From the Center

Reflections from W&M's Writing Resources Center

The Virtue of Handwriting

cookie_crispDid you know that Jerry Seinfeld wrote every episode of Seinfeld by hand? The same goes for nearly all of his stand-up material over the years. When asked why, he answered that the blinking cursor makes him feel anxious, like he’s being asked, “So? What do you got?”

Though I’m not on Seinfeld’s level, I’ve also begun writing important papers by hand. Besides avoiding distractions on the internet, I’ve found writing long form to be helpful for two main reasons:

Pace

When you’re typing, the speed of your fingers can easily outpace clear thinking. Additionally, many people find that as they write, they further develop and understand their ideas. I find that the slower pace of handwriting allows for more of these discoveries as my brain can outpace my hand. I feel more in control of the paper and less stressed about hitting word counts or paragraph lengths that seem passable.

Necessary Revision

Of all the steps in the writing process, I find revision is the easiest to blow off. After all, I wrote the paper. I know already that it’s very good. Why waste time going back over it? Won’t that just puff my ego up more? My rationalizations can get convoluted. The truth is, everyone needs revision. That may sound trite, but it’s true. Papers, especially first drafts, need revision. Writing by hand forces you to allot the time to revise more as you write as well as when you transfer your written words to the computer.

Hopefully, as you read back over your work, you won’t just copy it verbatim from page to screen. You’ll see sentences that aren’t working or notice typos. You’ll develop a sense of the flow of your paper broadly. Once I see words on my screen, I always struggle to delete them. They look so final in Times New Roman 12 pt. font. However, when they are in pen, and I’m weighing whether they should be typed up, I’m much more honest and critical.

Consider writing by hand. Your first draft will be more coherent and insightful, and it’ll force you to review the paper as you type it up, improving your final draft. Slow and steady wins the race.

Image:  Jerry Seinfeld Breaks Down a Joke

Have you tried gratitude journaling?

grateful-forScrolling through my social media feeds, I can’t help but notice a sudden burst in pretty twenty-somethings professing themselves to be wellness gurus, promoting some kind of “healthy” practice that “Everyone Should Add To Their Routine!” Things like yoga, meditation, vitamin supplements, and innumerable recipes using organic foods fill my screen. As someone who tries to stay holistically in-tune with her wellness, I like to try a variety of these cool things I’m seeing online. There is one approach that I have found more beneficial than any other—gratitude journaling.

Gratitude journaling is the daily practice of writing down at least one thing you feel grateful for and why. This can take many forms—bullet points, full journal entries based on gratitude-themed prompts, drawings, or photographs with captions. There are many creative possibilities. The goal of this journaling is to create a deep sense of appreciation in one’s life.

In a world with so much inequality and struggle, it is often easy to overlook something as simple as being thankful for warm socks or the way the leaves on your favorite tree change colors. Competitive and academically challenging environments can make it easy to forget to be grateful for internet connection or supportive friends and family. Gratitude journaling focuses the mind on the present and generates a more appreciative view of the world.

There are even some proven benefits to daily gratitude journaling. The University of Minnesota and the University of Florida teamed up for a study in which participants were instructed to write down a list of positive events that occurred throughout their day and why these made them feel happy. At the conclusion of the study, the participants reported lower stress levels and a greater sense of calm at night. Psychotherapist Amy Morin has identified some key benefits of gratitude journaling, such as an improved quality of relationships, physical health, self-esteem, mental strength and resilience, and a decrease in aggression and anger.

Gratitude journaling is something I have come to look forward to every day. By positively focusing on the things that matter to me, no matter how small, I generally feel happier and more content with everything around me. I am more receptive to friends, family, even strangers; and I’m more resilient when faced with uncontrollable, stressful events in life. The physical act of writing down my gratitude helps to permanently capture these important things, and reading back through all these entries is something that brings peace to my life.

gratitude-journal

Images:

https://www.tckpublishing.com/how-and-why-to-keep-a-gratitude-journal/

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-journal/

Lessons about Writing – Inspired by Oliver Sacks

Sacks-Island-coverOliver Sacks claims that he wrote The Island of the Colorblind  “in a sort of swoop, a single breath, in July 1995, it then grew. . .” (xx). He makes writing sound easy, as if already-formed sentences tumbled out of his head onto the page in the correct order.  Yet, when he clarifies the process of reconstructing memories, we get a hint at the behind-the-scenes work required of communicating his Pacific island experiences:

“Writing, in these past months, has allowed me, forced me, to revisit these islands in memory.  And since memory .  .  .  is never a simple recording or reproduction, but an active process of recategorization—of reconstruction, of imagination, determined by our own values and perspectives—so remembering has caused me to reinvent these visits, in a sense, constructing a very personal, idiosyncratic, perhaps eccentric view of these islands . . . .” (xvii-xviii)

Like Sack’s exploration of the islands, his writing process follows a journey from discovery to synthesis or “reconstruction” and provides an example of important concepts about writing.

Concept 1:  Writing is more than a transcription from the mind directly to paper.  Writing is thinking on paper.

Concept 2:  Writing is messy. Making meaning requires work to tease out what we really want to communicate.

Concept 3:  Writing is re-writing.  Because writing is a process of discovery, new ideas might erupt at any time.  In the messiness, ideas collide and produce new ways of thinking about a subject.  Re-visioning our ideas can lead to a more sophisticated structure.  Look what happened to Sacks: his new ideas took the form of pages and pages of endnotes, creating a text of their own.

Concept 4:  How we shape our ideas is influenced by our “values and perspectives.” Each reader brings unique experiences to a text. That’s why “write about what you know” has become a truism – if we connect what we are reading or researching to things we know or have a passion about, our writing stands a better chance of capturing our readers.  Through our writing, we have an opportunity to share our perspective and challenge readers to think in new ways.

By writing Island of the Colorblind, Sacks has given us a glimpse of writing as thinking, as a process of meaning-making. Our challenge is to embrace the process.

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