Monday, October 6, 2014

My No. 1 Tip: Writing by Hand!



Long, long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away, it was the time before computers. Even typewriters were not a common household item. At least, not in my childhood home on the front range of Colorado. Colorado Springs was small then, full of open spaces. The public library was way, way on the other side of town. There were no bookstores. The only library available to me was my school library. I checked out every book I could read. By fourth grade, my favorite authors were already Mark Twain, Jack London, Charles Dickens, James Fennimore Cooper, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and many more. And if I wanted to have my very own copy of a book, so I didn’t have to return it, I copied the book.

By hand.

So is it a wonder that I became a writer when I grew up?

Even now, after all these decades, with the onslaught of computers, iPads and fancy programs that write text for you, I still write everything by hand. Even this article was first written by hand.

It turns out to be a good thing, to write by hand. Scientists now know that cursive writing is an important tool for cognitive development. It teaches the brain to be efficient, helps to develop critical thinking skills and refines motor control. In fact, children who learn cursive tend to learn how to read faster, generate more ideas and retain more information.

When I was copying my books in the fourth grade, I paid more attention to the details of the story. I experienced the characters on a deeper level because the very act of writing them out engaged all my senses. I had to pay attention to the words, how they were ordered, and how they were used. And, of course, I experienced the linear logic of the plot.


When I grew up, I began writing stories that featured the landscape and characters that were larger than life. A student of American history and folklore, my first books were picturebooks. If you want to know more about my picturebooks, check out JoAnn’s interview with me here!




 I continued exploring the American landscape, blending folklore and history in my first middle grade novel, Big River’s Daughter (Holiday House, 2013). The book comes recommended by the International Reading Association, and was nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project (American Library Association, 2013). The book is listed on A Mighty Girl’s Top 2013 Mighty Girl Books for Tweens and Teens. My second middle grade historical fiction is Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House 2014) and takes on the daunting challenge of researching the Battle of Gettysburg. For this story, I walked the battlefields four times, experiencing the very landscape where my characters lived and breathed, and died. If you are interesting in my research process for this book, you might enjoy this interview by Laurie J. Edwards, here.  The book comes recommended by Booklist as “a unique, exciting work.” School Library Journal calls the book a “riveting historical fiction.” The book is listed as a Hot Pick on Children’s Book Council for September 2014.


Of course, writers have to pay the bills. While I never planned to be a teacher, it seemed a natural fit. I teach college freshman and older students. Of course, now all the students use computers to read texts and compose their essays. And iPads, and even their phones. Most of them are proud to proclaim they have never used a pen or pencil. I make them print out the research and drafts, and have them write out their annotations and corrections on the paper. I make them experience the words and the organization in order to determine how everything fits together. They don’t always appreciate the experience. But their essays are usually better for it.

As Julia Cameron once said, “When we write by hand, we connect to ourselves. We may get speed and distance when we type, but we get a truer connection – to ourselves and our deepest thoughts – when we actually put pen to page.”

You might be interested to see more:

Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter”, by William Klemm. Psychology Today. March 14, 2013.

Julia Cameron Live, "Morning Pages: why by hand?. The Artist’s Way." October 4, 2012

Bobbi Miller

Image from Morguefile




23 comments:

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Welcome, Bobbi! And hooray for you for showing your students the value of writing by hand--I hope they appreciate your wisdom!

Carmela Martino said...

Wow, Bobbi! You copied whole books by hand as a kid! I'm impressed.
And welcome, again, to the team!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

I second JoAnn's "WELCOME!"
What an honor to be your fellow TeachingAuthor, Bobbi.
I also second your "writing by hand" advice.
I too copied - by hand - the books I read as a child, so I could learn to be an Author someday. I then grew up and typed out those books I read to my son so I could leasrn how to write a picture book.
I'm so glad you and Holiday House found each other...and that our readers can now find YOU on this blog.

marciastrykowski.com said...

I find this fascinating. I love to write by hand, but I can't even imagine a fourth-grader writing out an entire book--that's real dedication to the craft (and very strong fingers)!

