On Writing in Longhand

In recent years I have noticed that if I write in longhand in a public place such as a bar, library, coffee shop restaurant or park, I seem to unsettle or confuse people. Someone is writing! Freak. Pariah. Luddite. Rebel.

Think about this. Writing in longhand is currently the most secure form of written communication. The NSA and tech companies can’t track it or make money from it.

And my handwriting is so bad no one could read it if they even bothered!

Think about this. If you are at work and using a computer to perform most or all of your work, writing something on the computer during work such as an email or a poem or a riff from novel, could be discovered by various spying tools or a nosy colleague or boss. You could get reprimanded or fired!

But if you are sitting at your desk and writing in longhand in a legal pad, no one gives it a second thought! You’re free to write anything you want, including a manifesto to overthrow office tyranny or (more likely) mediocrity.

You don’t even have to write anything on that legal pad in plain view. You can doodle away if that’s your forte.

Think about this. Receiving a handwritten card or postcard still generates thrills in people.

Usually while writing in longhand, I am writing letters, but sometimes pieces for the blog, podcast or books. I often take notes in longhand on subjects that I will later write upon.

I write differently in longhand than I do on the computer or my Alphasmart. The prose seems more nonchalant. Maybe it is more fun to write in longhand because I never associate the act with paid work, like I do using a computer. (FYI: I wrote this piece in longhand in a coffee shop.)

I like the way I feel when I write longhand and that’s why I required my English and creative writing students keep journals in longhand in those classic black and white composition books. I suspect that for many of them, it might be the only substantial longhand writing they ever do in their lifetime, outside of signing a document, and even that is going away. I hope they hung onto to those journals. I know they had value. For one thing, they will outlast anything stored in a cloud.

Today, I will mail two letters written in longhand. Secure. Cheap. Tactile. Personalized. And later today, I’ll end up at my corner table in my favorite dive bar, turn on the table lamp, pull out the notebook and pen, and write away.