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Library General Handwriting - Personality, Effort and Practice
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Handwriting - Personality, Effort and Practice
This was inspired by this wonderful inquiry and is meant as a reply to it.

With all of the modern technology and new digital forms of communication, I am one of those people who laments the loss of the handwriting. I am surprised at the number of people I encounter who have horrible penmanship both in print and cursive. With tweets, email, facebook, blogs and so forth, is it any wonder if people know how to handwrite anymore? Strangers and friends alike comment on the quality of my writing and I just say just nod and say thank-you, neglecting to tell them that I was taught cursive when I was 7 and if they want to see more impressive handwriting to just look at my mother's signature. 

I compose and edit my poetry with pen and paper and carry a little black notebook around where I jot down my ideas. Ever since I started this practice I have mulled over the symbolism of handwriting and the significance of having something on paper that you can feel with your own hands instead of something on the screen. I handwrite because it allows me to think better and more clearly than when typing. When I jot down lines to a poem, I can see as they flow from my pen and feel the motion of the strokes in my arm. I see it on the paper and I can clearly affirm "I wrote that." The signature of my handwriting style makes my work a thousand times more personal than if would input it on a screen because it also divulges my personality. I can see where I paused in thought, where I rushed to complete a sentence, stumbled on a word, or where my pen never left the paper because I was too excited and didn't want to loose my idea. I can also even tell what mood I was in. And it's not just when writing, all artists who work with their hands have the same feeling. The end product is proof of and symbolizes all of the physical and mental energy put into what you created. (Similar to learning to an instrument but that's a whole other topic for discussion.)

It's a reason I love reading handwritten letters. Email and texts are so cold, but writing a letter to someone is a very personal gesture. Holding something such as a letter in your hand carries all of the weight of the person's physical and emotion effort to write it aside from the meaning carried in the words. It might not seem like much, but in an age where almost everything are words on a screen, here is something that isn't. It's concrete and material.

Beyond the personal and emotional attachment to something that is handwritten, it is also proof. When writing something on a computer it is vulnerable as it runs the risk of being copied and pasted. If someone posts a poem online, there is very little to do to protect it from someone selecting the text, copying and pasting it and writing their own name on it. With handwriting, unless someone takes the time to forge what you have written, there is very little chance that they will be able to copy your hand exactly. There is also the chance of it being lost. The reason I have my compositions handwritten down, is because I know that if for some reason my computer breaks or my hard-drive malfunctions and all my data is lost, my writing isn't. It's all safe inside a little black book that cannot be destroyed unless it's set on fire or shredded to pieces. I don't even trust my sky-drive because I'll never know if one day someone will break the internet. 

Then there is also the issue of effort. I prefer pens over pencil because a pen is permanent, and I prefer a pen to a computer because data on a computer can be deleted forever. I design graphics on Photoshop and I am entirely too reliant on the Control+Z function. If I make a mistake while I'm designing, Control+Z takes care of it. Same thing when I'm writing on the computer. I can select blocks of text and erase it or press the key combination and leave the screen blank. When handwriting, especially with pen, there is no such key combination to leave the paper blank. You cross something out and keep on going. I recently edited a poem and had scratch marks all over the paper and it left me with a very giddy feeling of accomplishment. There was the proof of my effort, something I could not show on the computer. 
Hi Ximena,
I personally feel handwriting as much more in danger of disappearing than computer files. I constantly write small notes to myself while walking but these are nowhere to later be found, while my computer files of many years I can easily look through, and I constantly do. It is also so easy to lose a notebook to theft, fire, misplacement.

I agree we might feel we have more protection as long as our writings or poems are in handwriting and not easily copy and pasted, but I think we are deluding ourselves.The moment anyone cares (and If they care they don't need to copy your handwriting, they might deliberately write it in their own handwriting) they can easily copy it in any case.

I thought you might be interested in the discussion on Penmanship and Expressionist Typing .

(Linking to pencils or pens I'll also mention the way to link to posts, from the help file:
While writing a post you can also Link to other posts. How to refer to another post: notice that when you compose there is an upper half where you can still move around the site. In that upper half on each post there is a toolbar, including the voting (thumbs up, down, etc.) and also "Refer to this message," pressing that puts the highlighted "post" in your post, and it is linked to that post. To find the post you want to refer to quickly you can use the search button on the top right hand corner. Note that the “Refer to this message” is only visible while composing.)
You may be interested to know that Rainer Maria Rilke, probably the most significant modern poet in the German language, and one of the very few poets who is popular with American readers in translation (the other one being Rumi), had terrible handwriting till about age 19. Then he met Lou Andreas-Salome (to whom Nietzsche had proposed marriage, and who became the first woman psychoanalyst trained by Freud himself). Andreas-Salome, 16 years older than Rilke, became his lover and told him, effectively: "to be a poet you have to have a poetic name [so Rilke changed his original given name Rene to Rainer], and you have to have impeccable penmanship." Rilke practiced his handwriting until he perfected the kind of script that is no longer seen today: crisp, elegant, and utterly readable even to those unfamiliar with him. A consequence of this penmanship is that Rilke's letters -- Letters to a Young Poet, and Letters on Life which I translated and edited in English -- have become perpetual guide books for readers everywhere.  An image of Rilke's flowing, seamless signature -- which he signed Rainer Maria Rilke without lifting pen off the page - can be found in my Introduction to Rainer Maria Rilke's Letter on Life (Random House). I like the fact that an older woman had to tell the young, impetuous and abundantly talented Rilke to apply some discipline to his gifts so that he would become a real poet, and that his handwriting was important in this. Today, when people write on the computer, penmanship is dying, it's true. But if you take writing seriously it probably matters to be precise even in its most mechanical aspects -- just like a kung fu warrior must be precise about putting her feet on the ground just so, and keeping her fingers exactly aligned for a particular strike, even when her intention is to fight a gang of hoodlums in the autumnal forests, or jump off the roof of some temple to crush the enemy. Every athlete will confirm that attention to the smallest details of form proves significant not when you're just practicing, but it's critical during those final few seconds when the body and mind are tired and it's only muscle memory that moves you forward. The same is true with writing: to write well in the beginning it's irrelevant whether one is precise or sloppy, but to complete a masterpiece one must be obsessive in the smallest details. 

In response to Uli Baer
"Every athlete will confirm that attention to the smallest details of form proves significant not when you're just practicing, but it's critical during those final few seconds when the body and mind are tired and it's only muscle memory that moves you forward."

I really liked that line, in fact I thought the post was brilliant, but I wanted to add that while Rilke needed better handwriting, today's authors need to learn to type well. Most writers work on the computer, but this doesn't mean that your advice is not warranted, it simply means that they should know to type quickly and without looking at the keyboard.

"... but to complete a masterpiece one must be obsessive in the smallest details."
One of course shouldn't become too obsessed about being obsessive on details. Many masterpieces were left unfinished, unbegan, or destroyed because of this obsession. The famous short story on this case being Balzac's The lost masterpiece. One should also know when is the right time to let go.

I'm linking to your books you mentioned, which look great.
Books Discussed
The Poet's Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke (Modern Library)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters on Life: New Prose Translations (Modern Library Classics)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
The Unknown Masterpiece
by Honore de Balzac

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Latest Post: August 1, 2010 at 8:48 PM
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