Bobbi Miller said...

Thank you so much, Marti and JoAnn. I am SO excited to be join you here! It's true, I copied books, and for a long while, I was able to recite full passages from many of my favorites. I'd quote Oliver Twist for days; I had such a crush on the Artful Dodger! Another favorite was Ernest Thompson Seton's 'Wild Animals I Have Known." And, of course, Walter Farley's Black Stallion!

Bobbi Miller said...

Esther! I am so glad to hear about your adventures in copying books! I am not so alone in my madness after all!

Bobbi Miller said...

Marcia! Thank you for dropping by! I learned to read at an early age, and living in the wilds of Colorado, if I wasn't outside playing, I was inside creating my own books--quite literally.

Yvonne Ventresca said...

I always type, so this gives me something to think about!

Yvonne

mary ann rodman said...

Welcome, Bobbi! Fascinating post. It never occurred to me to copy books as a child, although I wrote by hand for years because I was a horrible typist.(Thank you auto-correct.) My students write by hand because my teaching facility is a shared space that doesn't include computers, and I discourage them from bringing tablets to workshop. A lot of them have trouble writing with a pencil for extended periods of time because they aren't used to it. Good for you, Bobbi!

Beverley Baird said...

All of my first drafts are written. l can't imagine doing it any other way. I taught gr. 3 for over 20 years and always taught cursive writing. I thought it important even when it was taken from the curriculum a few years ago.

Rebecca C said...

I've heard good things about copying out a book as a way of learning how to write better. No wonder you turned out to be such a brilliant writer! I don't often write by hand but I do prefer it in the idea stage when I want to play around on the page. Great post and glad to hear you're now a Teaching Author!

Pen N. InkBlog said...

I never copied a book. That's amazing. I agree that writing by hand is a great way to go. I still do morning pages occasionally. I did them regularly for 20 years.
Thanks for the post. Susan at Pen and Ink

Pat McDermott said...

How sad that so many kids today have never used a pen and paper! Then again, most of us have never used inkwells and goose feathers, precious commodities that clearly generated much thought before the words hit the page, so I suspect there might be hope for the writers of tomorrow. Thank you for this inspiring post.

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Yvonne! So glad you dropped by! I think writing by hand is an age and/or generation thing as well. The younger generations have not known a time not defined by computers or being plugged into something. My students panic at the thought of not having their iPhones, their video games, the iTunes. And they don't believe me when I try to describe rotary phones!

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Mary Ann! I so agree, my current students panic at the thought of using pen and paper. They really grumble about the process!

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Beverley! I so agree. It was not a wise decision to take cursive writing out of the curriculum. The benefits were so far-reaching to the critical thinking process. While my younger students are very tech literate, and navigate the various techo-gizmos with ease, they can't think in longer sentences than 140 characters. They can't elaborate on a given point. They have difficulty getting behind the data to understand what it means, although they are very good at regurgitating it verbatim. It's disconcerting.

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Rebecca: And thank you for the kind words! This means a lot to me!

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Pat! So glad you dropped by! I've used a quill and inkwell, just to feel what it was like. It was challenging! I use to love fountain pens and had quite a collection. Now I use Parker or Bic. They have nice colors, and are so much cheaper!

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Susan at Pen & Ink! Thank you for dropping by!

Joolze said...

Great post, Bobbi. I use a computer a lot now, especially when writing longer stories for older children. However, pen and paper are definitely my preference when writing picture books and poetry - somehow it just doesn't flow without the pen in my hand!

jan godown annino said...

Dear Bobbi,

I'm stopped in awe of your child zeal for literature. To read that you copied the stories you loved, so you would have them close to your heart. The image of your little hand & pencil is going to endure. Could be in a novel, it's so poignant.

And so ironic that I type this nodding in agreement with you yes, yes, looking over at the cup and jar & wood box of pencils, pens, crayons...

Such a lovely post.

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Julie! I'm so glad you dropped by! Thank you!

Bobbi Miller said...

Thank you for your kind words, Jan!