Writing Longhand in the Digital Age


Calvin typing

I’ve often wondered if my habit of starting a story or article in longhand is crazy. Who, after all, has the time anymore?

Those of you who also write by hand may be heartened to hear that we are not alone. I’ve read that Gunter Grass, a favorite of mine from childhood, writes his first drafts by hand. I have seen many manuscripts written by other famous authors. The script runs the gamut from flourishing and elegant to entirely unintelligible. Amended by redactions, abetted by additions, and with entire paragraphs scratched out or led, by arrow, to their new place on the page, these pages seem to possess a life beyond the abstract ideas expressed on them.

Further proof that such technique has validity comes in the latest edition of the Paris Review. The Israeli author, Aharon Appelfeld, expresses the aesthetic imperative of writing by hand.

Writing, like every art, is a sensual art. You have to touch it, you have to feel it, to correct, again to correct, always to correct.

Aharon Appelfeld manuscript
Aharon Appelfeld manuscript

But it turns out that there is something beyond just the aesthetic consideration of writing longhand.

In an article entitled “Cursive is an Endandered Species“, the correlation between neurological development and handwriting is given mention.

Neuroscientists have found that the act of writing by hand builds neural pathways that directly affect a wide range of development, including language fluency, memory, physical coordination, and socialization. Researchers such as Steve Peverly of Columbia University and Virginia W. Berninger of the University of Washington have discovered close connections between writing and cognitive development. Peverly, for example, has shown that students’ attention span improves significantly when they take notes by hand as opposed to clicking away on their keyboards. And those who can write more swiftly retain the information better. Since connecting letters increases the speed at which one writes, we can infer that cursive note taking would be most beneficial for academic success.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a similar phenomenon exists in the act of reading. Some even believe that the two types of reading: the old-fashioned linear reading demanded by a physical artifact versus the cursory multi-directional scramble most of us do online, is literally creating a bi-lateral brain.

Print versus plasma. Guess which type of reading helps us get into a deeper, more contemplative state, one in which our higher brain-functions are enabled?

[Disclaimer: This is the first post I’ve ever written that was done without a rough draft done first by hand. Go figure.]


2 thoughts on “Writing Longhand in the Digital Age

  1. Lisa W England November 17, 2014 / 9:45 AM

    Not crazy at all. I also write longhand first — always.

  2. wgosline November 17, 2014 / 10:01 AM

    Seeing that you are an extremely creative person with your costumes, I’m not surprised at all. Love your recent blog post in which you unroll your 18foot scroll.

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