Writing and the art of long hand

IMG-20160215-00147In the media recently there has been chatter about the death of hand writing and how it has become an obsolete lesson to teach the next generation. I find this disturbing – even though my writing is such that no one but myself can read it.

With our obsession with technology getting out of control, it is not unusual for children to be sat in front of a screen before they turn two. I find it sad that so many children have screens at all, instead of books – but that’s just me.

Recently, though, the argument for knowing how to write long hand came home to roost. Due to decreased fine mobility in my right arm, I had pretty much given up writing things by hand. One of the unintended consequences of a long time bedridden and doing nothing, was the wastage of so much muscle. Sadly, in order to make my writing the least bit legible, I had to hold my arm almost rigid, locking it up and creating a lot of work for my myotherapist!

So years later, when I was complaining on Facebook (as you do) about how another condition I experience was messing with my eyes, it was surprising when a fellow writer and person with health concerns mentioned she writes her novels long hand. Eventually, yes, they have to be typed up, but instead of constantly backtracking or thinking up plot points while staring at a computer screen, she can just type it quickly across, the edits have already been done.

So I picked up a pen. Apart from signing letters I’d typed or writing a line or two in a card for someone’s birthday, I hadn’t done any real handwriting for, well…years. Each time I’d picked up a pen since around 2011, everything would ache, my elbow would tighten up and before I knew it, the writing became indecipherable – even for me.

It came as a wonderful surprise to find I could write! All right, it isn’t for everyone to read – sometimes barely for me to read really – but I can do it! Suddenly I am writing a journal every evening, a task given up when the scribble slid right off the page.

I haven’t, yet, started to write my novels in this long hand format. They tend to be anywhere between 60,000-200,000 words long before they are edited and I don’t know if my newly competent hand could handle all that. A page or two of a journal is one thing – it is starting to bring on the odd twinge and the myotherapist is having to put me back together again (I often have sympathy for Humpty-Dumpty).

The real motivator behind this search for a comfortable pen grip is that my eyes are not what they used to be. When my eyes are hot, achy and refuse to focus on a screen, I can turn to my notepad and continue to do what I love best: pour words over a page until they accumulate into whole pages and slowly become a passage of what was in my mind.

I wrote this blog post in a notepad first. There is a directness to long hand – I’d like to say an effortless flow, but that is some way above my handwriting skills as yet. It may not be effortless but it is joyful. To feel the loops and swirls of my pen again.

If a blog post on writing long hand can be written this way, I figure that it may not be too bad to write a novel. And wouldn’t it be sad if the next generation or two missed the chance to be able to do that? To swap out the screen for the page. To take it into nature and scrawl their words across a fresh crisp page. I think it is far too early to call the death knell on handwriting.

Though perhaps, for now, journaling and blogging may be first in hand writing, the novels will continue on the laptop – sometimes with my eyes tracking what I’ve written, sometimes with them closed and allowing my fingers to fly by memory. Something I can’t do with handwriting – because I find I never stay within the lines if I close my eyes. So for now – it’s a case of a little bit of this and a little bit of that, which will build the next novel and I am very grateful that any of it is possible.

 

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