kitchen table math, the sequel: Mark Helprin on writing by hand

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mark Helprin on writing by hand

In the Wall Street Journal's Word Craft series:
This brings up Levenger, which sells "tools for writers." The fewer tools the better, and they need not be costly or complicated. Whether you use a pencil, a pen, an old typewriter or something electrical is largely irrelevant to the result, although there is magic in writing by hand. It's not just that it has been that way for 5,000 years or more, and has engraved upon our expectations of literature the effects associated with the pen—the pauses; considerations; sometimes the racing; the scratching out; the transportation of words and phrases with arrows, lines and circles; the closeness of the eyes to the page; the very touching of the page—but that the pen, not being a machine (it does not meet the scientific definition of a machine), is a surrender to a different power than those of mere speed and efficiency.

In short, a pen (somehow) helps you think and feel. And although once you find a pen you like you'll probably stick with it the way an addict sticks with heroin, it can be anything from a Mont Blanc to a Bic. The same for paper. There are beautiful, smooth, heavy papers, but great works have been written on ration cards, legal pads and the kind of cheap paper they sell in developing countries—grayish white, almost furry, with flecks of brown and black that probably came from lizards and bats that jumped into the paper makers' vats.
Skip the Paris Caf├ęs And Get a Good Pen by Mark Helprin
I can't help but feel there's something to this, although I don't write by hand myself. Still, I started out writing by hand, and that may be what matters. Temple told me that older architects who'd learned to draw by hand before switching to CAD continued to make good drawings. It was the younger architects, she said, who sent her blueprints with two-foot wide passageways for cattle and the like. They had never learned to draw, and their CAD drawings were severely flawed.

I don't generally give a lot of credence to intuition, but in this case my intuition coincides with a century-old belief in the value of good handwriting (at least a century). Seeing as how our predecessors seem to have known more than a few things we've forgotten, the fact that they valued fluent and beautiful handwriting strikes me as one more reason not to simply assume that "keyboarding" is to writing what washing machines are to doing your laundry in the creek.

But of course I could be completely wrong. Maybe one of these days I'll get around to reading The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture.

In the meantime, I'm going to see what Lifehacker and the Wall Street have to say about it:


A few years ago, I used Betty Dubay's Write Now to try to improve C's handwriting as well as my own. My printing improved quite a bit.



image from WSJ



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