I have to admit I’m writing this blog at my computer. Using my keyboard. Perched on my lap. This does not make me feel any less like I’m writing. Composing.
But it would give Julius, the kid at my daughter’s school who quit the newspaper because he couldn’t write by hand, great cause for glee.
I’m helping the kids put together their school newspaper. They’ve just finished writing the articles, a process they’ve found exciting – they’re engaged in the school, sniffing out stories, conducting interviews, talking to their peers, teachers, even the principal, and putting the story together.
They’re part of the community.
When I asked Julius the other day for his story, he had an excuse (definitely a journalist in the making): “Marcus moved and he took all of our work,” he said.
“All of it?” I asked, incredulously. He and Marcus had partnered up three weeks before to write about new staff who’d joined the school.
He nodded. Sigh.
“Okay,” I said. “The deadline’s approaching so there’s going to be a change of direction. Write me three or four paragraphs about the computer lab. What it means to you. What you like about it. How it helps you with your school work. Why it’s important to the school. Just give me your personal thoughts.” If there’s one thing Julius loves, it’s the computer lab.
He looked at me and shrugged. “Sure.”
About 15 minutes later he came back to me. “Miss, I can’t do it.”
“What do you mean?” I ask. “You love the computer lab, don’t you? That should be easy to write about.”
He shook his head and held up the paper and pen. “I can’t write it like this. Can I go up and use the computer?”
“No,” I said. “You have to write it on paper.” All of the kids were writing in longhand first. He refused.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “And how do you write?”
“I can write with a pen and paper.”
“Meh,” he said, left the group and went back to his class.
I have to say I get his point. Writing this blog on my computer makes makes for quick editing, which I do as I write. Good for a blog and many other types of writing; perhaps not so good for creative writing. I think one needs to be able to compose by hand – particularly if I’m teaching a kid how to report. Taking notes is basic. And a story might crop up when there’s no computer around.
Apparently, the article says, “Dr. Virginia Berniger, who studies reading and writing systems and their relationship to learning processes, found that children’s writing ability was consistently better (they wrote more, faster, and more complete sentences) when they used a pen rather than a keyboard…”
It goes on to note that: “The difference, Berniger notes, may lie in the fact that with writing, you use your hand to form the letters (and connect them), thereby more actively engaging the brain in the process. Typing, on the other hand, involves just selecting letters by pressing identical-looking keys.”
I was interested to read what a profound impact changing the technology could have on writing. It makes me feel better about pushing the point with Julius.
I do think that, for myself, the most poetic writing I’ve done has been in longhand. When I want to write fiction, I write by hand. There is something beautiful about writing with a pen, pencil and paper, a visceral, sensual connection between the action, the technology and the words.
Leonard Cohen once signed a book for me. I was working for a television show and we’d taken a camera crew and an anchor to interview him. Afterward, Cohen was gracious enough to sign my book. Watching him was a wonder. He treated the act with enormous respect and attendant ritual. He pulled out of his bag a stamp and a fountain pen, laying them carefully side by side. He wrote carefully around the words on the title page.
And then he placed the stamp, just so. The design, he explained, was his own. Two hearts intertwined.
This is a writer who understands that there is art simply in the act of writing, of creating, separate from the words themselves.
I hope I can get Julius to come back.