Thursday, February 21, 2013

Handwriting and thought

For years I've been aware of the different way my mind works when I'm handwriting and typing, particularly on a computer keyboard (rather than a manual typewriter). 
There's a different connection between my hand and brain, when I'm holding something. Well, that's what I thought it was about. As if the rounder, more organic action of writing, the different pressure I put the pen under, the way it feels on the page, even its taste and texture, the smell of ink, might have something to do with this. 
So I tell anyone who'll listen - use paper, a pen or pencil when you want to come up with ideas. A keyboard's brilliant for transferring them, for editing, but the best ideas come in lead or ink.
We know actually, often the best ideas come when we're not writing at all - walking, swimming, jogging. 
But back to handwriting. I've always kept an eye out for comments on this.
So who should come up with the best explanation to date? Ted Hughes, in an interview with the Paris Review of Poetry. 
He explains that for 30 years he was a WH Smith children's writing competition judge, sorting through 60,000 entries at a time. This is what he said: 
"Usually the entries are a page, two pages, three pages. That’s been the norm. Just a poem or a bit of prose, a little longer. But in the early 1980s we suddenly began to get seventy- and eighty-page works. These were usually space fiction, always very inventive and always extraordinarily fluent—a definite impression of a command of words and prose, but without exception strangely boring."
They asked questions and discovered those children were using word processors. 
Hughes continues with the brilliant explanation I've been looking for: "..as the actual tools for getting words onto the page become more flexible and externalized, the writer can get down almost every thought or every extension of thought. That ought to be an advantage. But in fact, in all these cases, it just extends everything slightly too much. Every sentence is too long. Everything is taken a bit too far, too attenuated. There’s always a bit too much there, and it’s too thin. Whereas when writing by hand you meet the terrible resistance of what happened your first year at it when you couldn’t write at all . . . when you were making attempts, pretending to form letters. These ancient feelings are there, wanting to be expressed. When you sit with your pen, every year of your life is right there, wired into the communication between your brain and your writing hand. There is a natural characteristic resistance that produces a certain kind of result analogous to your actual handwriting. As you force your expression against that built-in resistance, things become automatically more compressed, more summary and, perhaps, psychologically denser. I suppose if you use a word processor and deliberately prune everything back, alert to the tendencies, it should be possible to get the best of both worlds."

Ted Hughes quotes are from this source: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1669/the-art-of-poetry-no-71-ted-hughes