June 26th, 2008

Writing by hand: the medium affects the message

[NOTE: I’m trying to make this blog an Obama-free zone for at least one more day. One day at a time, they say.]

This Atlantic article by Nicholas Carr is a recommended read, about the reported loss of concentration and patience for absorbing longer works that he believes comes from too much internet Googling.

Don’t skim it, now; read the whole thing!

I’m not so sure we suffer from the phenomenon that Carr describes so much as that we lack the time to read in a leisurely fashion, in part because there now are too many competing entertainments and methods of gathering information.

But I was especially intrigued by an anecdote from the article about how the medium by which a person writes, rather than reads, can change an author’s style. Carr relates how Nietzsche’s work underwent a transformation as a result of the typewriter:

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time….One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”

You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”

I’m with Nietzsche on that one. Before the word processor and then the computer, I used to compose all my papers in longhand and correct them the same way, with many crossouts and additions. Once I was satisfied (or a few hours before the paper was due, whichever came first) I’d type it on my Smith-Corona, using whiteout or erasable typing paper to correct the inevitable typos. It felt like a laborious process, and it often was; I’m not the greatest typist, and Spellcheck was hardly a gleam in anyone’s eye.

So when the instantly correctable word processor and then the computer became readily available, it seemed almost miraculous. How wonderful to watch the lines jump into place when a word was removed, magically and seamlessly closing the gap.

But I noticed that my writing was changing in some subtle fashion. It was difficult to be as imaginative as before; the thoughts seemed more stilted, although the words themselves flowed onto the page far more efficiently.

But I found to my dismay that I simply could not write poetry that way, although I could edit my poems. I had to write poetry longhand. Not that much of a hardship, really, since poems tend to be relatively short.

It seemed that there was an actual physical difference in the way the hand accessed the brain and the creative juices depending on whether that hand was writing or typing. Why this should be so I do not know, but it has persisted. To this day, I write poetry only by hand, although humorous verse (like my song parodies on this blog) can easily be accomplished on the computer.

I’m not alone in my assertion that writing by hand is a very different animal than typing, and a much more emotional animal at that. Here are some of the thoughts of others on the matter, very similar to my own experience (the passage is from Daniel Chandler’s “The Phenomenology of Writing by Hand”):

Many writers have alluded to the importance of handwriting in their thinking and writing….Fay Weldon declared: ‘I choose to believe that there is some kind of mystic connection between the brain and the actual act of writing in longhand’ (Hammond, 1984). And Graham Greene commented that ‘Some authors type their works, but I cannot do that. Writing is tied up with the hand, almost with a special nerve’ (Hammond, 1984). The anthropologist Jack Goody (1987) wrote that ‘Nothing surpasses pen and paper as being “good to think with”‘. And Rebecca West reported that she used a pencil ‘When anything important has to be written… I think your hand concentrates for you.’…John Barth favours the fountain pen, commenting that: ‘there’s something about the muscular movement of putting down script on the paper that gets [the] imagination back in the track where it was’ (Plimpton, 1987).

And they say it so much better than I have. But that’s because I’m not writing this by hand.

24 Responses to “Writing by hand: the medium affects the message”

  1. Sergey Says:

    Chinese, who mastered the art of calligraphy, would agree. The hand movements involved are like a dance, and dancing surely is an inspirational activity.

  2. SteveH Says:

    I believe this transcends writing and also extends into creative design. There are some miraculous CAD programs out there that have done to drawing what the computer did to writing.

    I personally can’t seem to get going without a pencil to twirl and chew on while my creative juices get stirred.

    I think the fact that you don’t see someone involuntarily sticking their tounge out the corner of their mouth while shuffling a mouse is the first clue that somethings amiss in the process.

  3. Gringo Says:

    Practically from the moment I learned cursive, people complained about my handwriting. While I no longer have them, when I looked back years later at some of my compositions in elementary school, they were painfully filled with erasures in an attempt to make them more legible for others.

