Inky Breadcrumbs and the Forgotten Magic of Writing by Hand

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

Hey, writer! When was the last time you took a good look at your own hands? I mean, a really, really good long look?

Sure, they’re fluttering in and out of the periphery of vision over the course of any average day, assisting in the picking up and setting down of life’s dull and delightful objects. But, most often, their task feels secondary – to hold up for inspection the things you’ve deemed far more fascinating: smartphones, babies, books, burritos.

There’s little incentive to notice them. And this strikes me as odd. So do it now. Have a good, long gander. What do you see? Look carefully: your hands are miraculous, surprising, ordinary, and, for my money, entirely underappreciated.

You’re in good retroactive company. I’m first writing this by hand, in fact, down here in Mexico, though by the time it reaches its final destination (your eyeballs), it will most certainly have been converted into little perfect lines set neatly upon a screen somewhere or other. I am fine with that, but I’d like us to travel backwards together for a moment, so we might better appreciate the strange and wonderful deconversion that is right now taking place.

Let’s jump backwards a couple weeks, to a kayaking trip I took in the Sea of Cortez. To the moment when I rediscovered my hands.

Picture me there, wedged into my sleek, water-going canoe, still land bound, beached atop a thin spit of glittering sand in southern Baja, dodging hornets and practicing my stroke.

My tour guide, Sergio, came by and gently adjusted my wonky grip on the double-ended paddle. As he did, he pointed to the constellation of tiny white and pink scars along the topside of my right hand and joked, “You must be a boxer.”

It’s true that I’ve been hard on my hands: a lifetime of immodest tree climbing, reckless vegetable chopping, and bare-bones travel in bug-infested climes has marked them up and good.

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

I’m no prizefighter, but because I earn my (modest) living as a writer, my hands are, in a sense, also my fortune, my indispensable weapons, shepherding my thoughts from head to screen or paper day in and day out, to varying degrees of success and financial recompense.

Funny, then, how rarely I think about them. I never even really noticed all the scars I’d accumulated until Sergio pointed them out to me that balmy day in Mexico. How could someone who writes for a living spend so little time thinking about or even looking at her hands?

I suspected immediately that technology was to blame. Because I like blaming things on technology, but also because of the inclinations inherent to my own writerly process. I love to journal and sketch, but I do my serious writing almost exclusively on the computer. And I’m just old enough to recognize the novelty of this fact: I was born in 1981, to a father who worked at a supercomputer company and dug new gadgets, and I can still recall the day he brought home our very first Apple Macintosh computer. It was 1984. Reagan was about to be reelected president. I was three years old. I stood in our foyer, rapt, watching Dad struggle to haul the large white box with the stylized apple on the side of it in through the garage door, his face alight. My sisters and I crawled all over that magical white box like overgrown ants, feelers up, sensing that something special was about to happen to us. And it did.

I’ve done my best thinking with the help of a keyboard screen pretty much ever since. It feels like a superpower, hooking my brain up to a keyboard and letting the mushy contents pour incongruously forth. The fact that my penmanship is completely atrocious is rendered, suddenly, irrelevant. My hands can track time with the speed of thought. I am superhuman!

In some sense, Microsoft Word is probably deeply responsible for the contours of my creative process when it comes to writing. It has calibrated my brain to think in cuttable and pasteable chunks, and to create in a dump, arrange, dump, arrange methodology.

It works well. I prefer to think in chunks, because this approach seems to mimic the organic processes of idea generation, which also happens in non-linear bits and blurbs. As I rearrange, I make new connections and clarify my conceptions. It feels so easy. So right.

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

One strange consequence of my exclusive allegiance to the medium, though, is that when I’m writing, I rarely, rarely look at my hands. I look, instead at a screen, on which my words appear as if by magic. Oh, the hands keep on at their important work outside that visual frame. But they are often tapping away in obscurity, for all intents and purposes, invisible. I was trained this way. I can still recall the typing lessons I took in fourth grade, when Mrs. Hobizal placed pieces of white computer paper over our hands, thereby forcing us to hammer out strings of practice text without looking down:

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

We went at it, again and again, for weeks and weeks, until we were a veritable menagerie of pint-sized transcribers, our small hands pounding furiously away at the sticky beige keys. And it worked. By college, I could type 80 words a minute.

But, surely, something organic and analogous became lost along the way, didn’t it?

Let’s reverse course, again, forward from the fourth grade computer lab and back to the recent past, to Mexico, and to what happened just a few days after the kayaking trip, at the start of the portion of my trip that I’d intended to use as a writing retreat. Tragedy! The cord for my MacBook began to fray, right at the joint that connected it to the surge protector, over the course of two equatorial days. I tried to press the wires back together, to jiggle and rig the thing into submission, but all I got in response was a few nefarious sparks, a weird burny smell, and a mild zap to the thumb. The thing was dead. And, as a result, my MacBook was out of commission. My plans were dashed.

