Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing Without A Keyboard

I've taken notes for as long as I can remember. It was ingrained in my NYC public school education to take notes. Even when my short term memory was much sharper and not flooded with today's information overload, I never trusted what I might remember. I was told if I took notes I would learn more. I listened and it has always proven true.

I had one boss who questioned me on my note taking. In reflection I suppose he wondered what he was saying that was of that much interest that I would take notes. But take notes I continued to do, because that is how I absorb. Or in the case of those meetings, probably how I stayed awake and focused.

As a writer, for a long time I could not think creatively on a keyboard. For me, writing on paper first was the best way to get a good story going. While I have trained my creativity to type on a keyboard  some days only a pen will do. And always, always, always, if I want a good edit, I have to print out and write my notes in the margins.

The problem now is that I don't always understand what I write. My thoughts often flow much quicker than my hand. I try to compensate for that by transcribing to my computer sooner than later.

It wasn't always like that. I used to get As in penmanship. You see when I went to school it was considered a subject and there were samples of each letter of the alphabet, capital and small, in cursive and print, bordering the top of the chalkboard.

Penmanship involved a lot of copying. It took time. I saw it as an easy A. Keep it neat and take some pride and it helped my grade point average.

Plus I was learning. I learned what a sentence was supposed to look like. I absorbed whatever silly information we were given to copy.

And I never forgot what I was taught. That I would learn more by taking notes than just listening to a lecture. That it was a useful exercise to discern what I thought most important from the lesson by writing it down.

The cover section of the WSJ today has a feature entitled, How Handwriting Trains The Brain. They discuss all this and some more as if it is all brand new information, that for the first time we are just understanding that writing helps learning.

They referred to handwriting as an "ancient skill." I was distressed to learn that penmanship, while still taught in "most" schools amounts to just over an hour a week. Mmm. And we are wondering why our schools are failing.

We rely on technology to write for us, think for us, and  assume it will give us all the research possible in a Google search. And apparently we are teaching this over reliance on technology to our children. Why learn the mechanics of penmanship when you have a keyboard? No matter that you might learn more and think more creatively through the simple act of pen to paper.

The other thing ingrained in my public school education was not to believe everything you read. With all due respect to the reporter, while I am certain much of the research the article cites is new, the correlation between learning, the brain and the pen is not.

I'd like to tell her my original source, but I never wrote it down.

Do you take notes?
Do you absorb more information when you do?
Are you horrified that just over an hour a week is devoted to teaching children penmanship?

This blog is being syndicated on BlogHer


Pearl said...

I am totally a confirmed note-taker. I don't know what I'd do if I could no long hand-write. I'd be lost. Like you, I found as a student, I was able to retain more when I took notes. I also must print out work if I'm going to do a serious edit.

However, years of writing on a keyboard allow me to do quickly get my thoughts out there. I can just spew whatever's in my head onto the pc, and then slash and burn the junk. Then I'll print it out, and do my handwritten revisions to be transcribed back onto the original document.

I'm not surprised that handwriting trains the brain. It's been training mine for decades!

Suzi Banks Baum said...

Oh Dearest OWEye, I saw that article too and celebrated it with a sideways grinand said "Oh yeah?'. My Mom was a school teacher so we had no end of lined paper and ruled books and graph paper, all which is delightful to write in.
I write every day long hand...which I hope seals the deal for me.
I take notes, I am a firm believer in doodling...which you can read about on my website www.laundrylinedivine.com. I typed that though.
Love your post! Thank you! xo S

Landy said...

You are right - notes taking is the key in successful studying. But
not less important next step is to carefully review your notes afterwards.
As you have mentioned - sooner you do this is better. Totally agree! If you postpone it - you'll have more time went by, so you'll remember less and also you'll have more and more new notes
taken, which need revision.