Dear reader, you may be aware that for some time now I’ve been writing a book. This particular vade mecum marks my second foray into the world of authorship, my first of course being the Nobel Prize-winning anthology, “Of Cabbages and Kings: Musings of a Beautifully Disordered Mind,” the perfect gift for your beloved enemies or those suffering from insomnia. This new but equally appalling piece of literary drivel will be called “A Fork in the Road: Love Letters to the World of Food.”
What you may not be aware of is that fact that I’ve decided to write this book by hand. By that I mean, with a pencil and paper. No typewriter, no computer, nothing of a mechanical nature shall intervene in the writing process. Even my beloved thesaurus will be in printed rather than electronic form.
Now now, don’t look at me like that. I haven’t gone (too) mad, nor am I turning into a technophobe or raving Luddite, which is just as well, since (fun fact) the so-called “Luddites” were not, in fact, against technology as many believe, but against technology that took away their jobs.
I simply wish to reconnect with the (rapidly dying) art of penmanship.
It’s quote possible that some of you reading this didn’t even realize the process of handwriting HAD a name. Indeed, there was a time (July 17th, 400BC at 2:21pm) when children such as myself were taught handwriting in school. The act of writing by hand with a stylus or similar device goes back a long way. A very long way. As in, at least 5000 years. The earliest example of writing discovered so far is a Sumerian pictographic system found on clay tablets called cuneiform. These small triangular symbols were etched into soft clay with a sharpened reed from around 3200 BC. One such tablet has been translated by experts to read, “What r u doin 2nite? LOL”
For me, handwriting has always possessed a degree of artistry and mystique, harkening back to a simpler time when the writer and his / her work were more intimately bonded in the creative process. The physical effort required for handwriting makes one feel as if they are truly crafting something with their hands, in a similar way that a painter or sculptor manipulates their chosen medium without the interference of mechanical contrivances.
We live in a world of word processors that promise to do most of the thinking (and much of the crafting) for us. Some would say it shows in our modern writing, but I couldn’t possible comment. Innovations such as spelling and grammar checking software removes the need for us to think too hard about what we want to say. Indeed, even the most cursory glance at the literary masterworks that infest the average website’s comment section will reveal just how little thought that is.
Often this software creates more problems than it’s worth, occasionally with hilarious results. (Looking at you Autocorrect.) Even when it works properly, software homogenizes the writing process, stifling unique voices in favour of blind adherence to grammatical rules – many of which are superstitions and myths with no basis in reality, much less humanity.
Please don’t misunderstand me dear reader, literary works of tremendous craftsmanship can of course be created using modern technology. However, there’s something real, visceral even, in relying on one’s own hands, eyes and brain for the writing process. The simple, honest act of putting pen (or pencil) to paper is one that creates a kind of spiritual through-line to some of the greatest literary masters in history.
Consider that when Sophocles sat down to pen Oedipus and Antigone, he had no word processor and no spelling or grammar checking software to rely on. Indeed, even the thesaurus was over 2000 years in his future. Such a chilling idea doesn’t bear thinking about. (Note to self: When time travelling to ancient Greece, bring a Roget’s.) The Bard himself, William Shakespeare, a bright spark who invented almost as many words as he wrote, had no access to online resources or drag and drop editing. It was done laboriously, with a feather.
When was the last time you wrote anything by hand? For most of us, it’s limited to the occasional grocery list or, of course, your signature. However, with the increased use – and some would argue, greater security – of biometric technology such as fingerprint recognition, even the signature will eventually fade away.
Of course, writing itself will not disappear entirely. Like printed book, it will always remain with us, but in an ever increasingly anachronistic form. Our loss I should think.
Writing an entire book by hand will certainly be more laborious, but also more satisfying. Ask someone who chooses to build a piece of furniture by hand. They could easily go out and buy a beautiful piece of furniture. It would probably be cheaper, and would most assuredly be physically easier. However creating something yourself, by hand, is a rich and rewarding process in and of itself. In a sense, the process becomes more important than the product.
It may sound strange to compare writing a book by hand to building a physical object, but the concept is the same. It’s the pride of knowing that something was crafted with one’s own hands. There’s a unique spatial relationship between the artist and the work that cannot be easily explained, only felt.
Now as you can imagine dear reader, the fruit of my literary loins will not remain forever locked in its handwritten form. The manuscript will inevitably be converted to an electronic form on a computer for publishing. However I will retain the handwritten copy for myself, as a reminder of the blood, sweat and tears that went into its creation. Well, the eye strain and carpal tunnel at least.