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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

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Filtering by Tag: Journals

The Handwritten Holidays

Brett Rawson

BY HANDWRITTEN

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott states that Monday is the worst day to write, and that December is a month of Mondays. While it is about the external elements (the shortened days, raging rivers of street slush, broken radiators, etc), the struggle takes place indoors, or, inside the mind. Emily Dickinson used to refer to these nights as "evenings of the brain."  

This year, we were prepared. We purchased a sunset lamp, a crock pot, and, hiding throughout the apartment, we've stashed unopened bottles of Two Buck Chuck. #grapesofwrath

Speaking of books, that is really how we get through December, and the rest of the winter months. With a little bit of time away from work, we'll soon be retreating to the woods with a stack of books, blank journals, envelopes, and stamps. We thought to share with you some of the things we'll be bringing with us. First are a few titles that have little to do with "handwriting" per se, but speak directly to us as hand-writers, for they address the thin lines between great divides:

For those of you who want to jump into the deep-end of the handwriting pool, these are some great diving boards. Two notes: first, we highly encourage you to pair together Brencher's memoir with her letter writing stationery kit, as we heart everything she does; and second, The Assassin's Cloak anthology is particularly wild because it's organized by date, and so for a big chunk of our last year, we would read the entries from each day in the morning to get us going. February 6th was particularly enlightening, as there were entries from 1769, 1881, 1922 and 1941. 

If you're looking for a gift, we recommend the below art objects. Inspiration is guaranteed. Whenever we feel a little bit of pressure mounting, we crack open these covers, get lost in their letters, and a few daydreams later, we're back to the page. 

Lastly, if you're looking for something to write in, here are three ideas to get you, or someone you know, writing: 

The medium-sized hardcover notebooks from Leuchtturm are a new favorite of ours — and not just because their cheerful, mod two-tone covers (“biColore”) are an antidote to the winter grays. With numbered pages, a table of contents, and supplemental stickers for archiving and organizing, you feel like you’re writing a real book as you scribble towards the 249th page finish line — which is some 100 pages longer than most similar style journals. There’s a gusseted pocket for stowing paper ephemera, and an elastic band to keep your words tucked in at night. 

The Shinola Detroit notebooks are manufactured by Edwards Brothers Malloy — a family-run printing business that has made books and journals since 1893, and which employs more than 900 people in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As their mission statement goes, Shinola respect the evolving nature and power of the handwritten word, and aim to "uphold the art of putting pen to pad and preserving communication.” The Smyth sewn binding method used not only allows your notebook to lie flat when open, but it increases its life expectancy and durability. They come in a bunch of different sizes, colors, and material groups — the linen options being the best to cuddle up to. 

But if completion is important to you, then check out the sketchbooks from our partner in the pen, The Sketchbook Project. You have one year to complete this blank little book. Though, time is running out, so click your way into a great activity by checking out their offerings on their site.

Lastly, Happy Holidays, everyone. Stay safe, keep the beautiful pen busy, and be in touch.

I Have No Choice But to Revise • Keith Baldwin

Brett Rawson

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WRITTEN BY KEITH BALDWIN

My handwriting is fucked. The penmanship is not as illegible as some, but in terms of how I physically write by hand, it’s all messed up. I hold a pen against my ring finger, like the wrong half of a pair of chopsticks, and form a lot of my letters from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

When I was eleven, my dad finally noticed the issue and approached it with all the vigor and care he’d applied to the insufficient knots in my shoes a few years earlier — just enough to make me feel shitty about it, without solving anything.

He spent a few frustrated hours with me at the kitchen table, correcting the way I formed a handful of letters and the number nine. There was no progress at all toward fixing my wonky grip, which was already too ingrained to be altered so easily.

The upshot is that I don’t have the natural flow with a pen that other handwriting advocates rhapsodize. It’s always a slog for me. If I try to write too quickly, my hand and wrist start to cramp up, so my thoughts always remains three steps ahead of my pen. And while I work to close the gap, my mind is free to become distracted by flaws and omissions in what I’ve already written, leading to aggressive cross-outs and a morass of cramped footnotes that nest and crawl across margins — to be inserted in the main text later.

