A Return to Longhand?

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I spend a lot of time reflecting on my process: what works, what doesn’t. That kind of thing. Such naval-gazing is a wonderful alternative to actual writing. Ahem.

Sometimes I write the scene in my head as I see it and other times I put down all the dialog first before adding in all the little actions that make the passage leap off the page. I don’t always write linearly. Beginnings, endings, or even a single sentence are all fodder for the mind.

For the last twenty years, I’ve been writing on a computer. Largely, this has been due to my vocation. Emails, reports interspersed with analytics and programming code. Always, my hands thrummed the keyboard. It’s been my instrument of choice.

Not coincidentally, I took a twenty year hiatus from creative writing. I often wondered about why that happened. Life’s complexities are the glib easy answers, of course, but perhaps there is more to it than that.

Way back when, when I used to whip my muse regularly, I didn’t use a computer. They weren’t common place. Everything I wrote, I wrote long hand. Sure, my handwriting was atrocious (even more so now), but there might have been some magic in shaping the letters one at a time, forming words one after the other.

My old journals are faded, but it’s fun to thumb through and glimpse into my thinking. It’s a form of time travel, to a different me. All the mistakes were laid bare. A word scratched out here, circled words there, and wild arrows moving paragraphs all over the place. Blue and black and red ink bled everywhere. Write, edit and rewrite. Drafts and iterative improvement were baked in to the creative process.

That same exposure just doesn’t happen with the printed word the same way. Even if I turn on ‘Track Changes’, I miss the emotion laden in the strokes of pen. I simply don’t write the same way these days. I edit as I go and whole trains of thought become lost to the delete key.

The real question begs an answer: is that a good thing?

And I wonder still about teaching cursive writing in schools becoming a page in history, kin to Latin and Greek. What is lost without the contemplative effort in compositional writing longhand?

Let’s find out.

I’m going to try an experiment and take the time to write longhand, reacquaint myself with the art.

Two pledges:

  1. I'll pick a book, say Call of the Wild, and copy it out. It'll help me work to improve my penmanship and make it more legible. It has to be far more interesting than practicing letter exercises. Additionally, it'll be cool to write like Jack London. Play make-believe. He, himself, is noted for improving his own craft through such 'copywork'. If it was good enough for him, it's good enough for me.
  2. I'm going to write all my short pieces longhand as a first draft and edit it old-school with an angry red pen. Then, I'll type it up and edit it again. I believe that by forcing a linear writing process and a deliberate editing stage will improve my writing.

So, what are your thoughts? Am I mad? Any one want to take the plunge with me?

A couple resources from my favourite blog:

Oh, and: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/215

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