    I had a lot of typos on the stand alone typewriters. As far as I am concerned, writing on a computer w spell checker is the greatest. Regarding change of prose style etc., I would say that perhaps I write more in a stream of consciousness on a computer because there is less lag time between what I write and what is in my mind.

  4. T Says:

    One wonders what part the electronic word plays in making language a disposable commodity. Not a word on paper, but an ephemeral image; a will-o-the-wisp that can change at a moments notice with no history of ever having been. Has it cheapened language? If the word is ephemeral, is “a man of his word” now meaningless? Has it contributed to a degradation of our ability to think critically?

    Over twenty years ago, I had to delete from my word-processer resume the name of a reference, a colleague of mine; he had died. As I was about to hit the delete key, I paused. I realized that this wasn’t just crumpling up some piece of paper or throwing an index card into the trash, but by deleting his name it would cease to exist as though it never existed at all. It almost seemed as though I was deleting him. It gave me pause. I still think about that incident today.

  5. Thomass Says:

    I also remember that picture you had that could be seen going either way. When I looked at it, it went one way. When I read the text next it, I noticed over on the side of my vision it would look like it went the other way.

    In addition to making it easier to write more / longer works with the word processor, a different method could also light up different areas of the brain….

  6. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    Why don’t you mention one of the most famous current authors who writes Harry Potter by hand, J.K. Rowling — who used to write in pub but has trouble now finding a public place that allows her privacy.

    I was so glad when they stopped grading handwriting and I stopped getting “Cs” — but there is something about it.

  7. Sallyo Says:

    My former boss used to write every thing out in longhand, even with terrible handwriting, and I never understood why. I’ve just started doing some creative writing, and now it makes sense. I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one who has to write in longhand first, although the computer is great for all the revising and editing that has to be done.

  8. Thomas Says:

    Hello Neo,

    There is absolutely a difference. The style and quality of a piece of writing can have a dramatic difference depending on which tools you use.

    I mostly write on my laptop nowadays, but when I want to write something more thoughtful, I revert to the manual typewriter or handwriting.

    I’ve thought about this difference in quality a number of times. I figured the phenomenon happened because of the law of scarcity value. This needs some explaining.

    When you write on a computer, you kind of blur out the words on the keyboard. Quite a lot of people type about as fast as they think. The words become cheapened, inexpensive productions that require little thought.

    When you take it one level down to the typewriter (manual), the process of writing is slower, more deliberate. Each words has to be pounded onto the page. You get to think a bit more in between words, and this allows for more density. You become more conscious of your choice of words.

    When you take it all the way down to handwriting, the production of the words is slower still. There is not much of a disconnect between you and the words, and the physicality of actually scribbling the words brings you into sharp mental focus. You weigh your choice of words more carefully because instead of a machine producing the words for you, you are doing it manually.

    At least, that’s what I think happens. I find that the more distant and disconnected you are from the process of writing, the more glib and frivolous the writing becomes. Generally speaking, a kind of lackadaisical reasoning becomes the norm from writing off the computer.

  9. T Says:

    Thomas wrote : “I find that the more distant and disconnected you are from the process of writing, the more glib and frivolous the writing becomes.”

    So today, in the aftermath of the SCOTUS decision on the Heller case some left wing bloggers are hoping that Justice Scalia will be shot. One wonders if they would be willing to actually write that if they were applying pen to paper.

  10. gcotharn Says:

    When I go to bed, I either read or doodle for a few minutes before turning out the lights. The things I doodle in bed do not later, if typed onto a computer, translate the same way inside my head. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    When in school, I had a difficult time beginning essays in longhand – probably b/c I’ve never liked beginning with formal outlines.

    Computer writing works much better for me – especially blogging – b/c it is less formal than an essay. I typically begin, straight off, writing everything in a creative rush. I’m almost thinking, as I write fast: oh this is so good. When finished, I make a bunch of fast spelling/grammar/logic corrections, AND ONLY THEN do I really study the cohesive logic of what I have written, which very, very often sucks eggs, and very, very often requires I then conceive a coherent outline, then rearrange everything inside that outline, and delete some or all of the brilliant writing I surged out a few minutes ago. And yet, this is what works for me: surge it out, then outline it, then form it and rewrite it an a coherent fashion.

