Wendell Hixson, Writing Consultant
When I was young, really young, I had a hard time differentiating my right from my left. I was a victim of the condescending phrase for the directionally-compromised: “your other left.” And no, the “L” and left-hand trick didn’t work. In the moment, the shape of the “L” would always escape me, so the left-hand trick was useless. I was a directionless little wanderer. However, due to countless lessons in cursive and my proclivity for writing way too much, I had quickly developed a writer’s callus. After seeing the little bump on my ring finger and asking about it, my parents told me that it had come from how I write with my right hand. Now, that actually stuck with me. From then on, I would always remember where my writer’s callus was, and I knew which side was my right. Luckily, I still have this little writer’s bump. I admit that I still use this trick and yield that, in the moment, I still forget what an “L” looks like. That’s against the point. This anecdote was really just a longwinded way of emphasizing an often ignored reality: writing is a physical experience, not just an emotional one.
For starters, how many people have a routine? And I don’t just mean a writing routine. I mean a routine for writing. I know, for me, that I need to be sat comfortably at a desk, a little chilly, in front of a window, and supplied with a sandwich and glass of water before I’ve entered into my ideal writing mood. While it’s good to learn how to effectively write in all situations, there is nothing wrong with having a personal routine that you employ to feel inspired and prepared. There’s also a lot of fun and comfort to be found in discovering what inspires you best. Remember, there is nothing wrong with treating yourself a little to some creature comforts before you write. Writing is intensive. It’s taxing. It’s vulnerable. It can leave you feeling exhausted, exhilarated, anxious, confident, confined, freed, or all of the above. It affects you, the writer, just as much as you affect the page. Sometimes this can even come at higher costs than we care to usually talk about.
As teachers, students, workers, writers, we all understand the reality of college. Most of us will stay up late, toiling over some assignment or research project, calling to the Muses in hopes that our blank page will suddenly fill with the words we need for an “A.” But, do we often enough acknowledge the toll this can take on our bodies? Writing isn’t a purely mental exercise, and—much like most physical exercise—shouldn’t be overdone. (I recommend also reading writing consultant Andrew Messer’s recent blog on burnout and writer’s block, as well as Charlie Ward’s latest blog on self-care.) Learn how to relax and find the proper times to make a daily “exercise” out of your writing, if possible. To further our metaphor, take time to exercise different aspects of your writing. Sometimes it’s good to simply write your papers, other times it proves useful to practice your skills in revising and editing, and other times still it’s good to remember that seeking guidance and even just reading are also wonderful ways to strengthen your skills.
However, writing shouldn’t be seen as all school-based work or business reports. I think that the most neglected physical aspect of writing, especially in school and the workforce, is how writing can also be for your own enjoyment. When we journal, when we physically write poetry, when we practice our 8 billion current forms of uniquely wonderful handwriting, we create a very personal little treasure. I recommend writing down something personal or something meaningful to yourself. Typing onto a screen, I believe, is extremely useful, but it can also separate us from what makes writings, books, and letters so wonderful. It requires a concerted effort to take a pen to paper and more effort still to preserve what has been created. Like a personal museum or library, in writing things down on paper, there is a compelling drive to keep it safe and able to be called forth at later dates. When writing letters, there is a valued and rewarding feeling in exerting so much effort on something that is to be given to another. It reminds us that writing has been commodified and streamlined, but it is, primarily, a work of art that we value as a record of our thoughts, feelings, and history. Is there not something endearing about a close friend’s own emotions and thoughts transferred to the page in their own distinctive hand? Is there not something rewarding about your lines of poetry or prose taking as much physical effort to create as mental effort? Is there not something meaningful in the simple thoughts we may have scribbled years ago about a wonderful day we’ve since forgotten?
At risk of overstaying my welcome, I want to stress that writing is always from and for you in some regard. It takes a lot out of you. Realistically, it will always be a demanding experience, but in the best way. So, try to always give what you can for school or work or what have you, but don’t forget that it’s your work. It’s your skill. It’s your effort that you pour yourself into. By creating and holding on to something tangible, you will also hold on to something that demonstrates the effort, the emotion, and the part of you that you had to give to create it. Hopefully, in realizing that you’ve physically created something so potentially meaningful, you can literally grasp how valuable and useful your writing can be. And, in the end—if you’re still not convinced—writing things down could make a little bump on your finger that might occasionally help with your rights and lefts, especially if you forget what an “L” looks like. Still pretty worth it, I think.