Last week I had coffee with a new writer friend, and we found many points in common between us, including the practice of writing by hand. There are studies that explain how the movement of hand across page opens creative pathways in the brain in a way that typing at a computer cannot. If I didn't need to move on to client work very soon this morning, I'd find some of those links and post them here now. But my practice of handwriting when writing creatively isn't based on studies. It simply works better. The quality of the end product is higher (in my opinion, for me). The aesthetics of pen and paper and the slide of the hand is more pleasing. It's not that I stay in handwriting mode. Things move from paper to electronic documents eventually, but this is where it usually starts. This isn't true for my medical writing, although even then I often first write a fair amount in the margins of papers.
She and I talked about strategies we've used to keep track of what's in the notebooks filled with handwritten material. Tags? Indexing? She told me she once read something by the novelist A. S. Byatt about her notebook indexing system, and so later that night I looked for it online. While I didn't find that, I did find a Paris Review interview with Byatt, in which she said this about writing by hand:
"I write anything serious by hand still. This isn’t a trivial question. There’s that wonderful phrase of Wordsworth’s about “feeling along the heart,” and I think I write with the blood that goes to the ends of my fingers, and it is a very sensuous act. For that reason I could never learn to write what I think of as real writing with the cut-and-paste on the computer because I have to have a whole page in front of me that I wrote, like a piece of knitting. On the other hand I do my journalism on the computer with the word count. I love the word count. I can write a piece now to the word, to the length, and then I put the word count on and triumphantly it says three hundred and two. It’s a quite different thing. But I’ve never written any fiction not with a pen. I sit out of doors with very large numbers of very large stones and other objects on top of the pieces of paper that blow away in the wind. I’ve got a cast-iron mermaid and an enormous ammonite that a French ethnologist gave me that came up out of the bed of the road. I put these on the paper and I sit there scribbling in a kind of tempest. It’s great fun."
I'm pleased to be in the company of writers like Byatt and my new friend. I like choosing to write in a way that's more pleasing in terms of process and outcome than in a way that's faster and more efficient. If any of you readers happen to know of a paper in which Byatt describes her indexing system, please let me know. I'd also love to hear how you readers write creatively: your blogs, stories, sermons, notes to self.