Seattle Times columnist handwrites everything for 2 days

Journalists have been filing copy nonstop for years now. Done with that story? Go tweet it. Then return that email. Then text a source back. Then post an article on Facebook and answer reader comments — and do that before before transcribing an interview for tomorrow’s story.

But how much writing is that, really?

Monica Guzman, a Seattle Times columnist, wanted to “get a tactile feel” for how many words she was churning out every day, so in late June she decided to ditch her keyboard, pick up a pen and go analog.

Monica Guzman took a photo of every handwritten message she sent. Here's a picture of her camera roll, with photos of the many notes.

Monica Guzman took a photo of every handwritten message she sent. Here’s a picture of her camera roll, with photos of the many notes.

She hand wrote everything. Tweets. Texts. Emails. Everything was scrawled on a piece of paper and photographed on her cellphone. Guzman wrote about 130 handwritten notes over two days, a feat that cramped her hands and reminded her of the convenience of typing.

In her column (which was, of course, also handwritten), she describes exactly why and how she undertook the project, which was inspired by an Atlantic article whose author experimented with sending all her messages in calligraphy.

“I didn’t do it because I like handwriting, though I do. I did it to hack my brain. To make it slow down and notice the flurry of digital mutterings it writes and sends so easily, they barely register as mutterings at all.”

Little aches and pains crept in. Her hands were sore at the end of every day, and her neck started hurting, too.

Another facet of the project involved reader engagement. Guzman invited her audience to reflect on their own writing habits in a survey. Three-quarters of the 71 respondents said they were writing more than ever, with 27 percent estimating their average writing load tripled since 2004. Although the majority said they were more prolific than ever, many expressed frustration with the shallowness of their prose.

“We are writing so much more than we ever have, but we are so unsatisfied with our writing,” Guzman told Poynter.

She also realized quickly that handwriting was not the best medium for journalists on deadline.

“It was kind of a square peg in a round hole, because I had emails to answer,” she said. “I had tweets to tweet.”

Another takeaway from the project: people who yearn for more meaningful writing can’t just shoehorn it into their daily activities, Guzman writes in her column. Instead, they have to carve out time in their day.

“To nostalgists who’d love a return of the written word, trust me. We don’t have time to write what we want.

We have to make it.”

Note: Guzman is a member of Poynter’s national advisory board.

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  • jgmaynard

    As a journalist myself, I could not IMAGINE writing everything by hand. That would just be mad. :)

  • abcdefg4

    I write more than ever with a variety of pens, including six fountain pens. I took notes at a meeting tonight with a fountain pen and notepad.

  • Agnez Mo

    when i read TS Suites is HEEEL Blog’s i found this article. its really awesome.

  • MaPaN

    I’d concede that typing would have been faster and more practical for a journalist under deadline. But if her hands were cramping up that badly from hand writing, then she needs to work on how she’s holding the pen; she’s probably holding it too tightly, and maybe not with the best grip. Possibly get a better pen, too, a rollerball or fountain pen that needs minimal pressure to write with.

  • Monica Guzman

    What I handwrite most regularly are interview notes. Those are scratches on the page. I’m not thinking about writing them as I write them; I’m trying my damnedest to pay attention to who I’m talking to. I also handwrite during parts of my brainstorm process for columns. Sometimes that turns on different gears. Part of what surprised me during this exercise was how much I expected handwriting my messages would force me to slow down as I wrote them. It slowed me down some, and left some gaps between thoughts and words that were interesting to notice, but it didn’t slow me down in any larger contemplative sense – which I never should have expected. I was still in a rush to finish this one so I could get to the next one. The typed word has evolved to fit our digital habits.

  • West Seattle Blog

    Interesting concept by the always-creative Monica G. Too late for some of us. I have been typing 99 percent of everything for more than 20 years now. When I have to handwrite something – like this ONE editorial-calendar note list I keep by the laptop – I can barely read my own writing. – Tracy