    Now, unfortunately for neo, it’s an odd point of honor that a blog comment generally be spontaneous and fresh. So, on blog comments, such as this, I mostly do not rewrite, mostly do not study and rearrange for coherence. I just surge it out and hit … Submit Comment… as I will do in 3..2..1.

  11. Artfldgr Says:

    i think to fast to write longhand, so i blind type near 100 wpm. ergo long posts…

    the faster the transmission method, the more like stream of concousness it becomes. so longhand was more thoughtful. also mistakes were hard to correct and so the longer the letter teh more careful you had to be.

    on a slightly off topic thing. i am reading bella dodds book “school of the dark” and i just got to a quote on page 55…. that has reference to obama and such.

    reading the book is VERY interesting to today, as bella became the communist party USA head. and then an anti commjunist.

    like our neo, and like the woman i posted the work of before, her writing, is also part of that story that reveals things.

    so here is the quote… and think of the post turtle.
    she basically confirms what i said about meteors from nowhere.

    The “progressive” bloc at the State Federation convention that year decided to run
    me for a position in the State Federation of Labor. It seems ridiculous to me now that one so newly come to the labor movement should have been pushed forward
    against the established machine. But this, too, was a communist tactic, for
    Communists have no hesitation whatever in bringing unknown people forward into
    leadership, the more callow or ill-equipped the better, since they will therefore
    more easily be guided by the Party. The weaker they are, the more certainly they
    will carry out the Party’s wishes. Suddenly and dramatically the Communist Party
    makes somebodies out of nobodies. If tactics change, they also drop them just as
    quickly and the somebodies again become nobodies.

    the whole book is full of stuff relevent to whats going on. and its take is completely different than the propaganda of where things came from that is floating around now.

    its interesting to read how she was going to college when women werent supposed to be allowed, and there is no refernce to them not lettingher.

    and her explanation of how the colleges were chaning…and then sets the stage of the cahnges that 30 years later about the time of her death would be the 60s revolution.

    you cant read her book and then not think of how much what we know now is false.

    so sorry to digress… i didnt know how else to pass it on given the discussions.

    The Communist Party operates by infiltrating and subverting social institutions like the churches, schools, mass media and government. Its aim was “to create new types of human beings who would conform to the blueprint of the world they confidently expected to control.” (162)

    For example, Dodd reveals that the CPUSA had 1100 members become Catholic priests in the 1930’s. It also subverted the American education system by taking over the teacher’s unions and learned societies. Only people who accepted the “materialistic, collectivistic international class struggle approach” advanced. (98)

    “The party did all it could to induce women to go into industry. Its fashion designers created special styles for them and its songwriters wrote special songs to spur them…. War-period conditions, they planned, were to become a permanent part of the future educational program. The bourgeois family as a social unit was to be made obsolete.” (153)

    There was to be no family but the party and the state. Dodd helped organize the Congress of American Women, a forerunner of the feminist movement.

    “Since it was supposedly a movement for peace, it attracted many women. But it was really only a renewed offensive to control American women… Like youth and minority groups, they are regarded as a reserve force of the revolution because they are more easily moved by emotional appeals.” (194-195)

    I often marveled at the sacrifices made by these Communist Party members. In my classes at Hunter were Young Communist Leaguers who would go without lunch to buy paper and ink and other items for propaganda leaflets. Their emaciated faces made my heart ache. Their halfhearted participation in their studies, their frequent cutting of classes, their sacrifice of academic standing to fulfill some task assigned them, were sad to see. I saw college girls exploited by cold Party hacks. They were expendable, and in their places would come other wide-eyed, eager young people with a desire for sacrifice.

    and neos exploration into writing has gone through style, substance… even religion…

    but she hasnt touched on writing to subvert…

  12. Joan of Argghh! Says:

    Long before it was cool I exhibited a bit of dyslexia in grade school. It was mild enough in the intake of information, but very difficult in the output, whether in speech or writing. Transposed consonants in words like, aminal / animal would play havoc with my speech I guess because I am a visualizer of the words I’m speaking. It’s weird.

