Keys or Cursive?

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Okay, nobody actually writes in cursive anymore.  Unless you’re from the ancient days when handwriting was an actual subject in school.  Like my mom.  But hey, it’s an alliteration and it sounds cooler than ‘Keys or Pens?’, or ‘Keys or Handwriting?’, or ‘Keys or Block Letters?’.  So I lured you in here.  Sue me.

This question, no matter how it’s worded, stems from the fact that somewhere through the stumbling of years, the beauty and creativity symbolized by a cursive page written in a journal or on a loose leaf page of paper was replaced by the quickness of the keyboard and the blinking cursor’s promise of endless possibilities.  Especially for writers born in the 2000s, and those yet to be born, the blank page is no longer an invitation to create – the empty screen is.

We know what we have gained.  We can type more quickly, erase with a button, copy and paste, restructure documents with one hand, organize our files in a neat list so we can open them with a click, type ‘flds;afkld;sjafk;ldsajfkl;dsajfl;dsa’ over and over when we’ve hit a wall, which for no reason at all makes us feel much better than sitting and doing nothing does, then delete that nonsense with a simple command+a delete.  Pointing all of this out is easy.  Most people would say it’s obvious.  But, in addition to everything we’ve gained, have we lost something, too?

Maybe in return for quicker, easier writing, our stories lose a little bit of their character.  Maybe having time to think as we’re writing is good.  It lets us go more places in our head, weigh options instead of just going for what pops in there.  Can you imagine Arthur Conan Doyle sitting and pondering in front of a computer, with his face reflecting the cold light of a backlit computer screen?  Or do we think he probably sat staring out a window, thinking adventurous thoughts as the sun streamed in through the glass?  What about Hemingway?  Did he have to turn the brightness down on his computer because he was staring at it for 6 hours at a time and starting to get blurry vision?  It’s not such a romantic notion, is it?  But the question is: does that matter?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Maybe the romanticism of writing is important.  Maybe writing is just evolving.

Everyone knows the popular JK Rowling story.  She was sitting on a train and the idea of a black haired child with a lightning scar popped into her head.  If she could have opened her computer and written it all down right away we wouldn’t have the Harry Potter we know and love.  She’s even said in interviews that the extra time to let the story bloom in her mind was the most important thing that ever happened to Harry.  Occasionally, taking a longer time to write something down gives us more time for thought, and helps us go somewhere truly magical.

Now – and I put this disclaimer at the end because hopefully I’ve already tricked you into reading all of this – I have to admit that I’m on the keyboard side of things.  I didn’t even write this by hand and then type it up onto my blog (lost an opportunity for a case study there… Oops).  But I know that there are still people out there who prefer to write by hand, and even as a computer user I’m slightly enamored by the idea of sitting at a desk with a fountain pen and some good, thick paper, and just letting the ideas come for hours at a time.

So, are there any writers out there who write in cursive (or block letters, for the inelegant clowns, like me, among us)?  I know some people journal by hand because they find it calming, or it’s a ritual.  Do you journal by hand?  Does anybody out there do a part of their fiction process by hand?  What do you think about it?  What do you see as the pros and cons of writing by hand?  Of writing on the computer?

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I'm a 25 year old recent college graduate (who still clings to that title over two years after graduating) and aspiring author. I also love sports and going out with my friends.

36 thoughts on “Keys or Cursive?

  1. I use a combo of writing and typing. When I’m brainstorming and plotting, I tend to write things out instead of typing them. And I always have a pen and small notepad with me. I’ve even had to sit down in church and write something in my notebook. (Sorry, God!) But it was such an awesome idea, I think it was divine inspiration.

    When I’m crafting the actual manuscript, I do that on my computer. It’s easier and faster, of course, but I like to take time to sit and reflect or let my imagination wander with a physical pen in hand and a notebook of empty pages that are just waiting to be filled with ideas. (And I have dozens of notebooks filled).

    I think a combo is good. It allows for both efficiency and creativity. It works for me.

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  2. My friend told me that cursive comes from the left side of the brain (that’s the artsy fartsy creative part, right?) and that print is more connected with the right side of the brain. I am a huge note-taker, even when I read fiction I often take notes, highlight, underline, etc. and whenever I copy a direct quote from a text I always use cursive but when I’m writing my own analytical thoughts I use print. So when my friend, who knows stuff like that, told me about the brain connection I thought that totally makes sense!! I carry a Harriet the Spy style notebook around to write stuff in and usually when I’m working on my fiction I have it open to jot things down or diagram things – timelines or layouts or whatever, just to keep it all straight.

