Many writers, from Mark Twain to Joan Didion, have argued that writing by hand gets the creative juices flowing, arguing that we use our hands and wrists to organize our thoughts. A famous essay by author Mary Gordon, titled ‘Putting Pen to Paper, but Not Just Any Pen to Any Paper,’ praises the act of writing manually.
She celebrates the physicality of penmanship:
Writing by hand is laborious, and that is why typewriters were invented. But I believe that the labor has virtue, because of its very physicality. For one thing it involves flesh, blood and the thingness of pen and paper, those anchors that remind us that, however thoroughly we lose ourselves in the vortex of our invention, we inhabit a corporeal world.
Gordon goes on to describe her various notebooks, which each serve a different purpose: a small, soft-cover notebook from her last trip to Paris, several candy-coloured notebooks from New Orleans, a square notebook for journalism work from Dublin, a handful of Swedish notebooks in primary colours for her private diaries. Then, she gives us a tour of her daily writing routine:
So what do I do after I’ve played with my pen and notebooks like a time-killing kindergartner? Before I take pen to paper, I read. I can’t begin my day reading fiction; I need the more intimate tone of letters and journals. From these journals and letters … I copy something that has taken my fancy, some exemplum or casual observation I take as advice.…. I move to Proust; three pages read in English, the same three in French. In my Proust notebook I write down whatever it is I’ve made of those dense and demanding sentences. Then I turn to my journal, where I feel free to write whatever narcissistic nonsense comes into my head.
As we have seen in previous blog posts, writing routines have been essential activities for creative writers past and present. And here we see that, by using our hands and wrists to physicalize our thoughts, we are able to catalyze them into something inspiring.