    Mostly I outgrew it, or ingrained a mental work-around for the speaking difficulty, but writing longhand is too slow for my brain and too easy to juxtapose letters. I can read it back and know what I wrote, but it looks like jibberish to others.

    The discipline of learning to type correctly by touch keeps me from over-visualizing the words. They become a physical pattern down to my fingers, much like when I play the piano. It is so freeing to type, it feels musical and alive.

    Still, having to copy a word-veri takes 2 or 3 attempts to get it right.

  13. Jamie Says:

    I love love love to write, and I love to write fast, so I tend to “write” on computers now… but I notice as I reread my so-called “creative writing” that I’ve usually skipped giant hunks of description or explication that are utterly clear in my mind. Bleah. Maybe I need to go back to longhand, but writer’s cramp gets me then. How can I win this??

  14. Gringo Says:

    Speaking of typing: has anyone changed over to the Dvorak keyboard? What has been your experience with a) ease of transition and b) typing speed once learned ?

    A further comment on the writing modes. In high school I developed a HATRED of writing for two reasons. 1) While I enjoyed writing for self expression, the emphasis in English courses on developing junior literary critics killed any joy in the process. I also developed a phobia for English courses. 2) An AP History course my senior year had heavy term paper assignments- 15 pager every 6 weeks. By contrast, the teacher obviously did not prepare anything for class and instead spent time in BSing in class. I therefore associated writing with being cheated: the student works but the teacher does not. ( One reason I chose Engineering as a major was to avoid term papers.Then in Senior Lab, a team of five had to produce a thirty page lab report in a weekend! We all need to be able to write!)

    All this in the longhand then type it up era.

    Years later in the computer era, I began to write for self expression, not for a grade. That helped me get over my writing phobia.Give me the computer era any day!

    I might add that I found standard class assignments much easier to complete on the computer instead of by longhand/ typewriter method. I am a procrastinator/perfectionist. It is much easier to produce something coherent quickly under the gun with a computer than with the longhand type it up methods.

    I once asked a professor if she had seen any improvement in student writing in the computer era, compared to the type it up era. She replied that she had not, because people who were careless in proofreading were still careless in the computer era. The computer era has definitely improved my writing, both in quantity and in quality. On the other hand, I was never going to be a Faulkner. The computer era has improved my level of mediocrity.

  15. 20080626 blog snippets « Captain Kj Says:

    […] Thought #2: Can’t write creatively on the computer? This blogger talks about how her poetry disappeared when she tried to compose it online… I’ve […]

  16. J. Peden Says:

    In contrast to longhand, the raw speed of the computer typewriter often saves me from forgetting my thoughts, which can then be recorded sometimes nearly as fast as I think them, in turn allowing me to just keep thinking further instead of slowing or halting to transcribe in the more physical, longhand way. Typing virtually becomes thinking, and everything is more immediately unified – usually.

    However, this doesn’t work for me when trying to compose “comments” – probably because I’m trying to thought-mate with the thoughts of others, who often present things I haven’t thought of, or at least different angles on topics. It’s great, and thanks!

  17. Artfldgr Says:

    dvorak is supposed to be faster… but i truth, for most people they will never get to the point where the arrangement of the keys will actually impact their speed very much.

    the qwerty keyboard was designed so that keys would not jam in the mechanical typewriters like my old royal.

    once they were mechanized to somethign like the ibm selectrix ball, this mechanical solution was no longer needed.

    however, arbitrary improvements that dont really give the results in practice never unseat things that are only moderately lesser.

    humans type on average from 30wpm, up to 120 wpm… higher is competition level… and rare.

    part of this speed also ahs to do with how fast you think. after all, we are not talking about blind retyping a memo that another person wrote.

    we are talking abouit composition, something that dvorack really wouldnt improve, as the blind typist.

    the blind typists work hard not to read waht they type, this allows them to disconnect their minds from the task adn go faster.

