For the love of longhand

Starting tomorrow, some of my sophomore classes are writing their last essay of the year. It’s a persuasive essay and it winds up serving as an informal pre-assessment of sorts for their eleventh grade teachers–since persuasive writing makes up most of the eleventh grade curriculum, after all is said and done, I collect the pieces and pass them onto the junior English teachers. Granted, I’m letting my students write about whatever they want and their eleventh grade teachers will work them toward mastering the art of answering a writing prompt on the forthcoming state exam, but I think that it’ll be a halfway decent indicator of where they are going in.

They’ll be writing the essays in longhand, and what’s funny about this to me (and probably only to me because I’m one of the only people who finds this type of stuff “funny”) is that it’s not due to some pedagogical stance or effort to prove that old-school educational philosophy is alive and well. It’s because this is testing week and I’d have a better chance of finding Jimmy Hoffa in the auditorium storage closet than an available computer. Ergo, pen … meet paper. Although I have to say, having been a “writer” since I discovered my voice (and for a brief time, my muse) in a high school creative writing class (I say “writer” because I don’t have enough published credits to my name), I have written many a first draft in a spiral-bound notebook. In fact, I still have the green spiral-bound notebook with “Creative Writing Journal, Tom Panarese Period 6” written on the cover in Sharpie, which I used in the fall semester of 1994 in that creative writing class as well as every notebook I’ve filled since. Doesn’t make me a writer, makes me a hoarder.

Anyway, while there have been times that I have found writing in longhand inefficient, there are many times when I savor the chance to sit down with a pen, my latest notebook (and maybe my iPod) and a cup of coffee and spend some time working on … whatever I’m working on, especially since they are very rare moments in my very busy life. That anyone can have the chance to slow things down and get into his own head as a writer is a great chance. Granted, what’s inside my own head scares me sometimes, but at least I get that chance.

At the same time, I’m grateful for technology. I was able to write this post via WordPress in one fell swoop, without having to retype it, and published it right away. When I was in high school in the early 1990s, I would have never had the opportunity to do that. But it also took me about 45 minutes to write something that probably should have taken maybe half an hour. Because I had seven tabs open on Chrome and kept switching over to Twitter and Facebook whenever a (1) appeared next to the site’s name in the tab. Then there was an article I needed to read about Jon Cryer making Superman IV, I discovered a podcast about Saved By the Bell, and had to subscribe to the brand new Two True Freaks podcast feed. In other words, as much as I love what technology has given me in terms of both efficiency in writing as well as inspiration, I will say it slows down my process because I get incredibly distracted. So here’s to longhand, may it never die. Although I will say that there is a downside to the old method–this post was originally supposed to be about something entirely different, but I left my notebook with the draft in my classroom.


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