In Praise of Cursive Writing

Back in the days of quill pens and ink wells, Charles Dickens began his writing career first as a court stenographer and then a reporter on the daily activities of the English Parliament. Maybe the interesting array of the names of his characters arose from the parade of plaintiffs and lawyers he met while scratching away with his pen. In our age of word processing, when most of us barely recall typing, much less cursive writing, it is hard to imagine Leo Tolstoy penning over 1,000 pages of War and Peace or Shakespeare churning out 38 plays and hundreds of sonnets.

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And yet, we call ourselves writers, with a winsome nod to the true writing of a past filled with ink splotched pages and crossed out lines. But there in that disorderly process, there lived a richness of creativity with circles and arrows, side-by-side with doodles and fanciful drawings in our margins. It was a pace when the work of writing dragged on far slower than racing minds, and allowed us to slowly consider our words as they scrawled out on the page. Without the ability to click “send” or “publish now” we possessed an extended moment between imagination and reality and a slower time that worked as a wonderful assistant. It was a time that God granted a holy pasue, so that we could sift through our thoughts and remember that our words have power.

Before God said, “Let there be light!” He had had an eternity to consider what he would do in creation and the exact order in which He would do it in. So, when He spoke those first words – immediately it was so! He has called us to be writers, in His likeness though we are deeply flawed often filled with a mixture of confusion and faith. So, we should be thankful for interruptions, for scratched out lines and the constructive criticisms of friends. In that space between our words, we can reconsider our message and imagine whether others will be encouraged or insulted, stirred to action or lulled to sleep and more importantly we can listen. For if our writing is to be His message for others, then we must hear the whispers of the Word who became flesh at Bethlehem and wonder what He would have us to write today!


And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Matthew 6:28-29 ESV

One of the earliest memories I have of mom is her typing furiously on her Royal typewriter at the kitchen table. The melody of the tapping keys, punctuated by “ding” at the end of each line often, soothed me to sleep when I lay down for naps. Whenever mom wrote another book, she first began with research, which I think she liked the best. Being a Sci-Fi writer, she wanted to make sure her background on the people, planets and space travel actually fit with real science. In one of her books there were people who got around the way bats do, by their hearing. So, she studied braille, talked with blind people and asked them a million questions. Then after months of brainstorming, researching and outlining she began the rough draft with pen and paper. Because mom never had an office, the tall stacks of paper sat in piles on end tables, her nightstand or any handy flat surface in the house. Then came the second draft, on a thin cheap paper called onion skin. The wonderful nature of onion skin is that any attempt at erasure invariably leaves a hole in the page! This, mom meticulously edited, crossing off paragraphs here and there and filling the margins with notes accompanied by circles and arrows. Finally, after months of work, she was ready to break out the higher quality bond paper and begin her finished manuscript. The typing on the final was slower and mistakes were gently erased, with the correct letter carefully typed over the spot. Yet even after all the work that went into her manuscript, the journey from an idea to a book was not over. I still remember the day when she received the acceptance letter for her first book. You would think this might be a time of celebration, but far from it. The publisher was ready to publish the book only on the condition that she cut the book down from 500 to 250 pages. Mom burst into angry tears, shouting various things about the editor and then sat down and began her work again. Thinking back, I am amazed how anyone wanted to be a writer!

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In today’s world of word processing that cuts and pastes and autocorrects while smoothly and silently generating text, we move too quickly. We breeze through thousands of words, without taking time to consider the details. When Jesus tells us to consider the lilies of the field, He is saying more than just, “Don’t worry be happy!” He is telling us “Slow down enough to notice the lilies.”  Instead, we speed ahead, forgetting that God when spoke lilies into existence, He didn’t hurry. He carefully designed their root system and leaves and, chose the color of the blossom for every variety. Yet we rush past what God has given us, not only in His creation but in the lives of the people around us. He is commanding us to slow down, so we can see the beauty of people and flowers, noticing every detail and hovering like a hummingbird, appreciating its sweetness. Only then can the peace of God will flow into our minds as we consider, linger and trust that God has every detail of every day under His amazing and loving control!

Memories of Mom and the Power of Simple

My mother was a science fiction writer and had some short stories published by the time she was in her teens. When her first novel was accepted by a publisher, their contract came with the requirement that she cut her manuscript in half. Mom cried off and on while she typed a shortened version over the next two weeks, saying various angry things about Avalon publishers. But once she fought through slicing and dicing that story mom went on to have another 7-8 books published. A copy of her first book, “The Sea People” © Avalon Books 1959 sits proudly on my bookshelf next to a few others.

Did mom ever become a famous writer? Well, other than working as an instructor for “The Famous Writer’s School” the short answer is no. But mom was moderately successful, with her fourth book (Sons of the Wolf) published both in the U.S. as well as Germany, Italy and the UK. Whatever our ability level, we who work in words often fall into the trap of elaborating a scene, an idea or a character till only we are in love with our story. But longer is rarely better and less is usually more. Consider the brevity of the parable of the prodigal son. In just 495 words Jesus shares a story that has touched more lives and changed more hearts than all the works of Shakespeare, Twain, and Jane Austin combined. He tells us about a son who left the simple life of a family farm for the glittering complexity of a distant city. There the son lost all that his father had given him and wasted everything he had trying to be somebody important. But the oinking of the pigs soon made it clear that his dream job had ended up being just feeding hogs. There in the pigpen, Jesus tells us that, “He came to himself.” In that single moment of clear thinking, he remembered his father. On the way home, the prodigal son carefully rehearsed a list of apologies and explanations, but on his arrival, he was immediately interrupted by his joyful father’s welcome. To every one of us who have come home to a childlike faith in Jesus, God gives a story to tell. The less distance we put between the story He gives us and the heart of our neighbor the better. Every story is a pathway to somewhere and the story of grace should be a simple pathway that ends with a Father who is waiting to celebrate our return!