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

I’d time-traveled, backwards, unwillingly. Pen and paper were my only available recourse. But I never work with pen and paper! It hardly seemed even worth trying. It just wasn’t even the way I thought anymore.

I pouted furiously for a day or so, then I grew interminably bored and reluctantly took up my travel journal. And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I wrote till my phalanges were sore, and then I wrote some more. Little mini-essays, lists of ideas and future goals, meditations on regrets, all summoned forth in my sloppy, singular chicken scrawl, dozens of pages replete with arrows and strikethroughs and little barely legible addendums crowding the margins out of existence. It was painful, but also sort of enlightening.

Even after I gave in a few days later and trekked to the next town over to purchase a brand new, exorbitantly priced MacBook cord, I kept on taking up the notebook. And I kept on thinking about these hands of mine.

I concede, now, the sloppy, organic (that word AGAIN!) elegance of working by hand. To watch as ones fingers grip a pen and litter words across the blank page is its own kind of magic. As with a computer, I am focused largely on the words, but I’m looking at the magical hand, too, with its 27 fragile bones, its meaty, quivering tendons, its constellations of scars and freckles and moles.

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

I take up a pen, and I am, suddenly, intimately connected to the process of creation; I require no intermediary or intercessor, no translator. This feels a lot like what the Zen Buddhists call Direct Transmission – unfettered experience of truth – and I am doing it all by myself.

No doubt, writing by hand is a messy, sloppy affair. There is no “delete” key. Only strikes through and exings out. When I create work by hand, I toss out behind me a trail of inky breadcrumbs that I can follow backwards, later, to the sources of my inspiration. I can backpedal. I can examine my process and trace my patterns of thought as they spread and blossom outward like cracks upon the sugar-spun winter ice.

I can give abandoned metaphors their due elegy by permitting them to live, forever, at the scattershot outer reaches of each page on first, second, third drafts. I can scribble and scratch and forgive myself the false starts and niggling imperfections without needing to erase them from existence forever.

Writing by hand asks us to acknowledge and examine process in some rather profound ways. We cannot hide from the imperfection of our iteration, our half-formed ideas, our vague and later-junked conceptions.

A printed page is a pretty thing to behold, no doubt. Crisp, clean, with no mumbly half-thoughts congregating in the corners, no run-on sentences clobbering up the atmosphere, no spontaneous reworkings sprawling themselves immodestly across the mid-sections of our gathered thoughts. No rouge modifiers, ever late to the party and flanking themselves willy-nilly across the words and lines.

For any writer, the computer is a magical instrument. It keeps our hands free of callouses and ink stains, pliant and unsullied as a baby’s rear end. It eases the path, it keeps the shoulders and neck from cramping themselves into an upside down question mark. It abides ceaseless reworking. It lets us organize our work in non-linear and unconventional ways if we please.

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

But it also erases the vital understory of How We Got Here. And that, too, is a tale worthy of the telling, don’t you think?

So I challenge you, dear writer, to challenge yourself – and to think more deeply about your own writing process – by changing up your own preferred medium once in awhile.

You’ll hate it. And for that reason, you’ll love it.

Now it’s your turn. What are your default mediums? And what happens to your writing when you’re forced to switch camps?

Did you like this post? You can get more of my thoughts on the craft of writing by signing up for The Tongue Detangled, my monthly writer’s newsletter! 

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161 thoughts on “Inky Breadcrumbs and the Forgotten Magic of Writing by Hand

  1. erinjbernard says:

    Nice. I am partial to blue and classic black, although I’ve been fantasizing about purchasing one of those rainbow packs. A writer can never have too many pens!

  2. J. B. Anthony says:

    I guess what I’d call the “regular size” which i think us technically fine tip. I also tend to pick different colors depending on my mood and what I’m writing.

  3. J. B. Anthony says:

    Wow what an amazing exploration! Interesting for me especially because I don’t write well on the computer, I always start with a handwritten draft. I find the medium I use varies by what I’m writing, but if I’m honest with myself I’ve done my best work on computer paper with a Sharpie. Usually I use typing in my handwritten drafts as part of my revision process.

  4. erinjbernard says:

    Love it! There is something really classic about a plain ol’ yellow legal pad. I use them to take notes when I’ve got my journalist hat on.

