurking symbolism that isn’t perceptible at keyboard speed.  I also know that the more I write by hand, the better my penmanship looks. Then too, I enjoy the physical act of putting words on a page rather than on a screen.

Do you write by hand? Journal by hand? Send hand-written letters? How does the written, as opposed to the typed, word figure into your day–if at all?


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

26 comments on “The Write Time

  1. I write by hand a lot. My grocery list is written by hand on a pad held by magnets, on the frig in the kitchen. I flesh it out at the beginning of the week and we add to it–everyone in the household–gradually.

    I keep a food journal, written by hand. It helps when I’m trying to keep track of my food intake for health’s sake. I try to really use my best writing for this one for some reason! 🙂

    In prep for rehearsals, I have a legal pad in a folio with a nice pen, and out write out my rehearsal plans by hand. I’ve tried doing them on my laptop and printing them out but it’s just not the same. The act of writing them out makes a difference.

    I write all sorts of notes and the occasional snail mail. And while I print out address labels for our Christmas cards and use return address labels too, I always sign the cards by hand.

    Have a lovely week, Grace!

    • I used to write by hand a lot… when I had a law office. Now? The occasional sticky note or writing exercise. But then, I don’t have to be nearly as organized as I was when I was lawyering.

  2. Mostly a written by hand kind of gal.
    Although much of my communication is done through email, I still send handwritten thank you notes.
    When I am watching something and taking notes, I do that by hand, too… and, yes, to do and grocery lists are handwritten.

    Thank you for the fun new words!

  3. I use pen and paper more than I type.Ideas and thoughts come faster somehow.I doodle and scibble,write nonsense when I want.Also in my serious and bright spark moments I pick the pen/paper up first.I’m a laid back writer these days it’s more enjoyable that way.No-one sees my work,it is for fun and my eyes only.Most of all it stops me being bored.If I was young I would be dangerous!!!.My favourite word is dumpling it reminds me of a piping not stew with light floaty dumplings.A true winter warmer.Keep sharing all the new found words Grace.It’s amazing.Not long now to your next book.

    • I think when write by hand, ideas don’t come faster, but they come BETTER. I’m more likely to see a connection that eluded me at the keyboard. Someday I should try writing a novel by hand… there are those who still do!

  4. Fountain pens with broad, italic, or oblique nibs loaded with glorious colors inspire me. Depending on how much writing I’m doing, I keep 3-5 pens linked. I journal most days & changing colors each day visually marks the passage of time.

    There’s something intensely sensuous about a nib floating across fine paper on it’s rivulet of ink that makes my brain flow. A kind of meditation exercise that allows the conscious everyday flood of thoughts to bleed away & allows the subconscious free rein to surface & release things I didn’t realize required expression.

    Much like priming a pump, a few pages in my journal lubricate my thoughts wonderfully.

    I also carry on regular paper correspondence with the last survivor of my mother’s circle of long time friends. It’s amazing the insights that come from mentally sharp brains that have clocked nearly a century of living. I learn so much from her observations jotted in waiting rooms, in the car waiting for her husband, or wherever she finds a moment & a scrap of paper to record a particularly juicy thought or pungent commentary. Plus the sheer pleasure of receiving remembrances from someone who knew me when I was a child.

    • You put me in mind of the “morning pages” concept espoused by Julia Cameron and other writing coaches. Just get writing! And as you say, that lubricates the literary engine for bigger and better things.

      I didn’t have enough one on one time with my parents in their very great old age (my fault), but I had some. You are right–that’s a perspective you don’t find anywhere else.

  5. Sadly, my handwriting is atrocious and can’t keep up with my thought process, mostly because my advancing age flushes thoughts from my memory faster than I can write with my arthritic hands…. So I have gone mostly digital, even with my shopping lists, which I can conveniently access on all of my devices. Wherever I am when I think of something I need to add, I can do it before the thought is gone. I also collect recipes…. lots and lots of recipes. Again, I keep them digitally so I can retrieve them on all of my devices. When I am at the grocer and think about trying a new recipe, I can easily check the ingredients needed. But there is something to be said for hand written notes and cards, and I do still manage to write those by hand. I imagine people saving cards and notes more lovingly than one might save an email or text. I know I certainly cherish those notes and thank you cards from my grandkids. They live on my fridge until replaced by a later one. It saddens me a bit that kids today only learn to print and not “cursive.” There was something beautiful about the luxurious curves filling up a page…

    • I also think there was something individually artistic about cursive writing that doesn’t quite convey in print. I practiced making my capital G’s until I found one I liked. Same with capital B’s and so forth. In cursive, you can have a signature that’s an image unto itself, while printing is just a progression of letters.
      And I’m more digital than I used to be. That mass market print is getting too small!

  6. I much prefer to type. I can get the thoughts out more coherently typing than if I have to wait for my pen to form the words. Also, I can edit on the screen, which I do inevitably, even if it’s just an email to a close friend or for example, this post. I have already edited it! I do write out the notes on my Christmas or birthday cards, and as someone else said here, I save the ones I get with handwritten notes, at least for a while. I have saved bits of deceased family members’ handwriting, because it brings me closer to the memory of that loved one. I have my father’s last little grocery list – Milk bread OJ – and I remember his likes and dislikes, enjoy seeing his clear businesslike handwriting, and I can hear his voice when I look at the list.

    Anxiously awaiting the arrival of Lady Violet!!

    • You make an interesting point. I would know my parents’ handwriting anywhere. My mom’s hand was pretty but hard to read. Dad’s was without a single flourish but very legible.
      I also delight in editing as I go. I once told one of my website managers that it takes me two hours to draft a blog post. She looked at me like I was nuts, but… revisions, ya know?