    I guess I’m saying I also take the combo approach. And I have also written entire blog posts during church services, phantomwriter143. Divine inspiration, indeed.

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  3. I started my early writing career with a pen. I am left-handed and I thought that the typewriter/word processor/laptop evolution would make me a better writer. Things can get messy for us left-handers. But the truth is that there are creative juices that flow directly from the brain to the pen that don’t seem to connect the same way on the keyboard.
    I even did an experiment on it once. I turned off all my lights, lit a few candles and write by a window in the dark. Inused an old-fashioned ink quill. The experience was much more rewarding. So nowadays, I use both methods, but I set the mood. It’s the atmosphere around me that makes all the difference.
    I really enjoyed your post. I hope to see more comparison articles from you. It was definitely a thought-provoking process.

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  4. I used to always write uni essays by hand because, despite being born in the 90s with a dad who tried to buy my love by buying me things such as a computer before I had even heard of the internet, I was able to write faster than I could type so writing kept up with my brain easier. By the time I eventually dropped out of uni because of physical illness I could barely write a shopping list by hand without pain, but my early essays written by hand and typed up also got me my best marks. Though that could be because uni gets harder as you get further into the course… I only started writing fiction and blogging after I left uni so that’s all on the computer unfortunately. I am hoping to try writing by hand as my health improves.

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  5. I actually went to college with an electric typewriter – only 1 person in our dorm has a computer. I would use a blend of long-hand and typewriter for 1st draft of my research papers. Then I would head over to the computer lab across campus for final draft. Ah, the age of floppy disks. I still use paper for shopping lists and writing in my journal. Funny, I find it easier to write in my journal using a fountain pen. The scratching of the metal nib on paper is key to helping get my thoughts out. I just don’t get same inspiration with a ballpoint pen. And, I tend to use a cursive style. I am forcing myself to do my writing using Google docs. This allows to me to share current writing projects across multiple devices. I still miss writing out stories in my favorite paper notebook or on a yellow legal pad. My thoughts just flow easier using ink.

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  6. As a rule, I do all of my plotting, all of my “figuring the story out” part, longhand in a journal while at my day job. When it’s time to sit down and actually write the manuscript in narrative form, I do that at the computer. I am certainly no stranger to hand cramps, nor to ink smears, as I am left-handed! I honestly have a hard time doing the plotting stage at a computer, though I have no idea why that is. Maybe there is some strange connection between the brain and the page that can only be bridged by a pen in the hand, gliding smooth and satisfying over the paper, until the ideas come so fast that your handwriting deteriorates into scribbles, illegible to everyone but you, and your fingers kink up to the point where you can’t hold the pen upright anymore. And STILL the ideas come. That, to be completely honest, is my favorite part of writing, and I really only get it when I’m writing longhand.

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  7. I still write cursive sometimes but mainly for poetry. Legibility becomes an issue in transcribing reams of text. But I have those large hand written things too. It paces you differently – you hit different beats.

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  8. Nice topic. I was born in the 70s and I was taught to write cursive. I write almost everything by hand. I even have a notebook full of Twitter posts in a little notebook. For me, it is about flow. I feel there is a barrier between me and the mechanicalness of a keyboard. I am typing this and I find it difficult to think clearly; I’ve had to go back and forth and add stuff after the fact. And frankly, I hate typing. But writing by hand. I can’t stop. It’s like an addiction filling up notebook after notebook. It’s very visual and gives me a feeling of accomplishment that I can’t quite see on my computer. But, I have to type my handwritten mass of jumbled scribbles and marks into a digital space. I use that as a second draft. I can see where I can change flow, add and take away things, and so on. Thanks for sharing an interesting topic.

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  9. I do a lot of my writing by hand, and by that, yes I mean cursive. With a fountain pen no less. I write in my journal all the time, block printing for poetry that I want to be neat, and cursive for the rest. Mostly messy, but hey, I’m in a hurry. I write parts of my books in notebooks, and it’s usually the rough draft that I use my pen. It’s when I start getting to actual story construction and more detail that I turn to my computer. When I write by hand I tend to be more basic, less flowery, but then I transcribe it all on to my computer and that’s when I start getting really wordy. It’s a pro and con thing either way.

    I find I think a differently when I write by hand. Sometimes more subtle. And every children’s manuscript I’ve come up with, has all started out with a pen or even pencil. Never computer. Besides, I can take my notebook with me. I never take my laptop anywhere except some other place in the house.