    by the way, women do this a lot better than men. this is why women dominate factory work. they can sit there and do mindless tasks and not have a problem… (think about the genetic advantage this does to the home front, and dealing with children, while having other thigns to do).

    men on the other hand have to think out each step, they cant get to this empty headed functionalty. (in this case, this is not an insult, its a plus if what you have to do is boring, repetitive, and needs to be done. like food preparation in the wild. ever pluck feathers, shuck corn, shell nuts, etc?)

    i worked for a factory, and for that summer i made aligator clips. a boring, repetitive, and potentially dangerous task. my job was to take a bottom half, put in a spring, put in a top half, force them to come toteher so that i can put it on a pin, then hit a button which owudl bring a rivet machine down. one guy put a rivette through his finger. 5000lb sqyar inch his phalanx never had a chance.
    you were not allowed to talk and you just did this as fast as you could.

    the men never or rarely could match the women. their smaller fingers, and their mental accuity for doing dull things, would win out every time.. after 8 hours it would be evident… (but do do hiring and discrimination laws they had to keep a bunch of us underperforming men onthe line for the same salaries!)

    so the truth of faster would depend on what you were doing. if your task required thoight and you hd to stop and go back ad edit, the dvorak wont mean much at all.

    but if your a blind typist who has to do data entry, or retyping memos an things, and you type near 80 plus words a minute, and you make your money piece work, then dvorak is probably a way to get a few more words out per minute, and thereby make a difference in a days or weeks work.

    other than the cache that comes from being a leftist that says… look i changed arbitrarily, it doesnt mean much.

    i will say though that a good split keyboard in which the keys are not so linear, and its a bit more like typing on a large ball rather than a flat board does make a qualitative difference in the pleasure and time you can type.

    which is a wholly different area of metrics that is ignored.

    its much like the difference between a pro level camera and a lesser model in similar class…

    the cameras themselves will not improve your picture taking, one just makes it a bit easier, and so it gets less in the way.

    ultimately, better than the WPM rate is the ability for the interface to be invisable and not interupt you with its form or quirkies.

    so a keyboard that is kinder on the position of your wrists, and angles would allow you to type longer and easier and so be more comfortable. in this way, the interface between the tool and what your doing makes the tool more a natural extension, and so you stop thinking about the tool and more about what your doing.

    piano players practice scales so as to create this same situation through muscle memory… as it isnt really practical to change the layout of the 88s. so they work really hard like blind typists so taht they knwo where the keys are, and so do not think as to the tool they use to produce sound.

    in fact, they then can atain the thing that the wiser find more pleasurable.

    the sublime.

    the concept that your “in” the situation, that your no longer thinking about the mechanics, but are doing the actions.

    this happens int he arts, and i think is the major reason artists create (beside shameless desire for approval or the opposite, or just plain affecting people as a reflection of proof of existence).

    i have been quoted as saying my favorite thing about me being an artist.

    and that art is a socially acceptable obsessive compulsive disorder.

    [which may be why its hard to medicace them]

    the search for the sublime is a kind of pleasure that one can constantly achieve. unlike the more basal and rude forms of pleasure one does not attain mroe of it through bashing through it. one obtains more of it through separateion of qualities and the controlled reflection and appreciation.

    while kids jump and scream to music, and such, few of them are trained enough or naturally hold still enough to get the sublime and orgasmic pleasure that music can induce! (i believe its called frisson, but i am not sure. i can call it up at will, and i also notice that we get it when we are depressed and in despair!! something i have NEVER read in the research as to depression. that its a plain pleasuer thing when frisson is with it. it makes it very easy to sink into it and not want to get out)

    well, those that love to write, draw, or express (thats most of us in some way), are actually inducing the sublime and other reward centers.

    such things are the origins of our social ability and our desire to do for others, as well as capitalisms transactions.

    of course i can abstract like crazy and i think divergent so for me its very hard to not digress on such a cool subject (thanks neo).

    so i would dare to say what is more important than speed, is invisablity of the tool and comfort for the longer more perseverous tasks.

