Letters & Handwriting

I recently read this article by Matthew Gasda about the value of regularly writing letters instead of just emails. He thinks this is one of the best ways to develop as a writer, because it allows us to “think on the page” and explore, in depth, our ideas as well as different writing techniques.

Email is all about being as concise as possible. Letter-writing is about expression and exploration.

Gasda says:

“Writing an email, usually in the midst of several other activities simultaneously — that is, while distracted and unfocused — fundamentally can’t be the same thing as sitting down in a moment of relative quiet to compose a letter. There is some hard science to back this statement up — our brains just read and process text differently on a screen…”

I used to write letters fairly often, and I loved doing it. More often, though, the way that I make myself write regularly (which is, I think, Gasda’s main point) is by blogging or writing in a journal. The latter has actually become my preferred method; I’ve only recently realized just how much of a different there is between writing on paper and typing on a keyboard.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my freewrites:

“I can’t keep up and my hand hurts but for some mysterious reason I feel that I have to do this by hand. Like I won’t get as much out of it if I don’t. I’ve spent the past several – 6? 8? – years writing almost exclusively on a screen, but even though there are a lot of benefits to that (speed, convenience, privacy, organization) I find that there’s some sort of mysterious process that occurs when I touch pen to paper. Almost like I’m more connected to the ideas in me. Maybe because I’m physically producing letters and words and phrases instead of hitting labeled keys on a keyboard. I really don’t know. This has helped me brainstorm and start writing. Maybe b/c it feels less permanent and fixed than a computer document, even though really my text is more easily changeable and re-arrangeable there. But then again, maybe its precisely that, that pressure of editing capacity/possibility that makes me anxious and blocked. I’m still learning.”

2 thoughts to “Letters & Handwriting”

  1. I truly miss hand-writing my work. We live in such a technological, fast-paced age that it’s hard to make ourselves take the time to slow down and put pen to paper. I feel much like you said in your excerpt, Neeyati: I often feel as if my hand cannot keep up with my head, and I think that frustrates me. This is why I do most of my work on computer, but I do all of my editing by hand. Otherwise, I feel frazzled and as if there is no organization. I know there are tools in Word that allow you to comment and track changes, but it isn’t the same as being able to cross out and draw arrows and see your words on a physical page. I think we do need to force ourselves as writers to take time maybe once a week and slow down enough to put some work on paper the “old-fashioned” way. Your post made me want to do this, and I would encourage all of you to try it as well. Maybe we’ll learn something new through this.

  2. I’m extremely old-fashioned when it comes to taking notes in class. I am well aware that each and every powerpoint slide will be uploaded to cTools, and yet I insist on copying down every word I can before the slide changes. I am well aware that I have the option of taking my laptop to lectures, but the alluring apparels and mouth-watering meatball marinara recipes on Pinterest tempt me too much to focus on what’s right in front of me.

    I write faster than I type, so that’s one reason I prefer to take notes by hand. But another reason is less matter-of-fact and literal, and harder to explain.
    I feel a certain connection with my notes if they are handwritten. When I look over them later to study, I feel as if they were a running commentary that streamed out of my observing brain and onto the paper, rather than a verbatim reading-screen-while-listening-half-absorbing exercise. Sometimes I add my own memory devices and draw pictures to make life more interesting for the hour.

    As far as writing in a more original and “creative” sense, I prefer to type. I love the liberty that a flexible cursor allows- forwards, backwards….wherever you please. And when I’m stumped, I would rather watch the blinking cursor and be easily entertained than chew on my pencil eraser and look like an idiot sitting in the middle of Starbucks.

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