Have you noticed that something curious happens when you write by hand instead of texting or typing? Already, as I type this post, my Internal Editor is insisting that I backspace and rewrite, while my Creative Writer side cares only about capturing ideas before they escape. But there’s mystique in putting pen to paper.
When I went off to college, I loved getting handwritten letters from my mom. Each one was unique yet full of recurring themes. I pictured her writing at the dining room table with a stack of mail on one side and her assortment of stationery on the other, for it was there that she taught us to write thank you notes.
One year when I was trying to find the perfect Christmas gift for my Grandma Myers, my mom declared that Grandma Myers would be happy if I wrote her a nice letter, so I gave her a coupon that was good for 25 letters in the coming year. Grandma Myers was delighted. (Thanks for the idea, Mom!) While we were pen pals, we shared all sorts of things about our lives in a way we never had before. I learned tidbits about her childhood, her life during the Depression, and how she chose the names for her first set of twins. The topics I wrote about “just came out,” such as when I told her that I liked watching Jeopardy! I found out later she did, too.
I didn’t expect to take notes by hand when I studied French history in Paris. On the first day, however, our professor wrote a paragraph on the chalkboard as she lectured and told us to copy it. No handouts! We balked, but she wouldn’t budge and told us that we would learn to write correct French by this method. For the entire semester we dutifully copied her sentences word-for-word in our cahiers (notebooks), enlisting not only our senses of sight and hearing but also forging a connection between the material and our brains by manual activity. (No wonder teachers require kids to write such statements as, “I will not talk during class,” 100 times!)
I got to thinking about the phenomenon of putting pen to paper when I joined a writers group this spring that uses an exercise called Timed Writing to stimulate creativity. The rules for our group are: to write continuously without talking, to try not to raise the pen from the paper, and to avoid crossing out any words. In preparation for the exercise, we each contribute an anonymous sentence to use as a prompt, and when the group settles on one, we all copy it, write for 15 minutes, and read aloud our musings. At times, a writer who’s just read will say, “Where in the world did that come from?”
Stephen King said, “I write to find out what I think.” That’s the magic.