by Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh: President, Word Branch Media
It’s been a tradition in our house for quite some time for my husband and I to listen to a podcast of the NPR show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me during Sunday brunch. Last week, the writer John Irving was the guest. Irving has written some of my favorite contemporary novels like Setting Free the Bears, Hotel New Hampshire, and The World According to Garp. He’s steadily churned out books since 1968 with his newest, In One Person, coming out this year.
So one would assume with the steady stream of best sellers, Irving would have the newest, top-of-the-line computer system. No, he writes, literally, pen to paper.
He’s not alone. Truman Capote wrote longhand lying down (pencil in one hand, sherry in the other); Herbert Gold wrote his books on index cards and so did Vladimir Nabokov. Dan Brown keeps an hourglass on his desk to let him know when to take a break.
I, on the other hand, use a keyboard for nearly everything. True, I have the handwriting of a serial killer—spiky and illegible, but it’s more than that. I think with my finger tips. What is in my brain easily comes out over the keyboard, and it is very comfortable; although, it wasn’t always this way. In college, I used a yellow legal pad and a roller-ball pen. I would swear, at that time, that I couldn’t possibly be creative if I didn’t write that way. Apparently, I was wrong. When I got my first computer in graduate school (yes, I am that old), I slowly eased into the writing habits that I have today.
Natalie Houston[i] writes in a Chronicle of Higher Education article that she returned to writing longhand because she finds it “far more pleasurable and reflective.” Her article cites a study that found that there are brain-wave differences between people writing longhand and typing. The act of physically writing longhand brings more critical information to the forefront of the brain. But she raised an interesting question. Will these same differences still apply to a generation who grew up using strictly keyboards?
As for me, I think I’ll stick with my keyboard. Not only does the speed appeal to my slightly hyperactive nature, but a slight case of arthritis makes gripping a pen painful after a short while. Maybe it’s a case of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks, but I’ve grown accustomed to writing with a keyboard, and I’ve developed nuances that create a unique writing experience. It may not work for everyone, but it’s a comfortable old friend for me.
[i] “On Writing Longhand” http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/on-writing-longhand/31030
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