When I don’t know what I want to say, when I’m stuck in an essay or a scene or a business letter, or even when I’ve just been away on vacation and need to settle back at my desk, I always rediscover my voice by writing by hand.
Handwriting is like a fingerprint, unique to each individual; my handwriting’s lousy.
My handwriting has deteriorated in direct proportion to my keyboarding skills, which are fierce – and fast. Writing by hand slows me down, which is a good way to find my way to the page.
Writing by hand grounds me. It keeps my eyes focused on my words and my mind trained on my ideas, holding them long enough to scrawl them in ink on narrow-lined paper. The problem is that the scrawl is sometimes quite hard to decipher – even for me, even within minutes of scribbling them down.
My handwriting wasn’t always so bad. In fact, there was a time when it was quite good. And when I set my mind to it, I can write with a certain elegance – the influence of amateur calligraphy skills I once possessed.
Even before computer keyboards took over the world, I was a typist. I once owned an Olivetti portable typewriter – the equivalent to a laptop computer – back in the mechanical age. Now, with keyboards and touch-screens, I hardly write by hand at all anymore. I even punch my grocery list into my phone. All this has allowed me to become impatient – and sloppy – with my pen.
But I still carry a pen and paper in my handbag and keep another stowed in my car. Because sometimes I’ll be overcome by an idea so fleeting and fragile it will evaporate before I could ever hunt and peck it onto the Lilliputian keypad on my phone. And I don’t like to dictate; the process of speaking makes too much noise for me to hear the words in my head.
And there are two instances when I force myself to write legibly: condolence cards and letters to dear ones who live far away. Handwritten notes allow two people to connect by paper and words. When the paper I write on arrives in the other’s hand, the recipient touches what I touched; asynchronously, we hug.
Ironically, once I’m back on the page – once my mind and ideas are flowing – I switch back to the keyboard, where my hands have a better chance of keeping up with my words.
Do you ever write by hand?
Deborah Lee Luskin has been writing on a Mac since 1984.