Typing, Print, Cursive

With news of the standard curriculum changing to no longer include cursive making the rounds, there have been a number of arguments surrounding the usefulness of teaching children to write in script. While many make the argument that it is an antiquated skill (and they possibly have a point, what with more and more documents being produced electronically) I have a much more personal connection to cursive than it seems many my age.

You see, when writing, I often prefer to write my first drafts out long hand. Sometimes I actually find it necessary (more than once on my most recent work in progress, I’ve only been able to write long hand while I just end up staring at the cursor on a word processor).

A sample of what nine out of ten notebooks in my house are filled with

When writing long hand, I also tend to solely write in cursive (print is reserved to mark what I intend to italicize when typing everything up). While I am able to write in both print and script quite legibly (I believe), I find writing in print much slower than writing in cursive (what with having to lift  your pen between each letter). The printing shown above was very deliberately my “nice” printing. In fact, if I try to print as quickly as I write in script, it ends up something more like this:

Why it also wobbles up and down, I don’t know.

Still legible, perhaps, but certainly not as pretty as cursive tries to sneak its way back in (I seem to be unable to separate the ‘h’ and ‘e’ in ‘the’ when writing in a hurry). As I tend to write whatever comes to me, I am thus not able to print quickly enough to keep up with my mind without the letters beginning to resemble chicken scratch (perhaps what those who knew me in middle school would remember as just my writing…)

But Jessica, you may be asking, if you don’t like printing, why don’t you just type? That’s what kids will likely find most useful in the future anyway. To which I say, fair question, rhetorical person. Typing likely will be a more important skill for children to learn in their lives–especially if their writing ventures tend to consist of school papers and emails.

As a writer, though, I still must make my case for writing longhand (and thus cursive) for a just a few reasons:

1. You think better writing longhand.

Seriously. There have been entire articles about it. While I don’t know if it is the reason (or only reason) I have been able to power through writer’s block with a pen when Microsoft Word fails me, there have been plenty studies that prove students learn better when writing things out by hand than with typing. To quote the article linked above:

“Writing stimulates a bunch of cells at the base of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you’re actively focusing on at the moment—something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront.

“Dr. Virginia Berniger, who studies reading and writing systems and their relationship to learning processes, found that children’s writing ability was consistently better (they wrote more, faster, and more complete sentences) when they used a pen rather than a keyboard…The difference, Berniger notes, may lie in the fact that with writing, you use your hand to form the letters (and connect them), thereby more actively engaging the brain in the process. Typing, on the other hand, involves just selecting letters by pressing identical-looking keys.”

Of course, some people are much more comfortable typing and that allows them to work more easily when not worrying about writing, but the very act of writing longhand engages the brain in ways typing does not, and that is helpful for many.

2. You can write on the go.

As smartphones and tablets become more and more common, pen and paper may begin to lose their advantage here, but for now, pen and paper wins out for easy writing on the go. You can get a small notebook from Office Depot for 99¢ (you aren’t going to get the cheapest tablet for that) and throw it in your purse without giving up much space, worrying about it running out of battery, or having to figure out how to type with any speed on a touch screen. Even lacking a notebook, you can almost always find a scrap of paper somewhere to scribble down ideas. There’s something poetic about starting a best seller on a napkin (like J.K. Rowling!) that just isn’t there trying to type out something on your smartphone before it dies.

3. It streamlines the editing process.

“But you’re just going to have to type it up anyway,” rhetorical question-asker argues. “Agents/publishers aren’t going to take handwritten manuscripts.” Well, yeah, but you also aren’t going to (hopefully) be sending in a rough draft of a work to an agent/publisher in the first place. Once you have finished your first draft, you then have the chance to start first-round edits as you type up what you have already written. Really hate this one scene? Rewrite it. Think that sentence could be better? Tweak it as you’re typing things up. Rearrange. Cut scenes. Add scenes. You can do it all while typing what you’ve written up. It’s all stuff you should be doing anyway.

4. You always have a backup .

Hopefully you already have a backup of your manuscript (or multiple), but in the event that the machines finally rise up and become our masters, it’s always comforting to know that there’s at least a draft of what you’ve done somewhere to work with rather than losing everything (or, perhaps more likely, should your laptop and external hard drive get stolen, it’s far less likely for a burglar to grab a stack of already-used notebooks on their way out). Can you lose a notebook? Of course. Could it be destroyed? Yep. But it isn’t going to be taken out by clicking on the wrong link one day or an airport scanner wiping your computer hard drive (latter one has happened to me in the past. Thank god for external hard drives).

5. You won’t get (as) distracted.

Ok, there’s really no limit in being able to find distractions when you don’t want to write (I really should reorganize this bookshelf…) but by writing on paper, you have one less potential time waster easily accessible. Sure, there are writing programs that allow you to write “full screen” these days, so you don’t see things popping up to distract you while you type, but really, it’s so much easier to hit that little escape button and check Facebook “just for a second” then it is when you’re writing in a notebook.

5. You have something to auction off when you’re rich and famous.

I know, I know, this one’s a bit wishful thinking…but what author really doesn’t want to think about their first drafts being auctioned off for big money once they’ve hit Stephen King levels of fame? Selling a flashdrive with an old draft of your Word Document just doesn’t have the same draw.

And so, there are my reasons for still writing longhand (beyond “it helps me write” and “I like it”). Do I begrudge schools for finding other skills than cursive more important these days? No, I completely understand the argument. Do I plan on teaching my children how to write in script all the same? If at all possible, you can bet on it.