Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My John Hancock

I have awful handwriting. It’s so bad that sometimes I’ll scribble something down and then, hours later, will not be able to decipher my own chicken scratches. It’s so bad that someone once asked me, "Are you a doctor?"

In elementary school, I got straight As...except for Penmanship. Yes, my grade school gave grades for penmanship and my grade was a big fat C. "Aimee cannot write legibly." Chicken scratches. Scribbles. My teacher, my parents, everyone admonished me. The implication was that I might never succeed, given my handwriting. This was the mid-1980s, before computers became ubiquitous, before it was a given that you’d type a homework assignment. Their concern made sense, I suppose.

I was heartbroken, but as much as I tried, I couldn’t make myself write any slower. Speed was the problem; I felt like I had so much to say, so many thoughts, that they spilled out on the page in a messy jumble. So no one was happier than me when my Dad brought home our first computer, a giant, blocky IBM. I plopped myself in front of it and taught myself how to type. And I am, to this day a very fast typist. My fingers fly over the keys, giddy with the freedom of both speed and legibility. At last, what I want to say comes out clearly!

That’s what writing is all about, isn’t it? The desire to be understood, to be read. I used to write all my stories longhand, filling up journals while I reserved the computer for school assignments. But sometime in high school, I made the switch to writing fiction on the computer, and I’ve never looked back. I now find it downright difficult to write fiction by laptop is pretty much surgically attached to me.

But there is, undeniably, something powerful about handwriting. Something so utterly unique, so personal. I remember getting a small thrill when I saw my boyfriend’s handwriting for the first time. We’d been dating for a while, but it was like I caught a glimpse of a side of him I hadn’t known. Signatures still mean something, after all, and thus far, I haven’t found a Word font that can duplicate my bold, messy scrawl.

For the same reason, I love getting authors I love to sign books. It feels like a memento, like a personal connection beyond the connection you’ve formed by reading their words. And I love signing my own books, too. I never tire of it. I love writing a personal note on the title page, marking my name with a flourish. And if readers can’t meet me in person, I always encourage them to mail me their copies of my books; I’m happy to sign them and slip them back in the mail.

I think I’ll end with a quote from an author I adore, one whose signature, sadly, I’ll never be able to ask for. In Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, when Bingley remarks that he has a terrible handwriting, Mr. Darcy insightfully replies:"You really are proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance."

So, maybe, like Bingley, I kind of like my bad handwriting. After all, it’s as much a part of me as the color of my eyes and the books I write.


Nicole Burnham said...

draI'm with you...I'm SO happy to have a computer. I'd still be writing, but I'd be slow. And sloppy. Like your school, mine gave grades for handwriting. I worked hard at it, and still got Cs. (The rest of the report card was As!)

I still can't do a cursive Q. Or an F.

Nicole Burnham said...

And don't ask me how the "dra" ended up at the beginning of that comment...apparently, I can't type, either!!

Aimee Friedman said...

Oh my God, I know! How DO you write a cursive Q??

Kelly McClymer said...

I have very neat handwriting. When I want to. I used to be a secretary long ago in another universe and my specialty was reading very bad professorial handwriting (maybe medical doctors are worse, but my husband the professor often can't even read his own handwriting!). But I so love the computer -- because I am not an error free typist and I used to go through cases of white out before computers.


Anonymous said...

I for one am sooo glad you still write even though you have bad handwritting. I have bad handwritting but love to write. I ask my mom for a laptop and all i get is "your to young" So I say "How about Christmas(from you and Santa) and my brithday combined" and i guess sence Christmas is over it still isnt happening. For know i am filling notebooks with 1/2 stories then coming up with a new "better" idea and starting over. You and all these other amazing authors inspire me, even though I am too young for this formal way of talking.haha
<3 your fan
:o) Caitlyn

Aimee Friedman said...

Caitlin, thank you for your comment. That's wonderful that you're writing so much...keep it up! One definitely doesn't need a computer to write, and it sounds like you've been doing great with notebooks so far. I WISH I could still write my fiction by hand, but I got so used to doing it on a computer that it's hard to switch back. It would be so nice, though, to just carry around a little notebook when I traveled, instead of my thousand-pound laptop... :)

And there's no such thing as being too young to talk about inspiration!

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