    there are two ways to think about it and you can see that in cars.

    you can buy a lamborghini, take the autobahn and get to where you are going faster, then you are free to do somethign you enjoy more (like maybe reading the completed piece, or posting it to see the reaction).

    or you can buy a rolls royce, or a winnabago, and enjoy the trip all the way.

    it depends on what you really want to get out of it. the nice thing in freedom is that neither trip is better outside of context.

    hope i helped… 🙂

  18. Artfldgr Says:

    j peden, the same can work with comments… but what you ahve to do is slow down in reading and understanding them. then you need not interupt yourseklf in your answers… if your impatient wanting to react to everythign your ead as theyhappen, then your not commenting your dancing with the author and giving us play by play based on how you and the information interact. done this way, what was said before may not make as much sense after something later on is said.

    depending on what you value you can change the framework and often cast things in a way to get a differetn way out of it that sometimes can be what you favor in other things.

    this same mechanism when abused becvomes ideology.

  19. driver Says:

    I’ve often thought about this as well. As others have related, I also have terrible handwriting, and welcomed the keyboard world for my children, who share my dysgraphia.

    I find that I compose business letters, email, and blog posts just fine on a word processing program, but when I need to sit down and write a money piece, one that really matters, I always have to do it the old-fashioned way, with legal pad and pen. And many, many crossouts and balled-up pages tossed in the waste basket, before I get it where I want it to be.

  20. Trochilus Says:

    Great catch, the quote from Nietzsche.

    All of us (or, at least those of us who were there) recall the transformation in the way we re-learned to write during the mid-70’s to early 80s,as we switched over to word processors and early PCs.

    I have always held in awe the “first time, every time” writing talent that some possess.

    I recall a television interview on Book Notes that Brian Lamb did with Shelby Foote, during which the latter described his writing process — long hand, pen and ink. One draft.

    Hell, I don’t even dare try a NYT crossword on Tuesday with a pen!

    By the way, he was one of two authors, perhaps ever, whose contracts with their publishers specified that there could be no editing of what they submitted. What they sent in was printed.

    The other writer, as related by Shelby Foote during the interview, was William Faulkner!

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    I find that I have to slow my thinking down because I cannot write fast enough long hand as I could by typing.

    I learned typing young, so I grew up thinking with typing. Since I could do thinking faster with typing than with writing, I did MORE thinking while typing than writing. That changed my abilities later on.

    If your thoughts get too far ahead of your hand, whether typing or writing, you find that you will make mistakes and then have to spend precious time going over those mistakes.

    I try very hard not to use spell checkers. I’ve trained myself to check as I read and then to automatically correct mistakes when they occur.

    My natural tendencies are like Art’s. When you are writing and you mind makes an intuitive jump to a new subject, you have to stop yourself and figure out how to mesh that with the rest of your composition in a fashion that will be understandable and readable, yet also follow grammar laws and English composition laws.

    The solution to typing as fast as you write, not giving yourself time to consider your wording and what not, is to revise. Make yourself an expert at revision so that .5 seconds after you have finished reading a phrase, you have already revised it into something better in your mind.

    This allows you to set a time slot cushion as you think and creates a double filter. It filters once as the phrase runs through your mind, giving you a sense of whether it sounds right or not. Then it filters again as you type it, because it gives you a feel for how the words are being typed and if the feel is wrong, then the word or phrase is wrong. The tertiary filter is, of course, reading as you type.

    All of this slows down your pacing to a balanced, not slow or fast, pace.

    What writing long hand does to you is to force you to use your imagination and attempt to abstractedly visualize what you are going to write in any number of categories and forms. In order to prevent yourself from making mistakes, you will naturally give more time for your abstract mind to figure things out.

    I was able to write a much better descriptive essay by thinking really hard and writing two drafts by hand and then typing it up. When I typed it up, I revised it, since the drafts were timed but my revision was not.

