Take Note: Handwriting Doesn’t Have To Mark Us Down
Today, I’d like to jot down an important point: typing isn’t always the best way to put your thoughts in black and white!
Happily, it’s been a while since I had to visit my doctor. And I say happily not just for the obvious reason — good health, of course — but also because it means I haven’t come face to face with his (respectfully) truly appalling handwriting.
My doctor (Dr. X) is wonderfully friendly and terribly professional. He never fails to welcome me with a warm, broad smile and some inquisitive variation of “how’s the family?” And when necessary, Dr. X also never fails to bid me farewell without placing an indecipherable prescription in my hand.
The notoriously poor penmanship of doctors has been an amusing topic of conversation for centuries. But why is this a thing? A friend (herself a GP) tells me it’s usually down to handwriting deteriorating rapidly after some 1000+ hours of hurried note-taking during the pressure-cooker that is medical school — and then never improving.
It’s a viable explanation too, even if it doesn’t apply to every physician in the world. While in the context of self-driving cars, I once wrote about how it can be difficult to ‘unlearn’ old behaviours. Research suggests that, once a person has formed a habit, it realistically takes between 18–254 days to break.
Whatever the reason, thinking about doctors’ handwriting reminds me of the popular view that “handwriting is dead” and the computerised processed word has revolutionised human communication. Part of me wholly agrees whereas another part doesn’t.
I’m grateful to be a member of the only species on Earth gifted with motor skills fine enough to allow for the effective use of writing implements — give or take an incredibly well-trained chimp.
That said, I’m equally grateful for technology, but mostly for professional purposes. I am, after all, EY’s UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer, so something would be oh-so wrong if I wasn’t.
At work, I get much more done on the various electronic devices at my disposal than I would ever with pen and paper — touch-typing plays a role here too! Although, that’s not to say I don’t still use pen and paper. I do — only far less. And how I’d have coped without electronics while working from home, I don’t know.
Speaking of WFH, take a peek at this recent snap to see my lockdown setup, which you’ll notice comprises a mixture of Microsoft and Apple tech.
My two favourite devices are a Surface Studio — handy for MS Teams meetings, one-on-one meetings and Kanban boards — and a Surface Hub — best for running data, like activity from the collaborative sessions we run for our clients.
On top of these, I also use a Dell laptop for good old-fashioned emailing, an iPad for staying connected on social media, my book editor and family diary, and a notebook for the multiple stray thoughts that pop into my head of a day.
Outside of work, I prefer to rock it old-school, ditching the touchscreens and keyboards for said notebook and a good-quality, non-smudge pen. The non-smudge part is non-negotiable — pens that do smudge can swiftly make their way to the BBC of yesteryear for relegation to Room 101 — way too messy.
My trusty notebook is never far from reach for the stray thoughts I mentioned — whether they’re about work, my blog or the book I’m working on. After all, they don’t cease once I close the office door — as anyone with a Spaghetti Junction mind will attest to.
I particularly love crafting my posts, blogs, articles and book chapters using pen and paper. I’d never given this a bash until I watched Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass on Creative Writing.
In the “Prophet of Dystopia” lesson, the author shares that she always writes her first drafts in this way because it allows for a better flow and creates a stronger connection with the content.
This approach is an advantageous one for the very reasons Atwood proposes. I hadn’t realised sitting in front of a computer had the effect of slowing down my writing process. And the shift to pen and paper has also done wonders for the standard of my handwriting — which, although never as shocking as Dr. X’s, hasn’t always been the tidiest.
However, as with most things in life, the approach isn’t without its downfalls. More than anything, my writing goes wild and free. I can’t speak for other people, but I certainly don’t write in a linear fashion. As I move back and forth through any document, I jot down little chunks while they’re fresh in my head, adding new ideas as they sprout. And I jump back and forth between my notebook and a computer screen if I need to look up information I don’t have stored in my mind.
So, before I end up with a beautifully coherent whole (!) that I’m pleased to put out into the universe, my document is normally a cluttered collection of (thankfully now more neatly penned) fragments littered with little arrows, wiggly lines, additions, deletions and re-added deletions.
Author and blogger, Jyoti Arora, says:
“Writing a novel is like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces aren’t even fixed in shape. Yet, somehow, they all come together in the end to form the complete picture.”
I’m no pro, but Arora is so right it almost hurts. The same goes for any human, writing any piece, of any size, about any subject. And it’s only more applicable for people like me, who don’t write systematically and look to draw patterns from seemingly disparate data.
Going about a book or article like this may not be for everyone, particularly if you’re a tech whizz, but it sure has helped boost the quality of my own content and penmanship. I couldn’t ever exclusively use pen and paper in my professional life though — it’s just not possible owing to the nature of my work.
If you’ve long been a stalwart laptop or PC user, I highly recommend at least trialling a switch (or return) to the notepad. Perhaps you’ll never look back! If he’s lucky, even Dr. X could stand a chance. Though, I have a sneaking suspicion he’d need the full 254 days — or maybe much longer — to chip away at that disaster zone he’s built for himself.