This would be enough to make a mess of my notebook, but on top of all that — rather than keeping everything in sequence — I have a bad habit of opening to a random blank page whenever I want to make a note, or a list, or play a game of hangman. In the middle of writing an extended scene of fiction, I will often turn the page to find story notes, shopping lists, and broken sentences for my ESL students to practice correcting. Typing up my work becomes a tedious chore of deciphering and reconstructing, tracking down where the story picks up when it’s suddenly interrupted by a sketch of my cat as an astronaut. It is almost as big a pain in the ass to work through it as it is for me to scrawl it out in the first place. So why do I even bother? Why do I keep returning to pen and ink whenever I’m writing something I care about? (You should see the rough draft of this essay…)

I know there are a lot of answers involving the way the brain works in different contexts, and how I formed these writing habits when all I could do on a keyboard was hunt and peck — and blah blah blah, a hundred other reasons why this website exists and longhand is the best. But I think the biggest factor for me is the same one that made me so much less anxious about sharing this mess of pages than I would have been about submitting something more polished. Because no one could ever confuse the contents of my notebook for a finished product — not even me.

On the one hand, this means that I can’t be held accountable for the contents, which frees me to be a little wilder in my first stab at a project. But it also means that I can’t avoid the work that still needs to be done. I have no choice but to revise.

My feelings about revision are pretty much the same as my feelings about flossing — I know I should do it, but it makes my gums bleed. And when my words are neatly typed and double-spaced, with numbered pages and no evidence of the disordered mind that composed them, I have to work to remind myself that it’s still a work in progress — that I can and should question every decision those collected words represent.

The process of transferring from the page to the screen forces me to consider every sentence with a critical eye while I retrace the whole erratic path. And I can’t even procrastinate for too long because, while a few days’ distance can bring fresh insights, a few weeks is liable to leave me incapable of piecing the whole mess together again. (It’s happened. It’s infuriating.)
I know that, for other people, writing by hand makes the whole process smoother. For me, it’s about making myself work harder, and getting better results for the effort.

Keith Baldwin is a writer and tutor living in subterranean Brooklyn while paying exorbitant tuition in Manhattan. He is sometimes worried that he might be one of those lizard people you hear about.

The Distance Between our Public and Private Selves • Aine Greaney

Brett Rawson

In this essay on deleted pasts and new beginnings, Aine Greaney takes us around the world in an old composition notebook: the only one she brought with her when she emigrated to America. With the start of the new year just behind us, we find this piece more timely than ever, as we revisit filled pages from the past, and look toward the blank ones of the future.

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It Starts to Look Like a Timeline, Not a Journal • A Conversation with Angela Flournoy

Brett Rawson

BY SARAH MADGES

Angela Flournoy and her debut novel, The Turner House, are igniting the literary scene with their unassuming eloquence and nuanced commentary on the deleterious effects of the 2008 housing bubble and the black American diaspora, whose interrelated history subsumes the 13 members of the Turner family as they navigate a crumbling Detroit.

Garnering significant attention and accolades for a debut novelist, Flournoy is a finalist for the National Book Awards in Fiction, and was named a “5 under 35” writer, designations that left Flournoy nearly tweetless, only able to write “whaaaat” in response. Despite this rapid success, when we saw her during an intimate conversation hosted by CLMP at the New School, there was an easygoing magnetism to her speech, posture, and perspective. Although Flournoy is the first to admit her excitement for the book’s positive reception, watching her speak, it seemed clear that we are in the presence of a person who has remained rooted at the center of the spinning wheel. 

So when we found out that Flournoy wrote the entire first draft of The Turner House by hand, we went wild with theories — perhaps the handwritten word explains why she is so grounded, or has enabled her to access memories of her father’s Detroit childhood, etc. Thankfully, Sarah Madges from Handwritten spoke with Angela about writing The Turner House by hand, thereby recusing us of the need to go on any longer. We wish Angela the very best this week, and hope everyone who reads this here will read her book, and then handwrite their own.  

SARAH MADGES: So I wanted to talk to you about your process, how handwriting figures into it, and how you came to incorporate it into your process:

ANGELA FLOURNOY: Handwriting has always been a part of my process. I got my first journal when I was eight years old — I don’t have them with me or I’d check, they are at my mother’s house. I’ve always worked out ideas or feelings through handwriting.

For most of my academic life I was writing papers on the computer and generally typing things, and it didn’t seem like the most natural way to work on something that was not like a term paper. When I was first writing short stories in undergrad most were written on a computer first, but when I got to Iowa, one thing that was an issue for me was procrastination. I didn’t have the smartest of phones, I was always a couple generations behind — now that’s an issue — but I figured if I left the house I’d focus more. So I would sit in the coffee shop and sit on my laptop hanging around on the Internet instead of writing, even after downloading Self Control, because you could still override it.

