Writing by hand, and why I don’t

I type. I can’t write by hand except for shopping lists, telephone notes, and the like. It’s not fast enough.

I’ve forgotten how to write cursive. I know I was taught cursive writing. I didn’t do very well at it; I was always sloppy. I can remember that my capital letters would come out squashy and not round because I was always in too much of a hurry to get on with it. But I also remember the enormous satisfaction I had when I could do a really good capital “Q” (you remember, that funny cursive letter that looked a lot like a “2”). I had stopped using cursive and was just printing by about 10th grade, although I didn’t learn to touch-type until I was 20.

But cursive does have some advantages. It is usually faster than the standard block-printing that most of us tend to do. I have heard that block printing will get you to about 10-12wpm and maybe 15wpm if you really push it, but that cursive can be pushed up to 22-25wpm.

Note: This comes up when learning Morse code: when you’re starting out, you transcribe what you hear. You rapidly discover that you’re not able to transcribe faster than you can print, and you try to resurrect your cursive skills. Shortly thereafter, you learn to type what you’re hearing and then transcribe in your head independent of your ability to get it down directly, which can double your ability to “hear” Morse code.

Writing by hand is a good idea if you’re working remotely and only have a pen and paper–and who among us doesn’t usually have a pen and paper?–and for scribbling ideas and small amounts of words. Whenever I write songs, it’s always done sitting somewhere with an instrument and a piece of paper, but this is not “production” writing. Words are slowly accreted and put on the page a half-line at a time. When I’m done, I type everything up.

In contrast, writing books tends to be a volume business at a few thousand words a day. I’d find writing this much by hand crippling, not to mention boring, but I know that some people really like it this way. If you’re agonizing over the words, the dialog, the descriptions and not turning out as many words in a day because very word is a gem, handwriting may work for you. I can think of half a dozen writers whose prose is lapidary for whom handwriting could be an option, but handwriting just doesn’t work for me.