Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Choosing to Hand Write in a Techno World

Most of us can remember the routine of writing spelling words ten, twenty times each week during elementary school. Although this exercise was monotonous and worthy of many a sigh, I understood the reason behind it, that the physical act of writing each letter on blue lines would write it upon my memory as well.

Since becoming a teacher, I've encouraged my own students to use the physical act of writing to draw out those elusive thoughts whenever they're stuck on an assignment, to just spill out whatever comes to mind in formless free writing. Doing such gives form to thought by slowing down the mind to the pace of graphite scratching across pressed wood pulp.

Until the past few months, though, I had never used writing as a tool to understand Scripture or hide it away in my heart. I have read in a dozen versions, cross-referenced Strong's, Vines, and whatever commentaries I could online. But I had never just sat down and hand wrote God's Word, verse by verse, chapter by chapter.

In my most recent study of the book of James, one of Beth Moore's recommendations was to write out the entire book. Knowing how much extra time I don't have, I had almost decided to ignore those blank pages at the back of my student workbook. Then one night when I wasn't quite sleepy enough to turn out the light, I decided I would just write out the first chapter at one sitting. Just one.

As I wrote, I tried to understand what it must have been like to be a scribe, knowing that every word I wrote had to be perfectly copied from the original or else I would have had to scratch or cut out the word or start over and burn the scroll.

Hunched over my writing in serious exercise for only fifteen minutes, I could feel the muscles slightly burn at the back of my neck. No, this wasn't a life of privilege or pleasure. It was rigorous monotony, day after day of just writing.

I wrote the first chapter, then the second and third until all five lay before me. On the last chapter, I made my first mistake, simply scratched it out with a grimace and the realization of just how miraculous it is that the errors in the thousands of Scripture's manuscripts aren't significant or terribly plentiful.

I also realized that just like with my students, this exercise slowed down my mind to where I was forced to dwell on the same phrase repeatedly until I had written the entire sentence. The repetition opened my mind to greater understanding at times, made me feel the author's emotion more than my ordinary study revealed.

In our type and click culture, hand writing is no longer revered for its value in making our brains process information differently, more analytically. It's nothing magical, though. It simply comes down to the numbers, to how much information we're asking our brains to process at once.

According to Wikipedia, most typists average between 50 and 80 words per minute (wpm), while some average 120. Because my job requires much typing, when copying text, I type 105.4 wpm.

Compare this to hand writing. The average person copies text at 22 words per minute.

Twenty-two words for my brain to dwell on each minute versus 105.

It makes me wonder how much of God's voice I don't hear because my brain is exceeding the speed limit, not because I'm trying to rush but rather because it's just more convenient (and faster) to type up my thoughts.

I think I'm going to try and find more of those 25 mile per hour zones and see what I've been missing, maybe even choose another book of the Bible to hand write next.

Joining in community with a few fellow bloggers this week.

Welcoming Spirit Blog Hop


  1. I love this :) In grad school, we acted out whole books of the Bible, in a class called "Performance of Biblical Text" and I found it to be another interesting way of understanding the stories and words. It's rare to hear a whole book, even rarer to see the stories in front of you. I'd love to have you join my blog hop with this post. :) Hope you stop by!
    Paula at Welcoming Spirit

  2. This realization hit us hard recently when Sophie received her second minus in handwriting on her report/progress report cards. When you either get a plus or a minus a minus seems terrible.

    I'd noticed her handwriting before and I'm not quite sure why I didn't step up and begin working on this then. Kicking myself now. Now we are relearning and reviewing the correct formation of both upper and lower case letters.

    Another realization that's taken me far too long to grasp is her vast use of technology. She has a DSI {gift passed down from my niece at Christmas} and I'm still not altogether sure what the thing does. She has an Innotab. She has some occasional computer time on sites like Sesame Street and she often swipes her father's iPhone for games.

    My little sister the homeschooler has informed that the school system is considering doing away with this art. DOING AWAY WITH IT! SHOCK AND HORROR! I've reflected back to my elementary years when in fifth grade I received a handwriting award. Sadly, if you saw some of my scrawl on notes and lists and even journals around my home she'd question that. If I want to I can write quite beautifully. And now the fact that I've admitted "if I want to" has caused me to reflect on our world of technology.

    I'm trying to limit Sophie's use and use it as leverage as well for improvement in her handwriting {and other areas in need of work}. The thought of handwriting becoming obsolete has truly shaken me.

    Your post is amazing. The slowing down through the art {Is it an art?} of handwriting is something that has come to my attention just prior to your post. My sister and I were talking with our father at his birthday dinner and he mentioned how much more he grasps if he writes down what he's learning. Namely, the Bible.

    I'm taking your words to heart. I hope to slow down when I do write those notes. Earlier this school year when money was especially tight we went months without printer ink. I'm embarrassed that I didn't take time to write neatly {okay, legibly} the several notes I'd sent Sophie's teacher.

    It's time to get back to basics!!! Seriously, please pray that Sophie grasps this and improves her handwriting.

  3. Rena--I think if we want true art, we're going to have to go back to the basics where we slow out brains down to create. Handwriting is just one step to that. I'll remember Sophie and her handwriting issues. :-)

  4. Fantastic, Jennifer! We are doing the James study as well. I will be sharing your post with our Bible study organizer today. ... Reading your posts, I thought back to those early transcribers, who devoted their lives to putting words on scrolls.

  5. Those scribes who devoted their lives to making sure I had access to the gospel--their sacrifice seems greater since this little exercise.

  6. I love it that you are doing the study too. We are loving the messages James has for us. Well God has for us through the book actually. I am writing and reading it outloud from time to time also. Writen, spoken word should somehow sink in better to this older than some memory of mine don't you think? I have made some mistakes in writing it and didn't even think of the fact that they had to destroy it and start over! Wow, now I will think about that also as I write the last 2 chapters. Love knowing sisters in the study.

  7. It's amazing knowing that sisters around the nation are being convicted by James' message alongside me. We are together in heart!

  8. Jennifer, I so appreciate this -- the contrast of 105 wpm vs 22? The choice to slow down the mind and actually absorb. These are things that we are loathe to do, but look what happens! In my own way, I'm going to try some of this. Thank you for writing this post -- and for writing out the Word. (I assume that is your handwriting up there? Gorgeous. I can't take my eyes off it...)

  9. Lyla--I'm not sure if anyone has ever put "gorgeous" and "my handwriting" together on purpose. My students say the opposite--"I can't read...."

    Scripture writing--it's a worthwhile discipline. I was more surprised than anyone at how big an impact it had on me.