Since this is my tag line, I thought a few words of explanation appropriate. This notion first came to me whilst I was working on my Bachelor’s Essay at the College of Charleston. When I say writing, I mean the physical act of writing longhand, not typing, especially script. Many people type very quickly—that is part of the problem.
Typing is static and staccato. Your fingers may move, but your hands do not. To be a good typist, you cannot think about what you are doing. Writing is a completely different animal.
Writing is movement; it is fluid; it is lyrical; it should be done at every opportunity. The beauty about writing is that it is slow. It forces you to slow down, think about the word currently flowing out of the nib. The eyes trace the lines turned into words, the dichotomous mind reading what it has just dictated as well as lining up the next words to come. The muscles of the upper arm moving the hand across the page, those of the forearm and hand directing the minute gyrations of the fingers as they pen the letters, it is a type of dance between hand and pen, the paper the ballroom floor across which their steps are traced.
So how did literary criticism lead to dancing pens?
I have no real idea how I came upon the idea for my Bachelor’s Essay. Regardless of how, I had the notion that the move to what we consider the novel was the result of a shift in cognition. Something changed the way people thought, the way they interacted with others and their environment, they way they thought about themselves. I didn’t know it at the time but this was one of the greatest changes in Western European history.
The thing is, I didn’t know anything at all at the time. My ignorance of the subject was so vast, a veritable ocean, that I couldn’t even pose a proper question. I love being in this situation because it represents such fertile ground for learning and the generation and growth of new ideas. When presented with a situation like this, there can only be one solution: Read. And I did.
Most of the books I used in my research, I read in their entirety, simply to overcome the level of ignorance I was beset by. But I was not just reading. Every time I sat down I had a pad of paper and a pen. Even though I didn’t know anything I knew the general direction my voyage was to take. Whenever I ran across a passage that seemed important, whether presenting an idea or information, I copied it down word for word, noting the page number (this system actually helped a great deal when noting citations and building the bibliography).
It is the physical act of writing that plants the scribbled words deeper in the mind, much more so, I believe, than typing. I was becoming a mirror of the history I was writing about. As the people of late 17th/early 18th centuries were internalizing the shift from what had been an oral culture to a print culture, I was interiorizing all the aspects of that shift: the history of literacy, education, the printing press, newspapers, the novel, the societal changes in England as people moved from the country to the cities, philosophy, cognitive theory, statistics, popular to-ing and fro-ing, all of it, at least the most important bits, traced out in the dance between paper, pen, hand, arm and mind. The writing of all this information, the taking of notes and my own thoughts on them, later percolated up through my unconscious to once again come out through the pen onto the paper, my writing turned to thinking turned to writing.
By the time I had finished with my note taking, the paper was nearly completed. The physicality of my information gathering embedded everything deeply enough in my mind that as the amount of information grew I had already started putting the pieces together. After a certain point, other things started showing up on my pages of notes: my own comments, ideas links to other information, bridges connecting all the disparate islands of knowledge I had been building. There were a lot of pieces to the puzzle. I think the only way I was able to assemble them into a coherent whole was because I had become so intimately familiar with the material, something which would have taken much longer if I hadn’t written everything down as I did.
The resulting paper, entitled Thinking Itself into Existence: Cognitive Development and the Birth of the Novel, was very well received by the professors on my evaluation panel. The hardest part of finishing the paper wasn’t in the writing of it, that came very easily; rather, it was in the editing. My topic was a very broad one, and I wound up with enough material to write half again as much as I needed, having to cut it down to the limit of fifty pages.
Any good writing goes through cycles of draft, edit, rewrite &c. So the next time you sit down to write something, try to pen & paper over the keyboard. You might just find it becomes a habit. (This one was written out, portions changed when I typed it into Word, and then a few more alterations once I put it onto my website.)