Tool for Writing Longhand

If you love to write longhand (like me), you know that it can be a bit hard on the wrists. This pen saves my life: the Pen Again.

It’s an ergonomic pen that relies on the weight of your hand to keep the pen in position, rather than your grip. This pen takes a bit of practice, and thus far only comes in a rather drab black ink, but it eliminates writers’ cramp.

**Ooh, according to their web site they have a new “twist-and-write” pencil version for smaller hands. I’ll have to try one out!

Anyone else have a fave writing gadget to share?

:-) Cheryl

Handwriting, Learning, and the Science of Writing Longhand

Longhand? Keyboard? Pen on parchment? Number 2 pencil on graph paper? Blood on strips of birch bark?

4564378252_35fe9897b5_bAsk a roomful of writers for their methods of putting words on the page, and you’ll spark a debate as passionate as the outline vs. seat-of-the-pants writing methods.

For speed, you can’t beat typing your story straight onto the computer—and that’s a skill I’m working on. When I hit a creative slump, though, I find that writing longhand lets me tap into my subconscious in a way that clicking keys don’t.

*Photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt at the Flickr Creative Commons

Researchers Anne Mangen of the University of Stavanger Reading Centre, Norway, and Jean-Luc Velay of the University of Marseille, France looked at the relationship between learning and writing—asking whether people learn better if they write out something by hand or if they type it on a keyboard. For instance, if you wanted to memorize a million digits of Pi, would you do better to write out those numbers on paper or could you speed up the process (and save your hands) by typing those digits into memory?


The answer? Apparently different parts of your brain will be activated depending on which learning method you used. If you wrote those numbers longhand, the part of your brain associated with movement fires up. Other research shows that if you learned by writing those numbers longhand, you’ll remember more than if you learned by typing. The lesson: the multisensory process of writing longhand makes info stick in your brain.

Viewing this through my writer lens, I wonder if writing a story longhand activates different parts of my brain than when I type prose directly into the computer. Writing by hand is a multisensory event: the crisp feel of new paper, the silky glide of a gel pen, the twist and turn of muscles in your fingers all provide sensory feedback as you pour the story onto the page.  And in a way, when writing a story I feel like I’m learning it, especially at the outset when I’m trying to memorize everything about plot, world, and characters to make them all fit together in my head.

I will continue to cultivate the skill of writing directly onto my computer (see point #3 of my 2009 NaNo post). It’s faster, saves me tons of transcription time (read: faster), and, because it’s faster, lets me capture ideas when they’re flying too quickly for me to write them longhand.

However, writing longhand will continue to be a tool in my creativity toolbox, because whether it’s science or superstition, sometimes longhand takes me places a computer cannot.

What about you? Longhand or keyboard?

:-) Cheryl

Writing Craft: Show-Don’t-Tell*

iStock_000009339689LargeCranking through the rewrite of my current WIP, I found a lot of “telling” that I needed to replace with better writing. In the spirit of show-don’t-tell, I attempted to come up with five ways to show that it’s cold without saying “it’s cold.”

1. Let the character experience the cold: Gooseflesh prickles up my bare arms as soon as I push off the covers.

2. Let her observe the cold: Ice filmed the inside of the cabin windows. I started shivering even before my feet touched the frozen floorboards.

3. Let her think about the cold: I didn’t expect the day’s chill, not in June. If I’d bothered to check the weather, I might have brought along a sweatshirt or jacket. Instead, I’m here in shorts and a tank top, resisting the urge to curl into a ball or warmth.

4. Let her worry about the cold: As the sun drops beyond the mountains, shadows lengthen, bringing with them the sharp-edged chill of the coming night. It pierces through my thin sweater and I wonder how long it will take before I turn into a human icicle. I have to find the cabin. Quickly.

5. Let her discuss the cold: Brrr!” I tuck my hands into the sleeves of my rain slicker, drawing deeper into the sheltering overhang. “My fingers won’t bend, they’re so frozen.”

Not masterful prose, perhaps, but the exercise helped to get my brain moving in the right direction.

Do you have a technique you’re trying to master? A bit of concentrated practice can help you learn incorporate a new technique smoothly into your writing, the way a batter might practice hitting a hundred balls before the actual game. Pretty soon, the technique becomes second nature. Give it a try!

:-) Cheryl

*This post was originally published Jan 2010