Pen and Paper

Surprise, surprise, some people are still writing long hand. The topic of handwriting seems to be in the air as I just heard a piece on writing on NPR today! http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100980086. And, a student came in yesterday wanting to work on just that. Her goal is to write long hand for as long as she would like (often many hours) pain-free. (She is in the middle of a dissertation that will become a book – deadlines are looming). She writes everything out on paper before entering it in to the computer (writing at a computer is a topic for another time) and does all her edits long hand too. Although this is probably much more time with pen and paper than most of us are spending, it is still worth considering and discussing.

Writers who still handwrite find that it provides a different sense of time in the writing process that allows for different ways of thinking, perhaps providing more time for contemplation than writing at the computer. I imagine there will always be people who handwrite and that manner of writing will always be around.

Here are a few ideas to consider while handwriting even if you just jot down a few notes to yourself on a napkin or on the back of an envelope.

Most of us operate in a set, habitual comfort zone of force and pressure while we do an activity. We have developed a “feeling” or “sense” of what it is to do something and we routinely carry out tasks in that familiar way. However, because we use that familiar amount of force doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the appropriate amount of force needed to do the task. We often end up (unknowingly) setting ourselves up to use excessive force to accomplish simple tasks, even tasks as simple as handwriting.

The next time you pick up a pen check to see how you are picking it up.
• Are you aware of the weight of the pen?
• Are you using more of your arm/hand more than necessary? For example, is your shoulder involved in picking up a pen? Did your wrist tighten?
• What happened with your elbow? Did it bend?

When you start to write, what amount of force are you using to move the pen across the paper? Make sure you have a pen that has the potential to move easily across the page. (My dad reminded me that while using a fountain pen if you used pressure on the tip the ink would come out too quickly so you had to regulate the amount of force used. This was before the invention of the ballpoint pen that allows for much more pressure).
• Are you pushing down into the paper with pressure to form the words?
• Is your hand tightening while you write across the paper?
• What is happening with your mouth and jaw?

Do an experiment. See what happens when you:
• Use only the amount of force necessary to hold the pen. This is most likely less than you are using now.
• Hold the pen with your fingertips.
• Move the pen with just your fingertips without tightening your shoulder, wrist and elbow.
• Keep space in your palm. Sometimes it helps to put a small ping pong ball inside your palm while you write so you can’t squeeze your palm.

• Continue to be aware of the width across your back to your other arm, elbow, wrist, and hand while you write.

Also stay back from the paper. Make sure you sense the spatial distance from the page back up to your head and eyes. That will help you keep you from leaning in to the paper so that your neck, shoulders, and back can be easy and support your arms while you are writing.

I remember when I first started taking Alexander Technique lessons. I would write something down and I couldn’t remember if I had written it down or not. For me, the memory of writing something down was so associated with the amount of force I was using, and the action didn’t seem to imprint on my brain unless I used that same amount of force. In this instance, the connection between the mind and body was SO clear to me. Once I realized what was going on I could work with it. I could continue to use less and less force with the goal of not having any “set” amount of force needed but to accommodate to the needs of the particular pen and paper I had a the time.

Extra tip: let the light and words from the page come toward your eyes. Leave your eyes easy and remember the understanding of the words takes place in the visual cortex of your brain at the back of your skull rather than with your eyes – they just receive the light.