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  10. Typing. Often on my phone. I developed the habit from necessity. If I had to actually write things with a pen on paper (and once upon a time, I was very precious on this point), they tended not to happen.

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  11. I do write by hand and in cursive because I can get my thoughts down quicker than if I were to print. All my notes are by hand – outlines, character bios. The key board is for putting it all together. Thank you, Dave for visiting my blog 🙂

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  12. I’ve done most of my writing-writing on a computer, and almost all of my hand-written work since high school has been in all-caps block script. I haven’t written much in cursive in almost 30 years other than the occasional thank you note.

    Just last night, in reaction to a period of struggling with maintaining momentum on my novel, I sat down with a pad and pen and wrote in cursive for a couple of hours. The words just flowed out of me. It was a very different feeling from writing at a keyboard. It felt much more organic, and it didn’t trigger a flare-up of my carpal tunnel syndrome, which is an added bonus.

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  13. I plan out my stories in cursive but the heavy lifting is done on the keyboard. One day I will write a complete draft in cursive, though. I do love fountain pens and have a good collection, with my Montblanc 149 being my favourite.

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  14. I recently started hand writing all my posts then later typing. My ideas seem to fliw much better and a blank page isn’t as scary as a blank screen. Good post.

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  15. I actually do all my plotting on paper – in cursive, yes! – but my drafting and editing on the computer; I also make notes and jot down random inspirations & ideas in journals. I find it makes for a nice balance. 🙂

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  16. I loved your title and opening paragraph — your devious plan worked, sir.

    I’ve found that even though I loathe hand-writing things (I too am an inelegant clown — no cursive for me!), there’s something valuable in being able to jot things in the margins and travel all over the page. Sometimes on the computer I freeze up because my mind is going in three directions and the word processor can only handle one. I also like having a notebook on hand to write down a quick inspiration — it feels classier than typing it into a smartphone, somehow.

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  17. One – this title totally got my attention and even after being told it was a ploy, I still continued to read. Job well done.

    Two – I agreed with everything you said. There is nothing else. Just wanted to let you know I agree.

    Three – I personally find that when I am seriously going to sit down and let the muse take over, a computer is better. My thoughts come like rockets and the computer is the only real way I can catch them fast enough to make any use of them. I even have the Dragon speech to text software which is my pro tool for when nothing else is fast enough. BUT..I have a soft spot for pen and paper and, yes, cursive. The feel of a pen flowing smoothly over paper, words spilling out in neat, loop-lettered lines…it is (sadly enough) nostalgic and calming. I have about 3 notebooks and a bunch of pens next to my bed for scribbling. I have a private journal there as well. I also carry two notepads with me daily. In other words – I really like writing with pen and paper. Probably…almost as much as I like using the computer. For me, which tool depends on how hefty my writing is going to be. Pen and paper work great for getting out ideas in an informal, splash them on the page, kind of way, while computer is great for giving the ideas meaning and life.

    Hope that wall of words makes sense!

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  18. I feel more of a connection with what I physically write as opposed to what I type. And it feels more natural, having learned graphic design fundamentals by hand. I do, however, enjoy the ability to share myself with a wider audience through the use of electronic writing. With that said, I still prefer cursive over the keys.

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  19. I’ve been thinking about this post for the two weeks since I first read it. I started with the old school. My rites of passage included being permitted to write with pens at home when I was seven, being given access at age 12 to the Selectric III on which my mother typed technical theses–provided that I took a night class in typing, getting my very own electric typewriter at 17 to take away to college.
    I didn’t get my own computer (or cell phone) until 2008, so up until then I wrote everything by hand and then transcribed and revised on someone else’s machine. I took bookbinding classes so I could build the notebooks that best fit my work process; I still bought pretty much every version of a bound notebook at office supply stores. I have volumes of essays and poetry written by hand in accounting ledger books that will almost certainly outlive me.
    Now my household is distinguished by the number of keyboards I own: four Alphasmart Neos, three Bluetooth keyboards of various configurations, from the ThinkOutside I bought to use with my Palm Tungsten E-2, my gateway drug for composing at the (electronic) keyboard, to the full-size Logitech K810 that I use with my laptop, smartphone, and desktop Graphics Monster (dedicated 3D and graphic design workstation). Oh yeah, and there are more conventional keyboards, the ones attached to the laptop and the desktop. I have been known to talk to the Graphics Monster using two keyboards, a gaming mouse, and a trackball — all at once. (I just got a Wacom tablet, but haven’t tested it out, and anyway that’s for drawing.)
    There’s the tools — oh and do I love my tools! — and then the way you use it. Give three different people the same tool and you’ll get three different modifications of workflow. So now you’ve inspired me to essays on the place where technique meets technology.