  7. I’m a hybrid. I write my business to-dos on handwritten pages. Mostly Post-it notes. When the task is complete, I throw away the note. Some weeks the notes pile up and I feel like I’ll never get caught up, but there is a feeling of great satisfaction in ending a week with no yellow notes stuck to my desk.

    I make lists on my phone. Groceries, gifts, party planning lists need to travel with me. They are also reusable or at least helpful reminders for the next party or shopping trip.

    My written communication is mostly business and by email. I do send handwritten thank you notes, birthday cards, and Christmas cards.

    I love a new word. I love looking up new words I come across in my reading and finding it’s meaning.

    • I think most readers love to find new words. Might not be a word you use often, but to see it on the page in a context that flatters that word… that is always a fun moment for me as a reader.

  8. Mostly I write grocery lists, addresses on envelopes, and short messages on cards that I am sending (birthday, etc.). I can type much better than write since my right hand is buggered. (I like that word)

    For communication with most of my close relatives, I use email. For documentation, reports, etc. I use Word.

  9. While I vastly prefer handwritten with a fountain pen, these days I mostly do business correspondence and I use email. I sign holiday/birthday cards but I use printed labels for the addresses. I make my lists or jot down voice mail from my telephone on scrap pieces of paper, such as envelopes or those receipts that are a foot long for one single item, so that when I recycle them, I feel extra virtuous for having used them twice. I’m not as wedded to my phone as many people are but I did make a to-buy list on it last week. But, since I have a device with a stylus, the list was still handwritten!

    • I fight tooth and nail not to use my phone for anything but phoning… unless I have to check the weather, the time, my steps for the day… that thing is a quagmire of manipulation and privacy scraping. And yet, where do I jot down my passwords? My account numbers? (And yes, my phone is backed up…_)

  10. My handwriting has sadly degenerated over time, perhaps because I don’t use it much? I type most things now. I’ve started journaling this year, and I’m going old skool with a Moleskine journal and pen. And I write my mom a note every Sunday and mail it off. Otherwise, it’s the keyboard gor me!

    • That’s me too–keyboard all the livelong day, unless I’m doing a writing workshop exercise or birthday card. I used to have nice handwriting, and it does improve when I use it more. I think for journaling it’s a trade off. My handwritten journals tended to be shorter entries, but they also had more of “me” in them. The electronic journal… I just go on and on about anything.

  11. These days the most writing by hand that I do is making lists. To do lists. Grocery lists. Pet supply shopping lists. You get the picture. When I do write, it is a hybrid between print and cursive that I started using in middle school for one teacher who couldn’t read anyone’s cursive well and would dock points because she couldn’t read some of the words.

    My kids were in elementary school when they stopped teaching cursive. They both had friends in high school who got stressed when they realized they couldn’t sign their names because they didn’t remember enough cursive to do so. We had an unplanned cursive tutorial one night at the house right before some of the kids were going to get their learner’s permit for driving.

    • I ENJOY making my signature. Even if you don’t know how to make the letters, you could become familiar with the image of a distinctive signature, and for me, that alone made cursive worthwhile.

  12. There is research in place that shows writing notes by hand commits more to memory than word processing. Your statement that essentially agrees that writing is for thinking and processing and word processing is for conveying information is really the perfect explanation. I write notes, grocery lists, whatever because it is familiar and comfortable for me. My 2 (now adult) daughters both jot notes on their phones, etc. They were in elementary school when the computer age exploded.

    When it comes to journaling or taking notes in a class, I really experience the better absorption of information with handwriting. My handwriting goes down the tubes when I am busy, tired &/or emotional. Usually I can read it though, so I can opt to go back and do a neater job if need be.

  13. I tried to shift my calendar to my phone and become digitally organized. My hope was that I could pull up my up to date calendar anytime to add to etc. It didn’t go great, but I was giving it the old college try. Then I was in a research study for visual organization in people with TBIs. I learned that likely the reason that my paper planners never worked for me was the layout, and the digital display formats also were not useful to me. So now I know that I need to see the whole month and physically write on the calendar to organize. I have colored pens (the colors sometimes correlate to whose event but are sometimes just fun colors for the sake of cuteness) and I write the whole family’s schedules on it. I think it generalizes for me, that I think better when putting pen to paper than digitally, and I just plain prefer it. I also have a strong preference to receive hand written vs. typed correspondence from friends. It is uncommon of course, but there is something to me about seeing someone’s handwriting that makes them seem closer than an email.

    At work, because what I write down will be read by kids often, I have to focus on not using cursive. My daughter had a teacher that did a great job of teaching them cursive as a special unit, even though the general attitude was that it was like learning to use an abacus, interesting to know but not useful or necessary for daily life. But it has proven really valuable in doing research- many of her fellow students in high school couldn’t read old letters / documents because they were in cursive. Even for research on the not too distant past, forms were filled out with answers in cursive often. My youngest is mainly interested in cursive to create a stylish signature. That is the difference between their personalities in a nutshell.

    • You make an interesting point. My phone is USELESS to me as a calendar, because if I can SEE my schedule, it ceases to exist. When I ran a law office, my desk blotter WAS a great big monthly calendar, so I could get a thousand visual reminders about Monday’s pretrial conference, or Thursday’s motions hearing. I had to keep files out on my desk to remind me of the to-dos, and if I got a notion to “clean up” and put everything away, the result was usually some task or other fell off my radar. Visual thinkers, represent!

  14. Every day I write in a gratitude journal, writing down recipes for foods we eat such as easy homemade bread or cinnamon rolls, groceries, and most recently a card to mail out to an aunt for her birthday.