Monday, March 9, 2009


HANK: Where would we be without lists? I have lists of lists. And on the lists, I write the things I must accomplish. Calls. Auction baskets. Thank you notes. Bios to send. Photos to send. Interviews to do. Deadlines. Oh, yes deadlines. And, of course ideas.

Now here’s the critical element. "I write the things." Problem is, seriously, half the time I can’t read them.

I see on the list “April 5.” I remember this especially, because when I looked at it a few minutes later, I forgot why I had written it on the list. Better write myself a reminder, I thought. SO now I see I wrote, um, s? r? u? h? SRUH? Or maybe it's srguth. Srguk? I still can't decode it.

Now here’s on entry from last week: 13V06. And then I had drawn some “this is important” stars on each side of it. No idea.

That was followed by wLAI. Which I recognized as “what.”

Then “hejpevd.”

Then “vo,” which I recognized as “to”.

Then “travduiy.”

I stared at it. I stared at it. I scoured my brain for what it could mean.

Suddenly: “13V06” morphed into BLOG. A HA. Something about the blog. Maybe a blog idea?

“Hejpevd.” Hedge funds? The economy? Ah. It's "Happened." What happened…to….

“Travduiy.” Ah. No idea. None none none.

Then I got it. Handwriting. “Travduiy” is Handwriting.

“What happened to handwriting.” My blog idea for this week!! Because, of course, everyone types or texts or twitters now. And I had wondered, has handwriting gone the way of the rotary phone?

I rest my case. (Aloha to Rhys and Hallie at Left Coast Crime...please check in and tell us the latest! Because if you send postcards, we probably won't be able to decipher them.)

JAN: I know EXACTLY what you mean. Although I can't get anyone to believe this, I used to have beautiful handwriting, that I took a lot of pride in it. But now??? I think it has to do with the fact that I type EVERYTHING, and those handwriting muscles have now atrophied.

I used to take longhand notes as a reporter, but no more. Now I bring my laptop WITH me to the interview and type my notes so I can read them later.

RO: This is weird. I used to have beautiful writing until I wrote my first book in longhand. Now I've got this gnarly scrawl..I have to really work at it when I sign books. So Jan is blaming NOT writing and I'm blaming TOO MUCH writing.

HANK: Well, RO. I can't even imagine doing that. I literally would not be able to read it after I wrote it. Now that would be annoying.

And I remember being so thrilled to learn how to write, not print. So thrilled. I remember doing "cursive" exercises, on that triple-lined paper, two thick lines, a thin one in the middle. Making ovals, was it? Singing "here we go round the pony track." That seems so bizarre now, can it possibly be true? Now I can takes notes as quickly as someone I'm inerviewing can talk.

I just can't read it later.

ROBERTA: I think my handwriting is still okay--hmmm, maybe I haven't seen it in a while. No wait! I use it to sign books! I remember when I was waiting for my first mystery, SIX STROKES UNDER, to come out in 2002. I talked endlessly to my husband and the people on my listservs about how I'd sign those books. I had a full paragraph worked out featuring my gratitude and best wishes for the readers' lives, all packaged in clever golf lingo. I think that lasted through the first book signing. Now it's strictly a half line of chicken scratch. One lady looked at the book I'd personalized for her recently and said: "That's a signature?"

But I sure can relate to those lists on lists on lists, Hank. My lists are all by hand, but the busier I am, the deeper they get buried on my desk. I usually do a thorough sorting when I finish a draft and then those lists surface, along with all the ones I made to replace them as they disappeared into the morass. Hey, the good news is the items that didn't get checked off are so far overdue they've become obsolete!

HANK: And wow, there's nothing better than checking something off a list! Blog for today--check! (Blog for tomorrow--a really really special guest! Check.)

How about you all? Can you still read your own handwriting?
Thanks, Kim, for the cute (and nostalgic-inducing) drawing!


  1. Not long ago my daughter and I were in an antique store and came upon a copy of The Palmer Method of Business Writing, which of course we had to buy. The subtitle reads: A self-teaching series of lessons in rapid, plain, unshaded, coarse-pen muscular movement writing, for use in all schools, public or private, where a facile and legible handwriting is the object sought." (1901) My, they took their handwriting seriously in those days, didn't they? It includes a section on "breaking up finger movement." Sounds painful.

    It takes time and effort to write beautiful script, and nobody seems to want to give either to it any more. But when you can't read your own handwriting, something is seriously awry.

  2. When I was a reporter, I thought having "not-so-clear" handwriting was a good thing -- because even if someone subpoenaed my notes, no one would be able to read them.
    But now, well, let's just say that it's made for some interesting grocery shopping trips for my husband.
    And often I'll put a note on the calendar, but then I can't read it the next day. SO I stare at it, hoping to figure it out or receive some telepathic explanation-- or that someone will call me or mention where I'm supposed to be on that day. This rarely happens, unfortunately.
    So, yeah, I can relate.....

  3. I can still read my own hand-writing but it seems that no one else can. Both my husband and the munchkin are always saying that they can't read what I've written when I give them a list. I suspect a giant conspiracy that has more to do with not wanting to run errands than it does with my hand-writing.

    The munchkin has lovely handwriting but complains because I "make" her use cursive instead of printing. She's in middle school and the kids are allowed to still print everything. But now that she figuring out how much faster cursive is I'm hearing fewer complaints.