So I returned to handwriting to focus — there were not as many distractions. Especially when you’re working on something historical, you want to look everything up on Google, which is useful in revision, but it gets in the way of writing when you stop and end up in a Wikipedia rabbit hole. Writing longhand made me focus, and slow down. 

MADGES: Has your writing always been historical in the way The Turner House is, or written about, for example, a city you never lived in, but know about? 

FLOURNOY: History is always a part of the way that I envision stories. This novel, especially, but I had written 70 pages of another novel based in a city I never lived in and it was a similar process.

MADGES: How would you get yourself to push through the writing instead of succumbing to the kneejerk reaction to look things up — would you leave notes like “look up later” and just keep going?

FLOURNOY: Well I would put an asterisk next to what I wasn’t sure was right. The thing about literary fiction is that it’s not one of those things — I’m not writing a civil war period piece that heavily relies on research and that people are so into it and will feel betrayed if they feel it’s inaccurately portrayed, like, “That’s not what happened at Gettysburg!” That’s not the burden of the kind of fiction I write. You just need to have a foundation with reality. I would just write in the margin: Look this up!

MADGES: You said you started writing in a journal when you were around eight years old. Did someone encourage you to do that, or did you sort of come to that naturally?

FLOURNOY: Well, it was a Christmas present from an aunt of mine and so then it was just, there. And I’ve always been a person who, as soon as I learned how to read, read a lot, so it was like of course I would do this thing. No one was telling me I have to do it, and there wasn’t much else to do. Now, we live in a time of distraction, so it might be different. People talk about wanting to pick it up as a practice. 

MADGES: Did you always prefer to write by hand? Have you found greater success this way, or did you notice yourself writing/editing differently with a word processor? 

FLOURNOY: I feel like I’m a lot less apt to take risks when I’m typing out a story because it’s so easy to delete things; whereas, when you’re writing by hand you have to get to a certain critical mass before you “x” something out. It’s too easy to reread every sentence, go backwards rather than forward.

The editing process should be the editing process. You handicap yourself when you keep cutting down your own ideas. One on its own might not be great, but they might all make sense in concert with themselves. When there’s that blinking cursor encouraging you to cut them down, you might lose what the idea was really supposed to be. 

MADGES: Right! And once you delete them there’s no evidence of those ideas, at least in a notebook you can usually still read the words you crossed out. So how does handwriting figure into your writing process? What role did it play in writing the Turner House?

FLOURNOY: One benefit of writing longhand, I’m more gentle with myself on first drafts. It hurts to scratch out all the pages you wrote in the day.

I usually write the first draft longhand with notes in the margins and sometimes rudimentary edits as they fit on the page. For this novel, I wrote maybe a couple chapters at a time, then I would go and type them into this master novel document. That’s already two editing processes: on the page in the margins, and then of course I’m not going to transcribe something that is terrible, so again when I type. And because I’m not rereading everything in the document, that document lives separately, it ends up getting sort of built up and I’m able to look at what’s there, what’s working and what’s not, and change it later. It allows me to have a base, and provides some time between writing something and wanting to jump into revising it and moving, structurally, whole chapters around. Once I finished a notebook I would assess: where are we actually in the larger narrative? Some of the notebooks are half writing prose, half notes. It took about seven college ruled Moleskine notebooks. 

MADGES: How long would it take you? Did you find yourself having to stop because you couldn’t physically write anymore, or…?

FLOURNOY: No, I’m not a fast writer. On some days, it might have been more staring and thinking and I maybe only wrote five actual pages in my notebook. On other days, I could very easily look up and there’d be 15 pages in front of me. And even though handwriting is larger, those 15 pages would end up being 20 pages because I would think of things to add or subtract when transcribing. I don’t really remember my hand cramping. I wish I was one of those people who could really get a lot out of writing for three hours every day. For me, I have “writing seasons” and I have “thinking about writing seasons,” and when I am in the writing season, I just hunker down. I wake up early. If I don’t have a block of four hours, I feel like the time is already gone. I am not a fast writer. I was working at a D.C. public library, and I would have a shift from 5-9pm. So I would get to the coffee shop at noon and I would try to finish, or start a chapter. 

MADGES: Do you keep a journal, or carry a notebook and pen around with you? 

FLOURNOY: I have a journal but I don’t write in it much. When I was writing short stories, I would sometimes journal, but when I was writing this novel, I think the last thing I wanted to do was pick up another book and write in that book, too. I have slowed down journaling for myself. Now, I use it more for marking moments, or milestones.  

