I read over the weekend an article by Umberto Eco about the decline of handwriting. He is, of course, the author of The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.

“My generation was schooled in good handwriting and we spent the first months of primary school learning to make the strokes of letters … writing by hand obliges us to compose the phrase mentally before writing it down. Thanks to the resistance of pen and paper, it does make one slow down and think.”

With our reliance on computers and mobile phones, the author sees that handwriting may soon seem unnecessary and, eventually, may just become an art form.

I agree that writing by hand does make us “slow down and think”. Writing with pen and paper is an organic, physical process. The words you create are physically present in the real world. It involves more of your physical body too: your wrist, arm, shoulder, head and neck are all involved in the writing process.

I heard Glenn Murcutt, the famous architect, on the radio yesterday and he lamented that our world is overwhelmed by computers and mobile phones. He still designs using pencil and paper. He finds that this creates immediacy. Whereas when a design is created on the computer, it does not truly exist, not until a hard copy is printed.

He also spoke about something called the “thinking hand” which is where the hand acts as the agent of his own subconscious thought. When he draws a line, he said, the hand terminates the line before he himself knows that it should do so. I suppose this can happen too on a computer, but less easily.

“The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on; nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

– from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Of course, the same isn’t true for writing that’s word processed. Simply resort to the delete key or select undo!

Writing by hand is a meditative process too. It’s also a lot easier to cart around pen and paper than a laptop.

I still enjoy scribbling by hand. I make notes and create mind maps full of lines, ellipses and arrows. I make amendments on hard copies of my writing by hand. I wrote my short stories “A Labour Day Weekend,” “One Day for Adlan Mutalib” and several others by hand.

I’m also guilty of doodling … not something easily achievable on a computer keyboard.

How often do you write by hand?

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