  5. C. W. Hime says:

    I’ve been writing with a pencil and yellow legal pad since I was 14 yrs old. Now at 54, it feels as natural as reading a book..with pages ;). Great read!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I started writing around seven years old or so. When I was fourteen, I read an article in Nat’l Geographic about Hemingway. It was accompanied with a grainy photo of Mr. Hemingway in his home in Cuba. There he stood in the center of a large open air room, the ocean in the background. He was barefoot. The room was strewn with stacks of papers and note pads. He was not dressed for a photo-op, instead film caught this master in a very natural moment. Wrapped in a robe or housecoat of loose fit, with everything of the times available to him, there he stood with a pad of paper and a pencil.
    The article pointed out that Mr. Hemingway felt he did his best work writing in this fashion. In my very egocentric fourteen year old mind, I thought, “hey, he writes like me!”
    I have written in this manner ever since. Recently, I picked that pencil up again. Now at fifty-four, I have found my voice again. Your article took me back to that afternoon when a boy was forever changed by the picture of a man.
    Thank you! This was a great read.

  7. Anonymous says:

    In this time of speed and efficiency there is a greater need for a pen, paper and reading material that calls for turning a page. I’ve been writing since I was seven or so. When I was fourteen, I read an article about Hemingway. It had a photo of him at home in Cuba, barefoot, surrounded by stacks of paper. He had a pad of paper and a pencil in his hands as he stood captured by film in that moment. The article explained he felt he did his best writing in this manner. My very fourteen egocentric mind thought, “hey, he writes like me!”
    I have used a pencil and yellow legal pad every since. Nice read.

  8. erinjbernard says:

    My penmanship is rather terrible, but lately I’ve been hoarding samples of particularly lovely handwriting with the hopes that I can reform my ways. It’s never too late, right? 🙂

  9. rainforestexotics says:

    Thank you for posting such a lovely blog. I was so excited, I was actually giggling when I was reading your blog. Finally, I found someone who appreciates writing by hand. Until now, I still send letters to most of my friends and they are totally hating snail-mail. Like you, I do like to see my own penmanship and do practice as often as I can. It surely is a joy to be able to write with my own hands-

    Katz-

  10. jacequina says:

    There is what people call a, friction pen. It is a special kind of pen with an eraser attached to it. If you’re writing using a friction pen, it’s the same like writing using a pencil. Though friction pens are pretty expensive compared to ordinary pens.

  11. aliasalice96 says:

    I wrote an article in response to this, but actually related it to something I never understood in the dance world or a choreographer I didn’t understand as this was actually really instrumental in my understanding… Seriously like lightbulb moment!! I should be posting it within the next few days… But thank you for the inspiration!!

  12. Soonha Abro says:

    Hello,

    Loved your blog. I have been alternating between writing in longhand and writing on the computer depending on the intensity of my creative flow. Your blog makes me want to write more with a pen on paper. Thanks! 🙂

    Good luck with your writing!

  13. Sophia says:

    My personal journal has to be written by hand, because I am not allowed to edit it. Other stuff depends… I suppose since I type faster than I write it’s easier to free write stories on a computer. That said handwritten notes, cards, fountain pens are all important for the feel of crafting your words…

  14. missshreyapatel says:

    I still have a piece of rough skin on my forth finger where my pen used to rest from writing in school! And that finger bends and curves slightly to the right… My wonky finger reminds me of how hard it was in school…. The bills that come through the post remind me of how hard life is now *sobs*

  15. erinjbernard says:

    I’d love to dig into that research! I do recall from my time working with kids that children learn better when learning is paired with regular physical moment … When you ask a patient write something down, are you testing to see if the frontal cortex is functioning correctly? Fascinating!

  16. Soul Deep Darla says:

    I adore this! It’s so true, In fact it has been proven that putting pen to paper activates the frontal cortex of the brain, the creative thinking area, it gets us out of our limbic portion of the brain. This can not be achieved via electronic device or from other form. I am a Crisis Responder and one of the first things we are taught is tell them to write something down. I am a writer, and I still put pen to paper, I notice the difference! Great work!

  17. erinjbernard says:

    When did you finish your degree? I’m curious if it was recently … I know some teachers are rebelling against the compulsive laptop-carrying bent among current students, and I think it’s a noble fight!

  18. brendonthesmilingchef says:

    I too usually write in a macbook but throughout my degree, was encouraged to use a notebook and pen etc. as a means of developing ideas and for giving yourself a break from the computer. I usually use my computer for non-fiction/ journalism pieces wheres I will jot down notes/ prose for fiction or memoir-style pieces

  19. Mura says:

    Oh, do try a fountain pen. Pilot makes a surprisingly nice “disposable” one for a starter pen (though enthusiasts say it’s possible to refill them; I haven’t figured it out yet, myself). The way you hold and move them is subtly different from a ballpoint, but I find it’s easier on my writing hand. And they seem to heighten awareness of the writing process in general. You’re more aware of performing the act of writing, of the writing tool, your posture, etc. I’m even more aware of my computer when I transpose my (literal) manuscript.

