December 12th, 2006


Writing Exercises

Krud was writing about a book he'd been reading that was supposed to promote creativity. One of the exercises in it was "Handwrite three pages first thing every morning that you won't show to anyone and don't even re-read yourself." I gather the idea is to write whatever you're thinking about at the moment, with no editing, organization, theme, whatever. It's supposed to "declutter" your mind.

Krud noted that this seemed an awfully time-consuming assignment, and 'why hand-written? It take me five times as long to handwrite something as to type it.'

I decided to give this exercise a try, out of curiosity. I did it yesterday by typing during breaks at work. (Yes, I was doing it wrong.) It took me 33 minutes to type a little over three pages, and about 1750 words. It was occassionally incoherent and very disorganized, more like a "how fast can you type?" execise than anything else. It is somewhat interesting to know that I could pound out six pages from my head in an hour, if I put my mind to it. It would be more interesting if they were six pages worth reading, but hey. Beats my usual writing average, which is more like 500 words per hour. But I'm badly unstructured when I write, easily distracted and likely to wander off to poke at something else instead of staying on track.

Anyway, I did the same exercise first thing this morning, by hand. It took around 35 minutes. Which sounds comparable, until you realize that handwriting takes up a lot more space than typed words, given a typical font size. Three of my handwritten pages would be around 750-800 words. I never realized before how much slower it is for me to handwrite something rather than type it. It gives me new appreciation for my desire to have a full-size keyboard on any portable writing device I might someday acquire.

The other funny thing is that my thoughts slow down to the pace of my writing. My hand-written exercise was no better composed or interesting than the typed one: just shorter. And my mind could not think more than a sentence ahead of whatever I was writing. My brain needed to be there to remind my hand what it was supposed to be writing; it couldn't skip ahead to the next thought. This is true to a degree whenever I write, but the trait is most obvious when I'm trying to write as quickly as possible. If I'm writing normally, I can pause to think ahead on what I'm going to do next, then resume typing whatever sentence I paused on.

Anyway, it just seems strange to me to have this arbitrary limit on how quickly I can think when I'm writing. My brain can process more thoughts if I write faster. I suspect I think faster when I'm not writing. On the other hand, my written thoughts are usually a bit more organized. But I wonder if I really could compose more quickly if only I typed faster than the 50-60 words a minute I currently manage.