Cursive by Candlelight

Baron’s examination of typing versus good old-fashioned writing by hand sparked my interest. One idea that really struck me was the literary event of reading the article (which I had printed out and held in my hands) and underlining and taking notes with a pencil as I read. This seemed inconsequential until I stopped to think about the actual act. I was reminded of some of my classmates who pull up the article on their laptops or iPads in class–what a different experience it must be for them! I find I am much more attentive to our readings for class when I have them on paper and have a pencil in hand, ready to engage with what I read. I almost feel I take ownership of the material, marking lines that interest me, putting exclamation points by things that surprise me, and writing brief notes in the margins to further my understanding. Then, when returning to the article in class, I feel I am well-prepared to discuss it. I can remember the physical location of parts of the article within the text that stood out to me and that I want to bring up. I can reread my notes to recall my initial reaction to the text and to compare it with my classmates’ ideas.

I am thinking of this literacy practice of mine in comparison to the way in which I write essays. As an English Lit major, I generally write at least one a week. Interestingly, I never write anything by hand, even notes or an outline to organize my thoughts. I simply pull up Microsoft Word and begin to type. Because I am so used to this literacy practice of typing academic essays, I find writing in-class essays be hand to be a notable challenge for me. I must write my paragraphs sequentially. I cannot “cut and paste” sentences to make my essay flow better. I must be extra careful about spelling and grammar, as I have come to rely on the spelling and grammar check that Word automatically performs. I imagine how all the classic novels were painstakingly written, their authors writing in cursive by candlelight, bent over stacks of papers, maybe using quill pens and having to deal with ink blots and messy hands. I’m sure this is a completely romanticized image, but isn’t it true that there’s something special to writing by hand versus typing on a keyboard? What are the values to writing by hand? I just feel like it’s more real, more personal, and more permanent. Of course, typing is so much easier and more efficient. So, is ease and efficiency the greatest value of our literate society today?

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14 Responses to Cursive by Candlelight

  1. Lynne says:

    Jane,

    I think easy and efficiency are definitely things we value in this society. To a degree, I think writing things by hand can be more authentic, more real, and special, but practicality always must be considered. I love the idea of the author scribbling by candlelight or recording ideas on scraps of napkins, and the writer part of me cries to preserve that image. But then I must consider how easy it is to capture a thousand ideas via typing in a manner that’s much faster, which allows someone to work before forgetting all of these great ideas.

    Writing things by hand removes the polish of drafts, reveals mistakes, and allows viewers to see all the effort put in an article / draft, while typing hides the multiple attempts at a thing by simply embracing the magic of “backspace” and “copy & paste” to make all of this previous effort to disappear.

    I love the idea of writing things by hand, artistically, but I think we need to embrace new technology as it has so many new advantages to offer us.

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