MADGES: How do you feel about the fact that cursive is no longer required teaching in U.S. elementary schools? 

FLOURNOY: I am terrible at cursive — I have terrible handwriting — but I can read cursive. But say, how can you even read archival documents if you can’t read cursive? You have to trust someone else’s transcription of it. It’s as if you’ve lost a language if you can’t read it for yourself and that is dangerous because people can say that any document says anything. It’s bad enough I only know one language fluently — I can at least read and write in Spanish — but it’s bad enough that most people in the U.S. don’t even have reading proficiency in a second language. But to not even have that proficiency in the language you were raised with? We’re not even going to be a monolingual culture anymore — we’re going to be whatever half of monolingual is.

MADGES: Well, you had a very successful debut! How do you feel about being shortlisted for the National Book Award? Were you surprised?

FLOURNOY: Yes, I was surprised. A sort of big moment for me was being on the long list, because who thinks that’s going to happen? I was in my apartment and I had sorted out my clothes and was going to take them to the laundromat and my phone started vibrating. This is stuff your younger writer self doesn’t dare fantasize about. I never really fantasized about publishing my book in general. It’s been great — it’s opened up all these different opportunities. I’m going to be teaching at The New School in the spring, which is exciting. 

MADGES: Did you write about that in your journal?

FLOURNOY: [laughs] Yes, the last thing I wrote was in, like, August, and then: “I got on the shortlist!” It starts to look like a timeline, not a journal. Baby steps. I’ll get there.

From her site: ANGELA FLOURNOY is the author of The Turner House, which is a finalist for the National Book Award and the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, a Summer 2015 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and a New York Times Sunday Book Review Editors' Choice. She is a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" Honoree for 2015. Her fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, and she has written for The New York Times, The New Republic and The Los Angeles Times.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Flournoy received her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California. She has taught at the University of Iowa and The Writer's Foundry at St. Joseph's College in Brooklyn. She is joining the faculty at Southern New Hampshire University's low-residency MFA program in Spring 2016. 

I Don’t Keep a Journal the Way Most Journal Artists Do • A Conversation with Brian Singer of 1000 Journals Projects

Brett Rawson

Brian Singer is a San Francisco-based fine artist whose sobriquet “Someguy” downplays the enormously unique body of work he has produced in the last decade or so. I first discovered his work at age 15, when I stumbled across the 1000 Journals Project book in my sister’s bedroom.

An ongoing collaborative experiment, The 1000 Journals Project attempts to track 1000 originally empty journals through their travels across the globe, accumulating stories, sketches, and photographs as they pass between friends’ and strangers’ hands. In addition to larger scale projects such as this, he creates visual art pieces that explore the layers of signification of the printed word, crossing out and redacting text in a process of mixed media décollage.

SARAH MADGES: The extensive, anonymous shared artifact network you created with The 1000 Journals Project speaks volumes about individuals' desires to be creative, without fear of criticism. Did you expect to find so many untapped talents waiting to give expression to their thoughts? Did you initially conceive of this project as a way to make collaborative art or did it just kind of happen?

BRIAN "SOMEGUY" SINGER: I think everyone is creative, but society tends to have a narrow definition of the word. Some people are creative when they cook, or garden, others make art. In the book Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon MacKenzie talks about creativity—I’m paraphrasing here—he says that if you ask a room full of kindergarteners how many of them are artists, they’ll all raise their hands. Ask the same question of a bunch of 6th graders, and a few will raise their hands. Ask high school students, and you’ll be lucky to get a couple to raise their hands. So, what happens to us growing up? We begin to fear criticism and judgment of society. 

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When the project was conceived, it was based on what people write on bathroom walls. Not quite collaborative art, but more like public conversations. That said, I love the works of Dan Eldon, and sort of imagined what would happened if people just layered and layered their contributions until you got a density similar to his journals. 

MADGES: In an increasingly tech- and text-based world, handwriting has lost some of its former relevance and ubiquitycursive is no longer even required in U.S. school curricula and thousands of people have never written or received a letter in their entire life. How important is the handwritten aspect of these journal entries to you? How important is the written word to you as an artist?

SOMEGUY: The hand-crafted element is crucial to the journals. It’s almost like a signature, or hint of a person’s personality, beyond the words written. As an artist, for whatever reason, it has a little less meaning to me. Strange, now that I think about it. Perhaps because it’s so accessible and anyone can do it, it feels less precious or unique. Or maybe because I don’t incorporate handwriting into my art work — I’ve never really liked the look of my own handwriting. It’s more like chicken-scratch, which I blame my dad for.