  20. AverageHumanBeings says:

    The only thing I really thought about that struck me as odd was how we call a lot of these blogs “writing.” I see it so many times and a thought in the back of my head always goes “No you’re not.” Sure, some people may write their blogs first, but for the most part it’s typing…. guess writing sounds cooler or something.

  21. Mura says:

    Wonderful post. I love the topic and your style – “inky breadcrumbs” – such lovely language.

    I rough draft with fountain pens. Using one forges a sense of oneness with one’s hands, and the little rituals of filling, cleaning and maintaining the pens helps calm and focus my mind for writing. For years, I didn’t write by hand due to a tendon injury, but since taking up the old fountain pen again, I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

  22. beinglori says:

    “…I toss out behind me a trail of inky breadcrumbs that I can follow backwards…,” brilliant, beautiful writing. Thanks so much for your post. I will follow. I’m ridiculously new to blogging. Cozily writing by hand daily for years (outside of my day job), I struggled with giving up the pen for electronic ease. I’d like to reblog this if I have your permission… and I can figure out how 😉

  23. aliasalice96 says:

    I ALWAYS do this… Write something, think it’s all kinds of terrible, find it weeks later with fresh eyes and realise it wasn’t totally appalling! Strange how it works!

  24. erinjbernard says:

    Yes, it’s so strange how something you are writing can seem completely crappy and then you come back to it later and think, “Hm, not too bad, actually.” When I was a journalist and had to produce large amount of copy in short amounts of time, I gave myself permission to make the first drafts as crap as possible (per Anne Lamott’s suggestion) and then figured I’d fix them later. The point was to get a draft – any draft. More often than not, there wasn’t half as much to fix as I’d initially assumed. Finish, finish, finish!

  25. erinjbernard says:

    Yes, it’s so strange how something you are writing can seem completely crappy and then you come back to it later and think, “Hm, not too bad, actually.” When I was a journalist and had to produce large amount of copy in short amounts of time, I gave myself permission to make the first drafts as crap as possible (per Anne Lamott’s suggestion) and then figured I’d fix them later. The point was to get a draft – any draft. More often than not, there wasn’t half as much to fix as I’d initially assumed. Finish, finish, finish!

  26. aliasalice96 says:

    I love the thought of written word, at uni, most of my writing is thrown together with three hours to spare with the aid of a MacBook. But when writing for pleasure I have to start by furiously scribbling on paper, because unlike on the screen, my mistakes are still visible. They still exist, they haven’t been deleted to the world, just a small line through them.
    This comes in handy, when actually they weren’t terrible or cliche, they were just in the wrong place.
    I too had never considered my work in terms of my hand, I love the idea of literature and writing becoming a manual task, something physical. It becomes not just a work of art but something that marks your body too, I had never realised but my finger is shaped around how I hold my pen.
    My pen and my writing has shaped me just as much as I’ve shaped my writing.

  27. aliasalice96 says:

    Reblogged this on A Day in the Life and commented:
    I love the thought of written word, at uni, most of my writing is thrown together with three hours to spare with the aid of a MacBook. But when writing for pleasure I have to start by furiously scribbling on paper, because unlike on the screen, my mistakes are still visible. They still exist, they haven’t been deleted to the world, just a small line through them.
    This comes in handy, when actually they weren’t terrible or cliche, they were just in the wrong place.
    I too had never considered my work in terms of my hand, I love the idea of literature and writing becoming a manual task, something physical. It becomes not just a work of art but something that marks your body too, I had never realised but my finger is shaped around how I hold my pen.
    My pen and my writing has shaped me just as much as I’ve shaped my writing.

  28. erinjbernard says:

    Yes, my journals have definitely served a ministerial role for me over the decades. I started my first diary when I was six and it’s full of fraught emotions that now seem sort of hilarious. But man, were they real at the time. And, yes, there’s nothing romantic about the thought of spending a rainy afternoon rifling through the hard drive. Give me a box of old notebooks any day!

  29. fredthethread says:

    What a great post, it is so easy to overlook our hard working hands.

    I find writing therapeutic, I keep journals, (not diaries because I don’t write every day and the blank spaces drove me crazy) The great thing about journals is I can flick through them now and then, journey back in time to what was running through my head, all the crazy fears that seemed real now just that because I know it turned out ok.

    I have never done that on a computer, rifle through the hard drive to discover what I wrote a year ago, it all seems somehow lost in time unless I have a reason to scratch around for it.

