Writing and Handedness

Just finished watching this video (public lecture with Leonard Shlain).  There’s an interesting bit about left brain/right brain, handedness and the introduction of the typewriter, and later the personal computer. The idea is that when you handwrite, you only use one hand. And if you’re right-handed, that taps into the left side of your brain (the un-creative “masculine” side). However, with a typewriter and/or computer, you use both hands to write, hence connecting to both sides of your brain.

Aside: My junior high art teacher was obsessed with the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Well, perhaps obsessed is a bit strong, but he went on about it quite a bit. At the time, we found it kind of funny, but lately I’ve been thinking he was ahead of his time.

I’m weakly right-handed (right-leaning ambidextrous?). Some things I have no preference of doing them right- or left-handed. Either way is fine. Like when I was playing sports in school, sometimes I’d play left (things with sticks) and sometimes I’d arbitrarily switch back & forth. I do write right-handed, but I’ve always been able to also write with my left hand. Not as quickly, of course, but that’s mostly due to less practice, I would think. With writing, it makes sense to focus your energies on one hand. (Or does it?! Now I’m wondering…) Anyhow, I have lots of things I do either-handed, and some things I like to do left-handed. I can draw with my left hand.

But whereas with handedness I often wonder if I’m just doing stuff right-handed out of habit rather than actual preference (because if I switch hands it seems fine the other way too), I am strongly left eye dominant. I frame things with my left eye. I take photographs with my left eye.

So anyway, point. It just occurred to me while listening to this lecture that maybe my difficulty with writing pre-computer, i.e. when I was trying to write by hand, is related to mixed-dominance. I used to chalk my lack of production up to laziness or my wrist getting tired. I would think about writing a lot. Work out stories in my head. But when it came time to write them down, not much would come out. Journaling was also a slog for me. But when I started wordprocessing, the words just flowed in a way they never did when I was handwriting. In other words, maybe being able to use both hands at once was really important for me. More significant than just being physically easier. In terms of creativity, and being able to tap into both sides of the brain at once and make connections that just weren’t happening when I was trying to write solely with my right hand.

And! Now I’m thinking about this in terms of blogging / online writing vs. traditional diaries. Maybe there’s an importance to the typing side of it (using both hands, tapping into creative “feminine” side of brain) that’s been overlooked with the focus on public/private and all that jazz.

Hmm… Remember in elementary school, when you were learning to write and they had the letters with arrows showing which direction to form them? Once I mentioned to a teacher that I went the opposite way (and got chastised for doing it “wrong,” of course). I never said anything again, but kept making the letters the way I always had. I always had terrible handwriting anyhow. I’d get put in the remedial section (with the boys) where you had to use those interlined books and write your letters two feet tall. Which resulted in not better, but bigger, handwriting, that I got chastised for by other teachers down the line. OMG. I always chalked up my crappy handwriting to impatience—just wanting to be done already with boring busywork. Maybe that wasn’t it at all.

Anyhow. Possibly this explains why when people rhapsodize about writing longhand, it feels a bit like romanticizing the pen to me. Maybe handwriting is more creative/expressive if you’re strongly handed one way or the other, but not if you’re not so much so?