Handwriting vs. Typing, Part I

“Only know that handwriting and pressing the keys with your fingers are two different physical activities, and a slightly different state of mind comes from each one. Not better or worse, just different.”

-Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend From Far Away

Then she goes on to take some not-so-subtle digs at typing, including this doomsday scenario presumably aimed at impoverished MFA candidates: “What if you can’t afford to pay your electric bill? You should still be able to write.” Natalie’s partisanship continues throughout the chapter.

It’s disappointing (or maybe it’s fun) when sides are taken over something that is just plain fascinating. Handwriting and typing, especially computer-typing, are the differentest (yeah, not a word) of different experiences. The words may burble from the same magma, but they ooze down entirely different sides of the volcano.

Doing it the way you and I are doing it now gives us straight lines and a cursor that blinks like an eager personal assistant. And the delete key. The delete key is just a monster, a game-changer (in the Ivan Drago sense).

On the screen we can instantly rearrange the flow of ideas with cut, copy and paste, or we can jet between sections, strafing them with a few lines–even a few words–each time. Nothing is permanent, anything can be moved. How can this not affect what we actually write?

Or we can grind ink or graphite against a substance made from live plants, feel the tendons in our hand strain as blood rushes to oxygenate them, let our skin drag through the words and become darkened (more a problem for lefties). It is a more visceral experience.

We may have an eraser or, hah!, Wite-Out–as though any writer on a roll wants to wait for Wite-Out to dry in the heat of the moment. But there’s nothing even approaching the text-manipulation deity tricks possible between the keyboard and screen.  It is much more permanent, even if you throw it in the fire later.

I’ll pick this up tomorrow with some totally unfounded opinions regarding what our handwriting says about to us.

(P.S. As we consider handwriting “vs.” typing, isn’t the strikethrough a clever idea?)


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