The Joys of Handwriting
…Even When Your Novel is 50,000 Words
At a launch on May 2, 2017 of my novel, Anchor Out at Trident Booksellers Café in Boston, a man asked about my writing process, wanting to know whether it was true that I’d handwritten the novel in its entirety. There was a silence of surprise and astonishment in the room when I affirmed this question. They wanted to know why in this millennium anyone would handwrite a fifty thousand-word draft of a novel. I think I told them that it felt like the flow of the ink was an extension of my life’s blood.
In the recent month I have given more thought to why I handwrite the first draft of my novels and what are the gifts of such a practice. I will list ten explanations.
Handwriting connects me to my creative source. The gesture inspires a flow of energy that seems to circulate from my heart through my arms to my fingers and becomes the ink I put on the page.
By attending to the curve and formation of each letter I turn away from the judge that can live in my mind and toward a more accepting attitude.
I let the point of my rolling ball, Percise V, take me across the page as the letters sit squarely on the line or jump, a tail swirling above the line, another below.
The act of writing then becomes a kind of meditation where characters, feelings, ideas, anyone may visit, arriving and leaving with just my noticing.
In this state I find a certain attention to the material. It is present and palpable as if it were before me in its brilliant moment of existence.
When Uncertainty prevails, and it does, I write with my non-dominant hand. I didn’t invent this idea but learned it from Lucia Capacchione, The Wisdom of Your Other Hand. At the bookstore this got a rise. When I asked if anyone had ever tried this, I discovered that it was used when the dominant hand was broken. Lucia says that the body is a storyteller and a way to dialogue with the inner healer, child, wise woman and more.
Writing with my non-dominant hand brings something unexpected, fresh, playful, naughty, direct, even forbidden or scary. Something real! You can think of the left brain being activated or the child, who is spontaneous and free, coming out to play. So how does it work?
Write a question with your dominant hand and then answer it with your non-dominant hand. As you can imagine this slows everything down so that you really focus and attend to the formation of the cursive letters as they rise and fall squiggly above and below the line or perhaps you’ll forego the lines entirely.
I’ll do a mini sample.
Q: Barbara, why do you write when you could be running in the sunshine?
A: I write to get my voice-steam going., to steam-clean the cob webs from my brain, to bypass the minutia shit that sticks to my words, to get a lightening stick.
The bold-faced words or ideas are new to me. In my writing I can ask my character – what do you want? What’s holding you back? Who are you? Can another character, place, thing help you?
What comes forth through handwriting whether it be a journal entry, a friendly letter, a story, or a novel is a kind of clarity. So many of us enjoy reading the letters of famous people we admire and love because they seem clearer, fresher and alive, reminding me of poetry and specifically the words of Mary Oliver in her poem called Invitation.
It is a serious thing just to be alive
On this fresh morning in the broken world
Handwriting simply gives me joy.