In Defense of Handwriting


There is one rule I put in my syllabus that the freshmen I teach writing to always seem surprised about: NO laptops in class. There are some occasions when I allow computers, but it is rare. Very rare. The students seem further perplexed when I tell them that in my MFA program, the same rule applied. And it wasn't soooo long ago that I was in this program, I explain. Laptops DID exist. We just didn't use them. We used these things called notebooks, and this other strange object known as a pen. We even made these loopy marks on the paper we referred to as handwriting. Yes, we wrote an entire book's worth of story starts, (gasp!) by hand.

And, really, this whole handwriting this is what, I think, is missing not only from my students' writing, but from my writing as well.

This post, for example, is being typed, as are my story starts and journal entries, as of late. My excuse is the new beautiful addition to our family (a baby boy currently asleep in his beloved swing). So, I argue, I must type everything. Quickly. That, right there, I suppose, is the problem. The quickness. The lack of contemplation and reflection. I think it is no coincidence that it takes longer to pen something than it does to tap on keys. It was as if this whole scripting procsses was designed especially for authors to develop their stories while forming letters on the page. To actually think about our next steps.

So, here's my question: Is this whole handwriting process soon to be forever lost, and if it is, will our writing suffer because of it?

I argue that it will. My writing certainly has.

Every now and then I teach a journaling class at a local yoga studio. At one such class this past Sunday, a woman asked me if she could type her entries. I paused. I am guilty of typing some of my passages, but I know better. Because what happens when I type them is that they become recordings of events rather than introspective journeys into moments and memories.

Over  a year ago, before I gave birth, before I got pregnant, I used to handwrite every single entry, and I actually miss this physical sensation of writing--of my pinky knuckle gliding across a piece of paper. It's been a while since I made an addition to the giant Rubbermade container of journals that sits in my closet with notebooks dating back as far as 1989. I actually remember periods of my life by which journal I was using at the time. My green handmade journal from Guatemala, for example, represents springtime, two years ago, when I was doing a lot of yoga and traveling--re-discovering myself after a very challenging winter. I even started one of my published essays, Nine Babies on Ice, in that journal. I am fond, even proud of these journals. I can't really say the same for my collection of Word documents.

I miss the nights during my MFA stint when I took the bus home after an inspirational advanced fiction class and I scribbled away in my notebook as the dark streets of Chicago slid by outside the foggy windows. My writing was alive--evident by the swirls and cross-outs on the page. And when I did transfer my words onto the computer, there was a built-in revision process as I chose what to commit to the Word doc.

So, as of today, I am making a commitment to the lost art of handwriting. My next task is to go to Barnes and Noble and peruse the display of journals which has gotten smaller and smaller as the Nook e-reader section has gotten bigger and bigger. I am going to pick out a beautifully bound book of blank pages, and I am going to put ink to paper. And, my fellow writers, I urge you to do the same. Because that book of bound pages might remain a journal, or it might be the book in which you start your next great story.

About the Author See other articles by Nadine Kenney Johnstone
by Nadine Kenney Johnstone


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