  30. erinjbernard says:

    Yes, it’s true that the process of transferring writing from paper to screen allows us some valuable editing time. It’s a great opportunity to read aloud and see what’s not singing to us anymore.

  31. Gordon (RoughTradeEditor) says:

    I like. I like. As for myself, I always rough-draft by hand which feels more organic and keeps me focused on the task at hand for there is no internet connection to be had from a journal or scrap of paper. I also find that the inevitable typing up of the hand written work is an amazing time to edit and re-think some of the more difficult passages. Just re-reading the work doesn’t seem to work as well for some reason. I think the slower approach of writing by hand actually creates a more consistent tone which is important to me when I’m working on fiction.

  32. darby says:

    I always take my pen to paper for creative work first. Writing just feels more real with nothing but blank space ahead instead of that cruel, winking cursor. I also find that my natural rhythm comes through when I don’t have the ability to stop and delete. I’m left-handed so the physical writing process is always interesting and I know I’ve had a great day when I’m covered in ink from the tip of my pinky to the heel of my palm!

  33. erinjbernard says:

    An old-schooler! I love it! Sounds like you are comfortable moving between worlds when you write … that is probably the ideal, because then you can choose the medium that feels right in the moment instead of feeling trapped by a single set of tools and processes.

  34. ocjarman1 says:

    Ohhh,Erin! I reblogged this post on mine! I gotta tell ya, I’m the direct opposite of you when it comes the process of writing–I began my story with hand-written notes/scenes. Then, I had been given, first an Android tablet by a friend, and later, by a different friend, a PC laptop [and a printer!!]. Nowadays I fluctuate between the laptop & my barely readable handwriting. One place I’m still not comfy in utilizing my ‘puters all the much is my journaling–that strictly hand written!

  35. erinjbernard says:

    I’m definitely a collector of beautiful notebooks, too. The past two years, I’ve forced myself to slow my journal-purchasing until I’ve managed to use at least a fraction of the ones I’ve already bought. It’s been a fun challenge, actually.

  36. latraduttoretraditore says:

    Loved it. I always, always carry a notebook with me. I’ve taken to buying beautiful ones – although sometimes I don’t write in them, because my thoughts aren’t beautiful enough. There is just something about physically writing that makes the words seem more alive on a page – because only you could have written them.
    You write beautifully!

  37. erinjbernard says:

    Yes, all those free-floating bits and blips are beautiful in their own right! I have a thing for trying to find them homes, but it’s hard to do that when they are by nature so scattered. At the very least, we should honor them by saving them in a box or notebook or something …

  38. Sharon says:

    This is a very thought provoking and inspirational piece of writing. I believe that writing down your thoughts, odd lines that may or may not be used in a longer piece of work, makes these notes an extension to you, the writer. The ‘inky breadcrumbs’ is a lovely analogy.

  39. Sarah Harris says:

    I have always walked the line between my phone and paper with schedules and any sorts of notes. Your message gave me an idea that I should have a notebook that in addition to my hand-written notes, it’ll provide a safe haven for my post its – and I may tape them in so my grand ideas don’t flutter away.
    Thanks for the response! I look forward to wandering around your site more today!

  40. erinjbernard says:

    That’s an interesting blog topic idea … How do we keep our spaces well arranged? Most writers probably have a similar stack of notebooks and free-floating papers. I’ve heard of apps that scan your Post-its and other tiny notes and arrange them for you on your phone in digital form, but that doesn’t appeal to me for some reason … There has to be another, more concrete way. 🙂

  41. Sarah Harris says:

    I prefer handwriting to computer and feel more creative for writing or rewriting. But I need good ideas for how to organize my handwritten notes because I wind up with papers everywhere and tons of notebooks and can’t find things quickly or at all.

  42. erinjbernard says:

    The intrusion of the smartphone into just about everything we do is yet another angle I hadn’t thought about. I have noticed that some younger people can’t distinguish between text-speak and actual, formal writing … I went through a phase of gifting journals and pens to every younger person I knew for birthdays and Christmases … Until their parents politely told me they didn’t want them! I still dream of creating some sort of non-profit that does nothing more than provide pens and journals to kids all over the world. Now, how to get them to fill those pages in?

  43. Chaos in Light says:

    Reblogged this on Chaos In Light and commented:
    I often switch between the keys and the pen. I wish I could do more by pen for my thoughts seem to flow better in ink than in type font. I also look at my children and watch them struggle with their own handwriting because it simply isn’t taught anymore. It saddens me to think that the next generation will lose that ability to put thoughts to actual paper; that their first instinct is to grab their phone, snap a picture and post it to Tumblr with a few thumb-pecked, incorrectly spelled words as a description.
    Don’t forget your pens, people! They are there for you when your technology fails and will be there, waiting patiently, when you need that outlet for creativity.

