Friday, June 13, 2014

More Thoughts on the Biomechanical Aspects of "Writing Process"

Earlier this month I posted an involved literature review tracing the history of the phrase "writing process".  I turned my nose up somewhat at the early concept of writing process, which referred to how we physically write.

Perhaps this reflected my own struggles with dysgraphia. Learning to write was a struggle for me, and prevented me from attaining the honor roll many times from 3-6th grade, at Northwest Elementary School in Leominster, MA, where at the time, cursive handwriting was still a graded class, and where I never earned a grade higher than a C+. 

These days, I rarely break out my cursive skills.  I haven't written a check in months, and I choose print for handwritten postcards and letters.  In fewer than 100 words, my hand begins to cramp, and I find myself wondering why I persist in this archaism.  Usually it's a romantic endeavor; a throwback to the days when "letters to a young poet" represented a personal commitment of an afternoon, would rather than 15 minutes typing an email, while also clicking Upworthy videos, and chatting with three people.  Other times the romance is more literal: there's still something to be said for receiving a handwritten note from a lover, that's unmatched by typed missives. 

Several years ago, I participated in a forum on another blog, where I championed the act of writing love letters.  Indeed, I even wrote some letters and notes in the last year, while wooing my fiancee, and intend to write her letters when she heads on scholarship to Lithuania later this summer, just as we wrote several more years ago while I was doing the residency mentioned in that blog.

Despite these things, there were few reliefs greater to me than when my family moved from Leominster, to Amherst, where not only did the Amherst Middle School not grade me on my cursive, but instead they recognized that every student should learn how to word process.  Previously, I hadn't bothered with typing.  When I turned in a portfolio of poems for a 6th grade English class, my Dad took out his blue plastic clad typewriter (I think a late 70s Smith Corona) and typed the poems for me, using two fingers to peck out the work.  And for a while, just as I had struggled in my cursive class, I also fell behind in typing class.  But this was due to lack of familiarity, not physical impediment.  I played the typing games, where one must type a certain number of words per minute, somehow motivating a tiny digitized runner to lope across the screen, gaining speed as you type more words per minute.  Many years later, when I registered at a temping agency in Iowa City, I was able to clear 70 wpm, and was somewhat disappointed I didn't get more.

With a new, functional smart phone, I've even begun using the note-taking feature to write down ideas for stories and poems.  But despite that convenience, I still carry with me a small writing pad, which I whip from my back pocket, not always, but for certain ideas.  For things that I feel the need not just to note, but to write down.  As though writing it and then returning to it in my very particular, stunted chicken scrawl might make a difference in my creative process. 

I was pondering that just this week, as I unpacked yet another bundle of tiny notepads and began flipping through them.  Surely there must be something special to the physical act of writing, something that transcends the speed we gain on a keyboard.  And reading the New York Times today, I came across just such an article, one suggesting that experts in Composition, and writers would be well served to occasionally pick up a pen or pencil. 

You can read more about the specific effects that handwriting has on the brain in this article: What's Lost as Handwriting Fades?

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