Handwriting versus Typing


Almost from the beginning the "Handwriting versus Typing" quandary was never a question worth considering for me: my hand-writing has been woeful since I started nearly fifty years ago.  Right from the beginning I was one of the worst in my class; the refrain of "Peter, Paul and Perry" (yes, very droll) still rings loudly in my ears.  I have no idea of why I was so bad. 

My mother and father were both left-handed, but I came out right-handed after a left-handed older brother.  Both my parents had dodgy writing, probably caused by the schooling they received in an era when children were actively encouraged, if not forced, to write right-handed.  My father still writes in an over-the-top left-handed style, brought about, he once told me, due to the need not to smudge the ink with his sleeve as it followed the line of his script.  This leads to a highly sloped style which is difficult to understand if you're not used to it.  My mother, as best I recall, wrote in a flowing small script that seemed to imply or skip over letters as much as delineate them.  They were both idiosyncratic, but they had the advantage of being, in the main, consistent.  My writing was never like that.

From an early age I was thought to have poor spelling in class as my "a" ended up looking more like an "o", "r" and "p" and "n" were confused and the script never stayed on course, drifting over and above the lines with wild abandon.  Taking French dictation at high school was a nightmare.

It was all really hopeless. I gripped the pen too hard when I was young in an attempt to control what was delivered and ended up with a large callous on the top-left of my middle finger that I can still see today. I tried slowing down but that didn't help.  Ink, pencil, ballpoint pens, it was all a mess and never seemed to improve no matter what I did.  One teacher explained to my parents that it was all because my "brain moved too fast" or some-such mumbo-jumbo.  That didn't make much sense to me then, nor now. 

I was short-sighted from my early teenage years but that doesn't explain much.  It wasn't my sight that was a problem, and I don't think it was hand-to-eye co-ordination.  I played a lot of sport and while I wasn't a star I did all right, not good enough to go on with anything but okay. I reckon if I was really bad I would have given up way before I did.

For a short period in late high school things improved a little and the small snippets of my writing from that period that are still around are vaguely legible.  And then came university, and the speed writing required to keep up with lecture notes destroyed any writing abilities I may have attained.  I could read what I wrote, other people couldn't be bothered, and I didn't blame them.  Luckily enough I asked for a typewriter for a birthday present about that time and from then on typed everything I needed anyone else to read: letters and essays being the bulk of them.

Oddly enough, although I've been typing for over 35 years I've never learnt how to touch type.  I figured out pretty early how to type at a reasonable clip using only two, then three and occasionally four fingers.  Back in the 1960s in Australia, boys did woodwork and girls did typing at school. There wasn't a choice in the matter, and even if there was it wasn't one you'd want to consider.  I tried a few PC-based lessons a few times over the years but they tended to slow me down and they seemed like more of an imposition than an improvement.

So I'm stuck with typing everything except small notes, which I tend to print.  A long time ago I could read my own writing.  Now, only a few days have to pass and it's all a mystery to me, a scrawl, the modern equivalent of a "thumbnail dipped in tar".  Don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike copper-plate script.  On the contrary, it's a talent I wish I had.  I fear, however, that it, along with the inability to draw anything recognisable other than a silhouette elephant, is a skill that will be forever out of my reach.

[See Umberto Eco's thoughts on this matter.] 


Lovely post, Perry.
It's a fascinating subject which evokes surprisingly emotive responses in people. I have to say I was very moved to see Charlotte Bronte's manuscript for JANE EYRE in the British Library the other day - a fine copperplate hand in a great fat book, thick as a family bible, turned to the final pages. And there were the words: 'Reader, I married him'. And further along, a scrawled note from Sylvia Plath from Chalcot Square, saying how pleased she was that a poem had been accepted: somehow, in both the handwriting of Plath and Bronte, their whole selves were present, vivid and near. Can't imagine a typewritten/PC printed ms ever having quite the same vivacity...sympathise with you about your handwriting though!

I mean further along the display cabinet, obviously, not further along Charlotte's fine manuscript! There was a new paragraph when I typed it, but it has mysteriously vamoosed here....

Actually, the thought of one writer (Plath) scrawling notes on the manuscript of another (Bronte) raises some very amusing possibilities. Where are Borges and Ballard when you need them most?

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on September 22, 2009 3:12 PM.

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