  44. erinjbernard says:

    There is really something to being able to cross out and then backtrack, hence the breadcrumbs metaphor. It’s funny to think of a journal as “quaint,” or a throwback to another era. It’s how we’ve done it since forever, save the past decade or so! How quickly we forget. 🙂

  45. erinjbernard says:

    I came of age on the verge of the change, and so never had the pleasure of conducting research and writing college-level papers without a computer and the Internet. I wrote a lot of my grad thesis in a real, live library, but that was sort of only symbolic and for the peace and quiet. I could have done 90% of it from the comfort of my dumpy grad student apartment if I’d cared to! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  46. roseefisher says:

    I’ll switch back and forth between my computer and my notebooks depending on what I’m writing. I’ve been discovering that writing story outlines by hand is invaluable in letting the base ideas flow–I can always rearrange and edit things later after the fact.

    Also, because I cross out sections of my hand-written outline as I type, it lets me track where I was when I left off, where I intended to take things and gives me a sense of progress instead of feeling like I’m flailing around wildly in some murky swamp of words and ideas.

    There have been times though that I’ve been writing in my journal at a coffee shop or somewhere when another person will stop near my table, watch me for a moment and then exclaim, “I didn’t know anyone DID that any longer! I thought everyone typed now!”.

  47. rushmee says:

    Brilliant post! I have wondered if the children of tomorrow will ever know the art of creating a hand-written manuscript. It has almost come to be that the only people who “write” are kids in kindergarten, learning the forms of alphabets. For the rest of the educated world, writing happens with a keyboard. Was it really only a couple of decades ago that the vast majority of the world’s population completed their entire educational careers using actual ink on paper?

  48. erinjbernard says:

    Ah, yes, the writer’s lump on the middle finger! I haven’t had a respectable callus on my writing hand since I quit journalism … I’m impressed by those who write by hand enough to nurture one. It’s sort of a bade of honor.

  49. jameshobeck says:

    Reblogged this on In the Shadow of the Smokestack and commented:
    I wrote the first draft of my first novel ‘Smokestack’ entirely by hand. I don’t regret it for a second. I miss that I don’t have time to get the pen and notebook out to write that way anymore. I’m too focused on getting the words down to think about the method. And I am so much faster typing than writing. If I had not been pushed by time to write on the computer, I would probably still be writing with a favorite fountain pen I have had since high school on cheap notebooks or Moleskene ones( when I could afford them), if there weren’t so many stories in my head that need out. The speed is the the thing since the time is of the essence. This post sums it up nicely. JRH

  50. mvblake says:

    I’m a little disorganised. Most of my work is on the laptop, but I’ve got a plethora of notebooks of different sizes shapes and colours. I use these when I’m on a train, or sitting in a cafe. My handwriting starts smooth and ends up jagged and messy. I love my notebooks, they’re covered in doodles, brainstorms, maps, quotes, passages, paragraph drafts, ideas. They’re a receptacle of thoughts waiting for their turn on the rollercoaster. Love the article. Lots to think about.

  51. curatoronline says:

    I recently began studying again and have been taking a lot of handwritten notes. I realised how unaccustomed I have become to writing by hand… that writers lump on my middle finger from gripping a pen had nearly gone away and my hand got sore after an hour or so. I did however, find that I can think much more clearly while holding a pen or pencil, than I do when I’m facing a keyboard and computer screen. I am going to make an effort to handwrite more often from now on!

  52. erinjbernard says:

    There is lots more to say on the topic, to be sure … It would be fascinating to see the handwriting of various best-selling authors. Who is neat and tidy and who just lurches and weaves across the pages?

  53. SaffronGrey says:

    First off… “final destination (your eyeballs)”… I smell a sequel!!!

    You got me looking at my hands and I am amazed. I mostly pay attention to my fingers, fingertips and the length of my nails when I type my writing; the nails, because if they’re too long, they get stuck between the keys (#ouch).

    But you’re write about taking the time to right by hand (see what I just did there? Hee hee). Your writing looks WAY more legible than mine, which is a mutant cross-breading of cursive with randomly slanted letters. I don’t have my own personal “font” yet, so I prefer typing for now.

    This was a very enlightening read. I liked it! 😀

  54. erinjbernard says:

    It’s interesting to me how often, too, people misinterpret tone in emails and things written on the computer. Handwriting does seem more true-to-life in a way … Or perhaps we are forced to slow down and be a bit more precise.