MADGES: Do you keep a journal?

SOMEGUY: No. Yes. Sort of. I don’t keep a journal the way most journal artists do. When I was younger, I kept a journal which was more like a diary of sorts. Now, I have sketchbooks, which I use mostly for notes and ideas. Not really for freeform writing, or artwork, just lists and notes and sketches. 

MADGES: As far as I can tell, the 1000 Journals Project was last on exhibition in Scottsdale in 2013. Where is it now? What are your plans for the project? Do you consider yourself its curator anymore?

SOMEGUY: There aren’t any exhibition plans for 1000J right now. A couple years back, I approached a few venues, and while there’s some interest, nothing panned out. As for plans, again, I don’t have any current plans. This is mostly due to time constraints, it takes a lot of energy to keep things going. I do consider myself the curator of the project, but am mostly playing a waiting game.. waiting for journals that have been out in the world for almost 15 years to be rediscovered and sent home. I imagine most are sitting on bookshelves, forgotten over the years.

MADGES: What do you think is the relationship between visual arts and creative writing? Do you think of yourself as a poet or writer when you create your cross-out and printed word pieces? 

SOMEGUY: That’s a great question, because I haven’t given it much thought. I tend to gravitate towards certain types of works. These can be strictly visual in nature, or strictly written. I think the ability to combine the two opens up the best of both worlds when done well. They can live in harmony, or in contrast, and add value to each other, or amplify the artist’s intent. When I create my redacted works, I mostly consider myself an editor. I’m stripping away information and creating new meaning. I’d hesitate to call myself a poet or writer, which might be an insult to poets and writers, but there are some similarities in our goals to shape language and message.

MADGES: What have you been working on lately?

SOMEGUY: Lately, I’ve been working on building bodies of work around themes. So not really participatory, or journal based projects. One recent explorations was around visualizing number patterns (connect the dots) in unexpected ways. And the current exploration (no photos online yet), are process based works where I put a shape on every page of a book (imagine a circle or letter), and then cut the book up and reassemble the shape using the edges of the paper. 

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Behind "The Bone Transfer" • Zachary Lutz

Brett Rawson

BY ZACHARY LUTZ

The sketch for “The Bone Transfer” was written in a subway car. Probably the B or the Q, headed to Manhattan. I keep a smaller notebook, pocket-sized, with a white cover. It helps that the surface area is more compact, as well the writing is compacted to fit. Tempts less spectators. In this particular type of free-writing, being surrounded by people comes in handy: there’s no contract for details on the subway. I’ll start with some image that’s been consistent and strange, some reoccurring thought. I’m generally writing narrative work, think non-autobiographical, so I’m not always drawing from experience. Easy to steal from something happening next to me on the train and makeup the rest.

The day I’m taking notes that will eventually turn into “The Bone Transfer,” I’m thinking about cartoon physics, TV tropes. For a few days, I’d been scanning this website/catalog of TV tropes, stumbling through entries. ‘Toon physics got me hooked. The page for the trope made note of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” as being a good example of the crossover between the “natural laws” of the human world versus that of the cartoon, and thus a good reference point for demarcation. I wanted to write something where character(s) experienced cartoon physics in the human world, but maintained their very human portentousness. I had been thinking for some time about how cartoons experience electrocution.

In addition, I’d received a phone call from a BBQ restaurant earlier that day assuring me that if I were to return to the location any time in the near future, I’d have a free meal voucher waiting for me. It was a wrong number call, but stuck with me. The writing I’m doing in my notebook is really just a way to process details. I try work with specificity as often as possible, and to link those details that might at the start appear un-linkable. (A rerun of an episode of “Shark Tank” introduced me to the Uro Club, which is referenced here alongside another sex organ-themed gift. It all returns to the body.)

When I transpose from my notebook to my computer, I’ll edit as I go. I’ll cut whole sections out, rearrange syntax. I change names or pump up the ambiguity. I want always for the mood of the piece to overshadow the context. Writing or thinking through a piece by hand provides me a necessary freedom which I make freer by movement—a faulty retractable leash that keeps threading out, a series of handkerchiefs from the sleeve of an encouraging magician. I recognize themes in handwriting, leave structure for the word processor. The shearing that results from the unmerciful typing-up of handwritten notes helps manage a pace, become more economical, say more heavily. 

Zachary Lutz is a handwriter in Brooklyn. He holds an MFA in poetry from The New School and received an honorable mention for the Paul Violi Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in Luna Negra Magazine. To the left is his handprint.