Learn by handwriting


I once read that Hunter S. Thompson, as a young and ambitious writer, tried to improve his writing by copying word for word the opening chapter of The Great Gatsby.

At that age, long before he became a literary legend, Thompson considered Fitzgerald’s book to be the great American novel, or close to it. So he typed it out to better understand the cadence, the rhythm, the style, the mood.

When we are all young, we copy our heroes, our mentors, our parents – until we gain a footing ourselves and go off on our own. We learn to flap our wings, or gums, and take off.

Recently, I came across another idea on copying that goes further. The idea is this: When you copy something, don’t just type it, write it by hand. The thinking is that copying something down in handwriting makes you go slower and actually think about what you are writing.

It also shows you why short sentences are better and why commas are important, and where they should go. It’s like learning in slow motion, which is a better…way…to…learn.

This doesn’t just apply to writing a book or story. If you are a cook, for instance, writing down a recipe by hand makes you think about each ingredient and step. Odds are you are less likely to forget to put garlic in the Tex-Mex Lasagna (as I have done).

Everyone loves receiving a handwritten letter. Unless your handwriting is indecipherable, like my mother’s was, which was exasperating (a word she said often to me in person, but if she ever wrote it I couldn’t read it).

If you are writing an important email, try it first long hand, with cross outs and new starts. Then type it and send it. It will help you clarify your thoughts and improve your message.

And when you type it by reading your handwriting, you’re less likely to have typos. I remember my horror when I wrote an ad for a client that said, “Stay smart. Think positve.” I had left out the second “i” in positive. My client (Linda F.) spotted it and brought it to my attention. It got changed fast, before it ran thank god – a full page ad in the Portland Business Journal.

If that law firm ad had run with the typo, I would have had to leave town and I'd still be hiding out today - perhaps with Hunter S. Thompson, in the clouds and bars above. Looking for a pen.

Call me Les.

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Les Overhead and Tom Vandel would both enjoy talking with you.

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The best way to reach Les Overhead and Tom Vandel is by email (tom@...), by phone (503-505-4723), or by sending carrier pigeon or mail to 1750 NE 57th Portland, OR 97213. Thank you.