Writing in longhand is a dying art. From my vantage point, being in my sixties, I feel sad that cursive writing is an art form we may lose completely in the not-so-distant future. As a matter of fact, in 2010, the US government officially removed cursive from the required Common Core Standards for K-12 education.
In our technological age, children are learning on electronic devices, beginning at younger and younger ages. They learn to print their letters in early elementary, but less and less schools throughout our nation teach cursive writing. Instead, kids learn to create their written compositions using keyboards.
Many adults have crossed over to drafting and writing exclusively on their electronic devices as well—whether desktops, laptops, or even smartphones. (I’ve watched one of my daughters draft documents on her phone, which both amazes me and gives me reason to pause.) Some of my clients cannot fathom writing anything with pen and paper—their brains don’t seem to connect with writing in that manner. Many believe that drafting on their devices is faster. There are also a few clients who have physical issues that limit their ability to handwrite for long periods of time.
I honor and understand that not only does life continue to evolve but physical limitations can make writing by hand inaccessible. Yet, I grieve the potential complete loss of writing by hand, most especially for what writing on paper means for brain development in children: it strengthens the cross hemisphere connections in the brain. Plus, those who have not learned to write cursive are unable to read it (think of great-grandmother’s handwritten recipes or even the original Declaration of Independence).
As a writer, I see the benefits of writing longhand: cursive connects me to my heart! And when I write in longhand, I am immersed in the present.
I’m able to write about one idea or thought without worrying about the next—I don’t get ahead of myself. And I don’t start revising as I write in longhand—I’m able to stick with a vignette or chapter until it’s finished. Because I’m not tempted to start the revision process, I tend to make progress more quickly. I’m not looking back to see how I might rework portions I’ve just written. When writing in longhand, I also tend to pause less. The words seem to flow from my heart, into my fingers, and onto the paper. Yet, when I compose at my computer, every pause turns into an opportunity to look back at what I’ve written and make adjustments. My computer also represents my work life. So when I write at my computer, I find that I need to remind myself to resist the temptation to check email or scroll social media.
When I consider my personal preference, there’s another significant reason I enjoy writing in longhand: I love to sit in my stuffed chair with my special pen and my favorite leather journal or composition notebook.
Writing in longhand becomes ritual rather than work. I usually play soft music and light a candle—making my writing time sacred. By creating a sacred time and space for writing in longhand, I engage more of my senses in the process.
The kinesthetic experience of writing in cursive eases me into the flow of writing in a way that the computer screen and mouse never do. Especially deeply reflective, heartfelt pieces. Even though I can connect to my heart at the keyboard, it seems that I am able to go much deeper when I take pen to paper. I cannot deny how meaningful it is to pour my heart out through my arm.
And at those times when I can’t seem to get started, it’s easier to just start writing something, anything, by hand. I know that my first writing is for my eyes only. So I feel less pressure about what gets produced and for whom. Later, I get to decide what and how much I’ll actually transfer to my laptop.
The transcription process of taking my handwritten material and transferring it to my computer then becomes my first gentle revision process. Transcribing gives me the opportunity to revisit what came out when I first wrote the piece. Transcribing and (re)writing at my computer takes me into my head space and lets me begin the mental process of considering what I wrote. I like to take a break in between the initial draft and transcribing it to my computer so that it feels almost as if I’m visiting something new. It allows me the opportunity to see how my writing might be improved upon—to consider what I’ve left out or where I might express my experience in a clearer way. It also gives me a chance to amaze myself. Sometimes I’m blown away by what I’ve written—the insights and writing can truly surprise me.
It makes me wonder . . . what is the best way to write our first drafts? The short answer is that our first draft should be done in a manner that allows us to write with abandon—tapping into our creative muse and our deepest truths.
Our first draft should be RAW and UNSTOPPABLE. It needs to be connected to our HEART. Some people find that the optimal way to tap into this energy is through writing in longhand. Others find they accomplish this best at a keyboard. There is no right or wrong answer here. The best answer is to determine what works best for YOU!
However, I do have an invitation to those who draft at their keyboards. Even if writing in longhand does not interest you as a regular practice, I encourage you to at least give it a try. You don’t need any fancy materials to begin. In fact, plain lined paper or a composition notebook are some of the best materials to use. I even know someone who keeps a pack of Bic pens on hand—they take her back to her childhood school days.
Whether you write in longhand or compose at the keyboard, keep your writing process easy and fresh and find ways to make it an inviting experience. Above all else, be sure to tap into your heart!