  55. erinjbernard says:

    Well, I’m glad somebody finds the concept of “reckless vegetable chopping” amusing … my husband can hardly stand to watch me use a knife … My whole approach is rather hari kari. 🙂

  56. Nicole DiGiose says:

    There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned pen.
    Also, maybe it’s just me but those images of your handwriting on paper is looking quite historic. It’s not something you see often anymore! I love doodling and writing pages with some ink — I still do it too, and in my opinion, it allows me to think deeper.

    And I thought I should let you know that “reckless vegetable chopping” made me laugh. 😀

  57. katriter says:

    I love the feel of the ink gliding across the page. The connection is like no other. But I am from the older generation and use my computer more for the editing phase. I enjoyed this piece. Made me think and smile.

  58. Vijit Malviya says:

    A person who loves to write, for him plays a key role in his life. I do accept with you that in this modern tech world where the art of handwriting is some of bit shattered. In the olden times when there was no computer, people would write letter with their hands. The difference between email and handwritten letters is that, in the handwritten letters we find more love, more affection and more truthfulness. Even myself, whenever I write an article, I first write it down in a book, because it makes me, and everyone who writes fell better. Thank you for this lovely post. I liked it very much.

  59. iwonderfortime says:

    I liked reading this article. I have discovered a fascination for hands about a year ago. I like to compare mine to others. I think that hands show a lot of where we have been and what we have done. I am also curious in what hands can tell us about our future. Our hands do so much for us everyday of our lives. I like to appreciate them.

  60. erinjbernard says:

    Yes, it is truly a gift to be able to toggle back and forth between the two! I would never trade in my computer for a pen and paper permanently, though my hat’s off to anyone who attempts such a feat … I just want to work toward feeling less “lost at sea” when the computer isn’t available for me. I think we need to pay attention when that “flabbergasted” feeling arises … usually, it means we are challenging our own status quo. Uncomfortable, yes, but it can be incredibly revealing. Good luck!

  61. aarohi27 says:

    This was awesome to read! Thanks for putting into words some of the thoughts I had at a recent creative writing class I took. I was completely flabbergasted when I was told we’d be relying on pens and notebooks…I had assumed we would be on computers, or allowed to bring laptops in. Writing with a pen, as others have pointed out, seemed far too slow to keep up with my thoughts. However…it turned out to be really fun. Not being able to immediately ‘delete’ some sentences made me keep them in, and then I realised they were sometimes the best ones! Though for serious work, the computer still wins…purely due to convenience and speed!

  62. erinjbernard says:

    I love the concept of a “living story.” There might be something really profound in there!! Head, hands, heart – When these three work in concert, a kind of magic definitely unfolds. 🙂

  63. confesssionsofananordinaryman says:

    I understood the whole ‘out of sight, out of mind’ deal you had with your hands. I’m just wondering why it took you so long to interpret their value. I like to leave that our eyes, ears, hearts and hands are out actual mediums. Keys, pens, brushes and emotions we use are only some the tools we take up to during our process of expression and explanation. Thank you for posting this. 🙂 I may begin to write something also the lines of yours.

  64. Auntie Chelle says:

    This is exactly what I needed right now. I posted my first ever blog post today and your thought process seems similar to mine. I look forward to reading more from you. Thank you for writing something I can relate to.

  65. Bobbi Benson says:

    What a wonderful post! I stopped writing for a very long time and when I drifted back into this expression, I picked up a notebook and starting writing a story. I loved the process of scribbles, drawings, arrows – it felt like my story was alive. But more important, my hands and heart were, for a moment, connected. I was present to the magic. I don’t get that when I’m on the computer.

  66. shinaj1 says:

    Thank you, my novel is called Like a Dream. It’s a YA mystery. Yeah, when I started writing I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I wanted to write the story. I’m intrigued by the different styles of writing. 🙂

  67. rzucidbm says:

    Love the article. I always handwrite everything first. Whenever I try to just type my brain gets distracted and runs off. When it’s just paper and pen I am actually able to focus so much easier
    I love the point about being able to see what was scratched out and see where the writing came from. As I type I usually do some editing as well and I really like having the ability to go back through every draft to see where something started and where it ended up… Mistakes and all.
    Fun and great read! Thanks!

  68. LifeLoofah says:

    I love the feeling of my hand suddenly cramping because I’ve been so absorbed in my writing! It feels like I’ve accomplished something great if I’ve gotten lost in it so. I also love stationary, so writing by hand means I get to use fun pens and beautiful paper! Ah, the little things.

  69. erinjbernard says:

    I dig the voice memo idea … I’ll admit it: I occasionally write down ideas while driving … And always feel terribly guilty about doing so. Will try voice next time around, because nothing makes me crazier than forgetting a cool idea and spending weeks trying to relocate it inside my brain.

