Friday, August 10, 2012

Quote of the Day (Richard Selzer, on Writing in Longhand)

“The pen is the writing instrument most congenial to my hand. It has the same length and heft as a scalpel, though one is round and the other flat. Ply either one, and something is shed. From the scalpel, blood; from the pen, ink. I like to watch words issue from my fingers, like a secretion from my body. The word processor does not exist that offers so personal a sense of discharge. Then, too, there are the quick, tiny hisses as the flat of the hand moves across a page from left to right, to say nothing of the long, delicious hiss from right to left when you start a new line. Each time I write a story or essay in longhand, I feel a triumph over the technological preeminence of the computer keyboard.”—Dr. Richard Selzer, “Writing With Scalpel,” in The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work, edited by Marie Arana (2003)

I am all with Dr. Richard Selzer on this: There is no writing more spontaneous, more natural, than writing in longhand. When instructors talk about “free writing” exercises, writing in longhand is what they have in mind. The computer keyboard is an impediment to getting your fugitive thoughts on paper as fast as possible, before they slip away—potential great ideas vanished into the ether.

But I have a confession that anyone who’s been unlucky enough to receive even a postcard from me will understand perfectly: my handwriting leaves something to be desired. In fact, I would even match it against any of those in Dr. Selzer’s profession—one infamous for the number of its practitioners who are difficult to decipher—for general illegibility.

For that reason, unlike Dr. Selzer, I suspect, once I get my ideas on paper, I’m invariably in a mad rush to transcribe my lightning-fast jottings into my computer's vast memory bank. Otherwise, my meditations can vanish as certainly at my own uneven hand as at the computer’s impersonal interference.

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