    The end result was much better in terms of flow, pacing, grammar, spelling, visualization, and what not. This is because the better your abstract and logical thinking processes are, the faster you must be able to write so that the easier it would be to revise what you have written. It is incredibly hard to attempt to revise what you have not yet put down unto paper, for you don’t see it, you can only imagine it as it could have been.

    The speed of typing allows one to put into words on screen what one is thinking in imagination and abstract tones. This allows a writer a far more concretized format unto which he may display his revision skills.

    A painter and sculptor puts a lot of time into imagination, and little into revision. They don’t “revise” their works so much as rip what they don’t like apart and start anew. To them, getting it right on the first time is the only way to good works.

    Writers now a days don’t have to throw everything away. The same applies to painters and sculptors. They have computer aided drawing now, they have memory data banks that can hold millions of drafts easily accessible from now unto the Singularity of Technological Progress.

    This means that the process becomes far more intellectual and solidified in the form of fast and clever thinking. No more do you have to hold everything in your head, write it down, and still have to chunk, erase, or ball up drafts of your thoughts. Now you can apply your intellect, your intelligence and fast thinking, to the process without being hampered by physical limitations such as speed or endurance.

    The capacitors in the keyboard do all that work for you. You just have to move your finger and push down with a small amount of weight.

    Once a person masters typing and can recognize words simply by the feel of the keys and the sequence in which one’s fingers have pressed them, then this produces the same effect as the artistry of calligraphy.

    Almost always, I recognize mistakes by sensing when I have hit the wrong keys, rather than reading my words and finding a mistake there first.

    If you don’t pay very close attention to feel, to tactile touch, then you will miss so many many mistakes. Mistakes such as “not” as opposed to now. Known as opposed to unknown or is as opposed to isn’t.

    And the more you type in any one sitting, the more urgency you feel in putting thoughts on electronic screen, the more likely your errors statistically.

    This is far superior, however, to making mistakes with cursive writing because one’s hand has cramped up. For a person that needs 10 drafts before finalizing on end result, that person will take up most of his time rewriting, not revising. He will have more time to revise, but that is because he has wasted much time on rewriting and he thus he had nothing better to do than to revise while he re-wrote what he had already written 10 times before.

    Typing is no magic, of course, it still takes practice and efficiency. Once applied and acquired, however, it is just as good, so long as you hadn’t adopted a different habit while growing up. For example, some people prefer to speak with their hands as well as their mouth. Remove their hands, and they may have problems speaking. Same is true for long hand writing in poetry and what not. The habit is there, you cannot change it anymore.

  22. Teri Pittman Says:

    Well, we’d be happy to have you as part of the Typewriter Brigade on NanoWriMo! I do tech support and I actually am getting tired of all the time I have to spend dealing with software issues on computers. It’s been fun to have a small collection of typewriters. I can just sit down to one and write. I don’t worry about any corrections or formatting until I do the re-write. You might find the Strikethru site interesting too.

  23. john maguire Says:

    I have a Selectric which I keep in tune, and a manual typewriter. When something matters to me a lot, I use the Selectric and then scan the paper copy into the computer, put it through OCR and then edit.

    Writing takes place in time, and the medium you use affects the feedback (reward, reinforcement) you get as you write. Computer keyboards give terrible feedback. You can’t hear the key strokes very well–the Selectric is like a church organ in terms of rich and concise aural feedback. Another terrible distraction on computers is the flashing cursor, which keeps on telling you, “Forget what you were saying and look at little flashing me.”

    What is written on the computer never sounds like anyone talking. Word processing produces processed prose. Even that sentence displays the disease.

    Here’s a fact appropos to this discussion. Henry James had arthritis,and it got worse as time 0went by. Eventually he could not write or even correct proofs by hand. He had to dictate everything. The famously wooly and wandering incomprehensible Henry James style comes from the era when he had to write by dictation without any ability to correct his proofs by hand. That’s what I hear.

  24. Karen Ann Chaffee Says:

    I enjoyed your post, although some of the comments were rather lengthy. I absolutely love hand writing. It is an opportunity to be in sync with my thoughts and to enjoy the experience of writing.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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