  70. erinjbernard says:

    Cool, and congratulations!!! what’s your novel called?! I’m always interested to meet outliners, because I am a seat-of-the-pants writer myself and I’m fascinated by those who are able to create a story skeleton ahead of time … might be a cool blog post, actually. I know what you mean about handwriting feeling too slow … I used to be a journalist and although I became incredibly fast at taking notes, the speed of my handwriting never could catch up with the speed of thoughts.

  71. samanthamacmaster says:

    I have petits cahiers EVERYwhere. One could say that I am addicted to having pen and paper with me everywhere. Altho, I have a voice memo on my phone, and I used that the other day while driving to keep an idea from drifting away. Still rather write it down, just too hard while driving: I have tried!

  72. shinaj1 says:

    I’m a new writer with my first novel coming out later this year and it is refreshing to go back to handwriting every once in a while. What I usually do is write an outline on paper and then head straight to the computer. I found myself getting impatient with handwriting because I wasn’t writing as fast as my thoughts were coming and it was so much easier to type it out, however, I have found that my work turns out much better if I write it down first. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂

  73. erinjbernard says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I had a teacher in France who was obsessed with her “petits cahiers” – little notebooks – and she swore by carrying them everywhere she went. Whenever she had a few minutes to kill standing in line or waiting on hold, she’d pull one out and jot down ideas and inspirations. I’ve amassed about 40 of my own petits cahiers since I met her back in 2002, and they are at once trivial and profound … I, too, am a bit of a luddite. I never hop on tech bandwagons till very late in the game, although this probably has more to do with me living on a writer’s salary than it does me being uninterested!

  74. samanthamacmaster says:

    I have notes everywhere, I can’t always remember my ideas unless I note them down as soon as possible. I guess I am an odd combination of luddite and tech addict. I won’t get new tech until I think I need it. And I hang on to it long after new versions have come out. I write my ideas anywhere, everywhere, but then always come back to my trusty laptop to put them together. Thanks for making me think about the process!

  75. johnberk says:

    That’s true and I believe that I was encouraged by a lot of people who told me that my handwriting was beautiful. Sometimes I imagine myself living in the Middle Ages, and working as a scribe. But you are absolutely right that people are becoming lazier in terms of handwriting.

  76. erinjbernard says:

    Thank you! Some writers still prefer to jot down their ideas in a diary and notebook without question. I met a long-form novel author a few years ago who writes all of her first drafts on yellow notepads. I found that impressive … and a bit daunting. Maybe I shall try it sometime …

  77. erinjbernard says:

    Well, you are lucky to have good penmanship. That ship had sailed by the time I reached elementary school, and I’m sort of aghast at how awful me and my siblings’ handwriting is compared with, say, our grandparents’ handwriting. That has changed, too, and perhaps it makes some people less inclined to want to write by hand because it feels so organic and sloppy. I collect old letters and postcards, too. Perhaps that is a blog for another day.

  78. Chaitanya Haram says:

    Completely agree with you, well to be honest I never use the computer to write an article, I first write it in my diary and then type it down afterwards on the computer, it is boring task to copy the articles from the diary to the computer but as your article says it is worth the trouble taken. Awesome article!! 🙂

  79. johnberk says:

    I use my notebook to put down all the ideas by hand, then I go to my computer and start typing. So I use both processes to get to the final destination. But I love my handwriting way more than all the fonts on the computer. It feels more personal that way. And I love shopping for old postcards and letters, because it was way more stylish, and people actually cared about the way they write. Nowadays, it is just emails, whatsups, and it is boring.

  80. erinjbernard says:

    Yes, and I think sometimes, too, about how it feels to find an old notebook or diary hidden in a trunk or desk drawer years after the fact. It’s ike a piece of living history. I doubt our great-grandchildren are going to be oohing and awing over a warped pile of CD-ROMs or an obsolete thumb drive. I guess we all entertain fantasies of living forever in some form, but the digital age subverts that possibility in some ways, even as it forces us to become immortal by way of Facebook. 🙂

  81. fatima z husain says:

    Reblogged this on Untold and commented:
    Recently, these have been my thoughts exactly. When you don’t always have access to a computer or tablet, a notebook and pen are so much more helpful to jot down in.

  82. erinjbernard says:

    Thanks! “Modest” is definitely the right word to describe how we usually think of them … I see you are a photographer … How about a Hands of the World exhibit? I’ve always wanted to do something like that!

  83. katmphotography says:

    this is one beautiful piece of writing… i really enjoyed reading it. it IS true, our hands, our modest hands, have unfathomable value – not just for writing/typing but everything we do…

    thanks for sharing. x

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