Handwriting versus Typewriting

It was brought to my attention via Twitter a few weeks ago that the Common Core education standards don’t place much emphasis on legible handwriting. The wave of the future, as you might guess and The New York Times reports, is the keyboard. Kind of obvious, right? But the decline in handwriting isn’t something to write off as a sign of our technological times. The article states:

“Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.”

KnowledgeIf schools teach students how to write the alphabet and make a signature, but then focus more exclusively on keyboarding skills, what might we be losing beyond the physical act of handwriting? I love to write. Books, letters, lists, doodles. (I have an earlier post on letter-writing.) If there is paper and pen, I want it in my hands, so this article got me thinking that “what if?” The relationship between hand, pen, and paper—and the way the hand, eye, and brain engage in that format—is different from hand, keyboard, and screen. I don’t even need to see the keyboard to use it.

With a keyboard, I can type more quickly and scroll all the way back to the beginning and correct something before I ever reach The End. Despite that, this format always feels more official and formal to me. In contrast, writing by hand is a subtle sign to my brain that I’m allowing myself to be messy. It’s okay to scribble things out, to take the whole thing less seriously. I can always tear off the page and throw it away.

I’ve identified some consistent reasons behind when I switch to paper:

  • Screen fatigue
  • A difficult or emotional scene
  • I’m stuck and my perceived formality of the file on the screen feels too constraining

Whatever the motivation that gets me to switch from keyboard to pen and paper, these handwritten scenes are always my better ones. I’m finding the computer and keyboard fine for originating words on setting and structure and all those little in between details. For action and emotional resonance, I want to pour it onto paper. On paper, it becomes more about the story and less about the producing of the story and how many words I’m getting out. (Because who doesn’t like to check their total word count at the end of a writing session?)

Given everything I feel I gain from handwriting, I wonder what younger generations may lose if they’re less inclined to pick up a pen. What value does handwriting have to you? (Does it?) When do you turn to it?

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Publishing Fads: Covers and Interiors

I spend my day job in a publishing company. A year or so ago, we saw a lot of circles on book covers and interiors. Not just our books, but other publishers’ too. It made me really hate circles. These sorts of fads happen regularly, but there are certain things we tend to dislike no matter how contagious they become.

Here’s a short list of things we currently have an aversion to:

  • Pink (this is a forever aversion resulting from earlier trauma)
  • Cheesiness (I like a bit of cheese but Head Decider does not, much to my sadness)
  • Stock images (like stick people and other punch-card-like figures)
  • The / between the names of multiple authors (seen so often it feels like lazy design)
  • A new cover that looks a lot like a competitor’s cover (never a good thing; also a forever aversion)

For balance, I could make another list of things we like, but that’s much more a “know it when I see it” sort of thing.

Amnesia! Aliens! Hearing loss? Bees! … Mining?

All of these things are related, somehow, in my head. Years ago I had an idea to use my experience with tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in a novel about an amnesiac alien on Earth who has no idea she’s not native to the planet. The premise was not nearly so coherent when it first occurred to me, and I was busy working on other material so no need to think much about it.

The subconscious can be very wily. In December, as I was wrapping up revisions on one novel and about to begin revisions on a second, I felt the need for something different. So I shook off the preconceptions of what and how I write, metaphorically cracked my knuckles, and when the words started coming, they were about the amnesiac alien with tinnitus. In first person present tense. (Really not sure how that happened.) Only now my alien had a hearing loss too, and something about endangered bees and evil aliens who mine a planet to death.

Bees, somehow very important to my new novel. These bees are in Seattle.

Bees, somehow very important to my new novel. These bees are in Seattle.

The tinnitus aspect of my main character, Deja (DAY-hah), is straightforward enough. If you’ve ever gone to a concert or been exposed to a loud noise, you may have experienced some ringing in your ears afterward. For many people, that ringing doesn’t always have a definite cause, and it never ends. I can’t remember ever not hearing the noise in my head because it was there long before I was ever aware of it. It would be much cooler if the “Beeeeeeep” was the result of something like alien communication. Thus, Deja’s tinnitus gets a Higher Purpose (hardware malfunction).

What I didn’t plan for this book was to incorporate my experiences with hearing loss. As with the tinnitus, I don’t remember ever hearing better than I do. And because I hear well enough despite the loss, it wasn’t caught until I was in elementary school. As I got older, I wised up to the ways in which I was compensating. And I realized that my left ear sucked at its job so the right one inherited phone duties. Combined, they’re an okay team. And now they’re helping me to write a main character who’s not defined by what a piece of her can and cannot do (or several pieces considering the amnesia). My previous MCs have struggled more with ethics than anything else, and I’ve never incorporated so much of myself onto the page before. I’m looking forward to the journey. I’m especially looking forward to that “something about bees and mining” part.

If you’re curious about what the world sounds like with hearing loss, check this out.

Creating Habits

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I believe that every day, every moment, is an opportunity for change. Start tomorrow or right now, but do it. That said, the change of the calendar can be a good opportunity for a lot of things: flip the mattress; clean out the spice cabinet (which is really just an excuse to buy new spices); vacuum the cobwebs out from that one corner where they live. Because the new year comes during the holiday season, I had time to catch up on my sleep and, for once, did not check my work email on vacation like a zealot. Those things combined provided an opportunity to reflect.

2014 was an overwhelming year for me professionally. I struggled just to tread water amidst all the deadlines and demands and found little room left for the things I enjoy. Still, in the few non-work hours I had last year, I managed to complete revisions on one novel, finish another, and begin a third.

2015 should bePen 009… calmer in the workplace. I hope like hell it will be. And with that hope, my new year’s reflections found opportunity for creating new habits. I read something once that said a new habit takes at least thirty days to establish, and common sense says that if I want to write more, I need to write more regularly. Schedules work well to keep me disciplined, so I’m establishing certain days and times to write. I’m also going to seek out more resources to feed my creativity, like a March lecture at the Smithsonian on art fakes and forgeries. (That kind of screams plot idea, doesn’t it?) I want to query one novel, revise a second, and finish the new one begun last year.

That list of wants could be overwhelming. I’ve set expectations in the past to write so many words in a day or weekend, and the failure to do so made the next goal feel all the more oppressive. This time around my goal is simply to write. One step at a time – one word at a time – I can do it. By the end of 2015, I’d like to say that success is my new habit.

What habits do you want to create?