Writing Longhand

A few weeks ago I wrote a fabulous post. It was superb. The words all flowed, I hardly moved from my seat and after 2 hours of constant writing I was really pleased with my close to 20 pages (let’s not get too excited here – I was using a notebook). However, I am choosing to not type it up.

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At the beginning of last year I returned to study after a twenty year hiatus. The last assignment I had handed in was in 1991. I had used a word processor for the last two years of my degree but for the most part, the majority of my assignments were written by hand. For many young ‘uns this brings gasps.

I much prefer using a word processor.

In second grade, I won a writing award held by the local bank. My father went to read my entry and left without doing so. He came home and stated that he had no idea how anyone was able to decipher the scrawled gibberish of lines running into themselves.

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In third grade, my report card was filled with As with the exception of C for my handwriting.This C did not change all the way through to sixth grade.

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In sixth grade, my teacher who had a mercurial temper and a propensity for using the cane, started shouting at me for my painting. It was a brown boat on a brown sea against a brown sky.I had not aimed to make everything brown. My colours had somehow become mixed and so I drew shapes into the brown. I was genius, I thought. He didn’t. He threw it in the bin (but did not cane me).

Oddly enough my Greek handwriting was (and still is) neat and legible. I enjoy writing in Greek because I can take pride in my penmanship. But alas, there is very little call in Australia for Greek handwriting. But I also think that my Greek handwriting is legible because Greek is a second language for me. My Greek thinking is slower than my English thinking so my hand works at the same pace as my thoughts whereas my English thinking is leaps and bounds faster than my hand. My thoughts flit from seemingly unconnected ideas yet formulate a coherent concept by the time I conclude.

My hand was never able to catch up often cramping up in speedily writing my thoughts down. By Year 11 I had developed a ganglion on my right wrist. I quickly taught myself to write with my left hand so I could write uninterrupted by hand cramps. I became ambidextrous (yeah – yeah – hit me with the old “I’d give my right hand to be ambidextrous” joke). My left hand writing was barely discernable from my right (though I have never mastered my signature with my left hand). However, no-one ever asked to borrow my notes. I believe I was the only person who could decipher what I had written.

As you can see, there is a pattern here. My penmanship was not of the highest calibre. I was inconsistent. I varied from cursive writing slanting from left to right, rounded print letters and bizarrely enough, in Year 12 I wrote a 130 page assignment on Ancient Egypt with a mixture of a rounded print font with a squared font for titles.

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By the time I started university I had reinvented my handwriting self. Though I no longer thought my writing to be awful I still did not relish doing it. I loved my sister’s electric typewriter but as we were both at uni at the same time I rarely used it as she was the boss. When my dad bought a computer it revolutionised my writing, my assignments, my everything. I was finally handing in work that was not being judged on how well I rounded my As and Os or how well my cursive letters joined themselves. It was, finally, function over form. And I have never looked back. I did a typing course and at one stage I could type more than 80 words per minute with a 100% accuracy rate (my word count is lower now but my accuracy is still quite high).

I love writing on a computer. I love playing around with my ideas and changing them around. What I have found though, is that in this second round of studying, is though the online reading of articles is fluid and quick, I am less adept at marginalia and side notes online. I am loathe to print out all the articles. My post-it notes are great for notes in books for I am one of those pedantic librarians that cannot bear to write in her books.

(As an aside, I particularly hate when people vandalise *cough* … write in library books. I once, politely, made a borrower sit and rub out all the pencil markings they had made in a book on creating quizzes – they had placed a purchase suggestion and were the first to borrow the book and returned it straight into my hands. I realise this won’t make me popular with the happy clappy “let’s make everyone welcome even if they are violent fuckers” librarian set but pfffft – I have no need to be liked by every library user and the person continued using the library and my professional assistance).

Since I don’t write in books, my notebooks have become full of notes and ideas and quotes. When I first started handwriting after 20 years (let us not count the occasional card that I may have written) I realised my writing had reverted to the ineligible scrawl that my father struggled to read back in second grade. My hand would cramp after five minutes. I was appalled. Eighteen months later, I am quite pleased that I can legibly write for a few hours to formulate my ideas. Even though my thoughts are ten pages ahead of myself, deliberately handwriting has slowed my thinking.

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It has allowed me to start positioning different aspects of my ideas in areas that I hadn’t considered as I was always rushing to finish the piece in front of me in order to start on my next idea.

I still prefer typing directly onto the computer. However, there comes an idea that deserves the time that handwriting can produce.

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This post was inspired by posts on handwriting from both @flexnib and @Malbooth many months ago. My inherent laziness keeps me from searching through their blogs to find their posts. So no links for now.

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5 thoughts on “Writing Longhand

  1. My handwriting is god awful, but, well, I’m young, so never had to worry about caning in my grade school days. But I did my best to write well, but my mind just thinks too fast, so when I slow down I make more mistakes! One time my teacher asked me about a paper I had wrote and if the writing was the best I could do, and it was! But beyond elementary school, my teachers didn’t care about my handwriting so long as they could read it.

    So I prefer typing, but I have to type fast or else I’ll make really poor mistakes. I failed a typing test because I was really careful and discovered I type better when I’m tying faster.

  2. Yet another great read. The first thing I noticed as also being the owner of a often misspelt name was the misspelling of your name on your report card. You should have given it back to the teacher and told him/her, “That’s not how you spell my name.” (unless it was the cane happy teacher). I rejected an award on that basis.

  3. I am impressed that your report cards still exist. Mine may be somewhere at my parent’s place but I am not sure of that. I failed handwriting in 5th class, and it has been a challenge ever since. Despite that I think there is a point in still hand writing some things, however, I also really enjoy electronic note taking.

    I will write in my own books – I figure I have bought that right, however I agree with you with a nil tolerance approach to library books. Highlighter pens are also an issue here too.

    • Oh! I just got a shiver at the thought of someone using a highlighter on a library book. My reports are all neatly filed away at my parent’s home so it was easy to dig them out. My kids have had fun going over them 🙂

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