  4. I've never had particularly good handwriting, but it's definitely gone downhill. It's like I don't even know how to form the letters anymore. And not in cursive, but plain old printing! Maybe I can blame it on Katie Gibbs. I took a summer secretarial course there many, many moons ago to make the switch from retail to office work and learned steno script. Very helpful for note taking, but it might have damaged my letter-forming muscles. Of course, my typing is no better. But at least that I can correct before showing it to the world (and get Word to correct for me!)

    And have you seen how so many younger people hold a pen? Sometimes I can see that it's to protect long fingernails, but it really looks awkward. But then I think, well, maybe they can read their writing. Maybe I should try that!

    Once I made that switch to office work, I had a boss who would ask me to decipher her handwriting. I got good at that!

  5. When I was in elementary school, it was ultra cool to write bubble style (with a heart over an "i" of course!). I never could do it. I've always had terrible writing (and it was the one place I got the grade "unsatisfactory"), and it was a great relief to my mother and grandmother when I started typing my letters to them. My mother has beautiful teacher handwriting, but I inherited my chicken scratch from my dad. So typing has saved my life... But I still like to handwrite my lists on paper because it just isn't satisfying to cross things off a list on the computer...

  6. I used to have big loopy handwriting. Now--it's tight and small. I usually only write grocery lists -- oh, and edits on my manuscripts. (Although when I have to wait at an appointment, I take a notebook and TRY to write clearly.) Still, I often end up with my magnifying glass trying to figure out what the heck I wrote. My husband can't read my chicken scratching at all.

  7. Yes, why is so annoying not to be able to cross things off on a computer? If you just erase them, then it looks like the items never existed, and that's not a satisfying.

    I have lots of interns, Kira, and come to think of it, I've never seen them "write" anything! Hmm. I'm gong to go check it out.

  8. I'd have commented sooner, but I was working my way through my list. Which I COULD read, but probably only because I wrote it over the past couple of days, so it's still imprinted on my very short-term memory. :)

    I lost my handwriting in grad school, when I was too burnt out to listen to fast-talking professors and THINK at the same time; had to write down EVERYTHING they said to have a chance of remembering it later. Of course, it was all illegible. It's okay, though, because it gives my son (who's printing is starting to look like his dad's--neat enough for drafting work) something else to tease me about!

  9. Checking in from Hawaii...where Rhys is the MOST radiant Guest of Honor at Left Coast Crime and the mai tais are to die for...

    I can tell how busy by whether I have one. There's a threshold I cross where I can no longer function unless I put the competing thoughts in my brain on paper.

    Iremember working my butt off to earn a "penmanship certificate" in 6th grade. Now it's pretty indecipherable. Fora long time we had a cartoon on our fridge --a guy coming home from the supermarket with a bag and rodents running onthe kitchen counter with the caption something like "But your shopping list said to geet 8 hamsters."


  10. My handwriting is a mess these days, although I have found when I'm interviewing someone and taking notes, I can still read it. So that's a good thing.

  11. I have the world's worst handwriting. My brain moves so much faster than my fingers so I am like Hank --I jot down brilliant notes to myself that I can't read. Thank heanven for computers.
    Day 3 of Left Coast Crime in Hawaii. Weather a little more hopeful but I have panels to keep me indoors. I'll let you know how they go.

  12. I too have had wretched handwriting all my life--in grade school, when you had to write on the board, I always got the lowest grade for penmanship. And now no one in my office can read my writing, and they come to me with, "What did you want me to do?" Sometimes I can't read my own grocery list, but the absolute worst is when I look at my calendar and it says for noon: Lunch. With who? Where? I'm at a total loss. Hate that.

  13. My handwriting is...passable. My signature sucks big time. I had a job where I had to sign off with a full signature on literally hundreds of pages a day. It's... Let's just say I don't worry about anyone forging it. Speaking of, I used to be able to forge my parents signatures. Came in really handy in school. I worked in a drug store in high school one Christmas and they moved me to the prescription department when the pharmacist figured out I could decipher the doctors' handwriting on the prescriptions.

    Oh, and Hank? Using < s >< /s > which is the html code for striking through letters, works great for crossing off computer lists. ;) Only take out the spaces. That code can't be used here and the comment window is fussing at me. LOL.

  14. Oh, Silver, thanks. I'm going to go try that very cool code asap. As soon as I get something done.

    And yeah, no kidding. We used to TRY to forge our parents' signatures, but it was a disaster. And luckily so. We would have been chicken to actually do it.

    Of course,now on credit cards and things, the sales clerks never even look to see if it's anything like what's on the card. We've done stories where we sign Minnie Mouse. NO problem.

    And yes, I get emails from people who say--I got your note, and I know it's a thank you note. But--what did you say?

  15. What happened to handwriting? It was replaced by typing. And you'd thing both would take the same amount of time, and maybe on a typewriter it would. HOWEVER!!!!!
    Typing on a computer gave you that one very important element called backspace instant correcting, and now handwriting is way too slow.
    Next time you're making a list take the time to think of seeing it on a computer. You will notice your mistakes, you will try to correct, check how much paper you've allowed and see if you don't tell yourself you'll remember what you meant because correcting is taking too much time.
    If that doesn't work, TRY and sit down and write a slow, leisurely letter to someone.
    It will be a shelved project in about five minutes. If that.