Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Neurology of Writing: Training the Hands

Neurons aren't science fiction: they are the metabolic fact of our consciousness.  And the ways we use them help determine our progress as writers.

Day 4 Lesson  /  Learning to Write:

Writing: Sharing Knowledge Across Time and Distance
Human beings are exceptionally complex.  Unlike the zombies and the robots that inhabit most of our science fiction, we are endowed with functional brains which direct more than mere motion and the vile ambitions of our antagonists.  Without the aid of telepathy, we are capable of impressive feats of empathy, forecasting, and communication.

Our abilities stem directly from our ability to learn.  We continually adapt our thoughts and perspectives to react to an ever-changing world, and this allows us to coordinate our responses appropriately.  And we've developed writing as a critical component of learning.  Through words, we are able to share ideas across vast stretches of time and distance.  Consider Shakespeare - even now, Macbeth tells us of the terrible punishments that befall evildoers who murder kings.  Then we have Coca-Cola - is there anyone on the world who doesn't know how to arrange the white letters on that red background?

Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor Learning
According to Bloom's Taxonomy, there are three domains of learning:
Cognitive: mental and intellectual thought
Affective: emotional responses and desires, attention
Psychomotor: physical coordination and control
In considering writing, most people only address the cognitive aspects of communication.  Words are meant to convey meaning.  It's not that the emotions of Affective Learning or the movements of Psychomotor Learning are entirely unimportant, it's just that we assign them a lower priority when discussing the elevated forms of the essay or literature.  Yes, you might read some tripe on Yahoo about dating and romance, or you might pick up a handbook to learn how to better swing a golf club, but what do these things really tell us about the art of writing itself?

Here's the thing: the best writing involves all elements of knowledge.  An accomplished writer like Ray Bradbury will convey strong intellectual content in his work, but his stories are fascinating because they play on our emotional needs and fears.  And his level of production indicates a tremendous psychomotor aptitude - basically, he was a very skilled typist.  More importantly, Bradbury was skilled at getting the intellectual facts of reality to line up with the emotional wonts of a human being on a piece of paper scrolling through a typewriter.

Training the Hands
In this sense, becoming a better writer is very much about training the hands.  In order to your thoughts from outrunning the story, you have to train your fingers to keep up with your brain.

But which fingers you use in practice will affect how you write your final draft.  If you always write longhand, then words will naturally flow out through your dominant writing hand.  You've trained your mind, connecting the nerve impulses from your creative thought centers to the muscles in your hand and wrist.  Conversely, if almost all of your writing happens at the keyboard, you'll find that your thoughts will naturally cause your fingers to hit the right keys.

Many writers - particularly writers of the generation before computers - find that it's far easier to write stories using a pen or a pencil than it is with a keyboard.  It isn't that they can't type - it's that the ideas don't seem to flow right when they do.  Younger writers - ones who have used keyboard typing since a very early age - probably find little difference.

As a writer, you'll need to discover which mode of writing works best for you.  As a practical matter, I strongly recommend typing.  Handwriting may be more personal and feel "more right" for your stories, but you can only mail out stories which have already been typed.  Transcription services are expensive, and you may not always feel like typing something you've already spent so much time writing.  That said, you should always strive to type correctly.  If you find that you type with two fingers, it's worth the time and effort to learn to use all your fingers on the keyboard.  You'll type faster, and this will allow you more time to write.  And if that isn't enough to convince you, just think of how many more words you'll be able to cram onto a page when there's an essay deadline...

Day 4 Lesson  /  Learning to Write:

1 comment:

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