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  20. I write most first drafts with paper and pen, then type them up on the computer. Both steps are important to my process. My handwriting is eclectic, sometimes cursive, and rather messy.

    Maybe you saw the article at the NY Times recently, but if not, you might find it interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?_r=0. And while we’re wondering about whether things like this matter, or if you are interested in brain science, plasticity, and how the digital age is changing us, you might check out The Shallows by Nicholas Carr: http://www.theshallowsbook.com/nicholascarr/Nicholas_Carrs_The_Shallows.html

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  21. I write by hand for the most part. I like the physical sensation of moving a pen across the paper. That said, when I started writing, I had a manual typewriter. I believe computers are the best thing ever to happen to second drafts.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking blog!

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  22. I write with both a pen and keyboard. And, yes, I do write in cursive when I write with a pen! I’m probably your mom’s age! There is something to the act of writing with a pen that stimulates the creative impulse. Perhaps, as you say, it’s the time that the idea incubates before it is put on paper that matters. I tend to think incubation happens either way. It’s an automatic response, a conditioning that happens when we sit down with the right mindset. Either way, we still manage to produce!

    Thanks for a great post and for stopping by my blog, southernrootsandnorthernblossoms.com

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  23. I totally agree! In our electronic dust bytes or electronic mites era, we somehow have failed to let inspiration have its full way in us. I like that fsdjkl; comment! I have done it a lot. If there is a way to get that back into our writing I think we would truly see some of the greatest writing every penned or electronically smothered for the grace of a mistake often is the alley of genius!

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  24. When I have the time, I’ll write by hand because I can do that anywhere. (In a comfy recliner or on the front porch are favorites.) When I’m on deadline, I write completely on the computer. I definitely prefer editing my work on paper instead of computer though.

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  25. Reblogged this on mssos2014 and commented:
    Cursive or keys? well Geez Louise!
    I can’t remember how to write in script
    each time I do, I end up ripping it…
    apart that is because my thoughts don’t flow
    and the point I’m making I already know
    I know how to write it in print or by keys
    so why does it matter?
    Geez Louise! lol 😉

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  26. Cursive or keys?
    well Geez Louise!–
    I can’t remember how to write in script–
    each time I do, I end up ripping it…–
    apart that is because my thoughts don’t flow–
    and the point I’m making I already know–
    I know how to write it in print or by keys–
    so why does it matter?–
    — Geez Louise! lol 😉
    MsS0S2014

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  27. If I begin a story in one medium and then move to another, I can tell the difference when I come back and read it again in a year. Try writing two good paragraphs with a fountain pen (if you can find one) and see the difference.

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  28. Both! I will be at my computer all day, then at night, I have to get away from it. But the story doesn’t end there. So often I’ll write another four pages or lots more and voila! Next morning, I have some more scenes that I couldn’t have come up with if I’d been staring at my screen all night, more word count, and I’m ready to type them and get on with the book.

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  29. For me which I do depends on what I’m working on. Most of my stories are by hand since it’s easier to carry around a notebook to places like school than a laptop. However my longest story that I put the most work into is on my computer. I think that creativity is dependent on amount of time put into a story but you can spend just as much time on something even if you’re doing it all on the computer.

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  30. Thanks for the follow and thanks for the really interesting question! I do both. Cursive seems more connected to the core idea. And if I’m stuck I always go to pen and ink. Afterwards, I type it out and if necessary shift everything around. I print off and make corrections in red. It has to be red!

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  31. I love writing by hand. It feels very natural. As does typing, actually. But the keyboard doesn’t take as much physical effort as hand writing or typing on a typewriter (I just got a 1950 Smith Corona as a gift). My whole life I’ve loved writing. I write Morning Pages often (three long hand stream of consciousness) and I’d gotten away from journal writing or hand-writing poetry, but I’m getting back to them now. I made a book this year and I hand-wrote the contents (and made some pictures).

    I have always felt that, with expression, the physical motion of writing is something special. It’s distinct from speaking something out loud or hitting keys. Although the keys have something of their own. I do like to write with them, too.

    I can’t speak to fiction, but I love both writing by hand and on keys. I will always have a special place in my soul for pen to page.

    Glad you wrote about this!

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