When I went out with some MG and YA writers recently, several of the other (younger) authors were SHOCKED when they found out I write most of my books by hand, as if writing with pen and paper was not even physically possible in these days of wall-to-wall technology. Don’t get me wrong – I love a shiny MacBook as much as the next person – but when it comes to getting ideas down, pen and paper is still my go-to method of self-expression.
And not just ANY pen and paper. A Uniball Impact 207 and the linen-covered lined journals they used to sell at Borders. (Moment of silence, please.) When Borders announced they were closing, my first thought was how sad, because they’d always been so supportive of my career. But my next thought was – how am I going to write my books without THEIR books? I called people around the country to visit their local Borders and buy out these specific journals. Friends chided me for being superstitious – can’t I write in ANY blank journal? I wasn’t sure I could.
On our way to the Martha’s Vineyard ferry – where a key scene in MY LIFE AS A BOOK takes place – we stopped at the Kingston, MA Borders as a last-ditch effort. My good friend Marianne had already bought out the five journals they had left, but as if they were expecting me early that morning, a young man began putting out a new, gleaming stack of journals – just waiting to be filled. My son and I filled our baskets with every last journal and sketchpad we could carry. The woman behind me in line said I probably wouldn’t be saving any money by the time I shipped all of those books back to California. I told her I wasn’t worried about saving money, but saving my career.
Because I know first hand (no pun intended) how important the connection is between hand, brain, and heart, I ask children visiting my website to write letters instead of emails when they want to talk about my books. And when I do writing workshops in schools, I always ask that students write by hand.
I’m not the only one who thinks writing in longhand is important. TheRumpus.net is a website that asks authors to hand-write letters to young readers. (I recently wrote one, accompanied by some of Jake’s illustrations from MY LIFE AS A CARTOONIST.) And a recent study by Virginia Berninger – a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington – showed that students in grades two, four, and six all wrote faster, longer, and expressed more ideas when they wrote by hand versus keyboard. Jeanette Farmer – an educator with thirty years experience – ties the drop in cursive handwriting to the rise in students being diagnosed with A.D.D., citing the importance of fine motor skills like handwriting helping to develop crucial areas of the brain. There’s lots of this type of research but that’s not why I write my books by hand or ask students to write to me that way. Sure, it might be a bit old-fashioned but it’s more about taking the time to establish a physical connection with my readers. A line of ink connecting my brain/heart/hand to theirs – there’s just something simple and lovely about it.
Now about that messy handwriting…