I’ve recently returned to writing by hand. With a pencil (my current favourite is a Staedtler norica HB 2 which is a very pleasing blue and has one of those excellent Staedtler Mars plastic erasers on the end). On yellow legal pads. I haven’t gone retro for all kinds of writing. For speeches, book reviews, essays, emails, blogs and all kinds of writing that hang on a logical throughline I write on screen with its lovely, tidy-all-the-time sleekness, its no-nonsense cold blue light, its snappy little icons all waiting in the dock, eager to help me format and forward and paste and clear and insert and autosummarize. (Actually I’ve never autosummarized, whatever that is, but it is comforting to know that it is there for me in my time of need.) For fiction, however, for the kind of writing in which I am making something from nothing, I seem to need concrete tools. I need to feel as though I’m making something with my hands, that I am in the company of people who whittle or repair umbrellas or graft apple scions or whip cream in a copper bowl. I need resistance, the slight resistance of pencil on paper, the way the graphite doesn’t quite want to leave its trail behind on the wood pulp, the reluctance of the eraser. And I need the slow accumulation of pages written, the feeling of satisfaction as I come to the end of the pad of paper and dig out a new one, all fresh and full of the promise of worlds that only I can make. As for the pokiness of hand-writing – I can write at about the same pace as I can invent a story. With no perky little cursor urging me to produce, to make the most of my time, to get on with it, to buckle down, I can find the proper rhythm for my narrative. Sometimes I’m quick and messy; sometimes I’m slow and calligraphic. Sometimes I doodle. Distractions? Apart from sharpening the pencil there isn’t much to pull me away. Imagine my delight, therefore, to come across an article about the cognitive value of handwriting. It was in the Wall Street Journal last fall. Here’s a bit:
Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key. She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory.
Here’s the whole thing for your further perusal:
Scribble, scribble. I’m so pleased to have neuroscience on my side.
Posted by Sarah Ellis.