Is Handwriting Important?

At a swim meet last month, I overheard a coach talking to one of his young swimmers.  Coach said, “I learned cursive in 3rd grade, and I haven’t used it since. It’s pointless.”

This word nerd gasped.  Cursive, pointless?  According to a New York Times article, the Common Core suggests teaching legible handwriting in kindergarten and first grade, and then moving quickly to keyboard instruction.


Does that mean that soon basic handwriting won’t get attention in school?  In the dystopian novel Matched, by Ally Condie, the characters only use computer tablets.  Hand written letters were abandoned as a silly artifact of the past.

All this leads me to wonder…

How important is handwriting?  

Pen and paper work for me because…

  • At the writing conference I attended this weekend, several writers, like me, took notes with pen and paper. I’ve always enjoyed the art of note taking, using colors and structural elements (indents, bullets) to organize information.  That interaction helps me process and remember.
  • Several authors at the conference said that their creativity flows better without a machine between their thoughts and the paper. One writer mentioned she does all her first drafts long hand with pencil and legal pads.  (Wow!)  She pointed out that with the first draft handwritten, she does an automatic edit as she types up her second draft.
  • Note from mom

    One of my Mom’s notes. She suffered from a neurological disease that affected her fine motor skills.

    Although I use a “to do list” app on my phone, during weeks like this one, when I’ve got twenty tasks to complete, I feel more composed writing everything down on paper. I also get more relief when I scratch things off.  Paper is less stimulating, and therefore less stressful, than a screen.

  • With the increasing use of email, texts, and messaging for communication, I worry that we will lose important connections with each other. My mother died almost 20 years ago, but I still have her handwritten notes and cards as a precious memory.  Handwritten notes take more time and thought than an email or text, and that stands for something.

Digital works for me because…

  • Those notes I took at the writer’s conference? They’re still in a bag on the floor next to my writing desk.  I plan to file them into different folders, like “writing exercises” and “social media tips,”, but it’s my son’s birthday this week, and I’m leaving town for a swim meet, and I haven’t gotten to filing yet.  If my notes were digital, they’d be organized and filed already.
  • I’ve shifted from a paper planner to a digital calendar on my iPhone. The calendar syncs across devices, so my husband has all the critical information on his phone too. (However, I keep a paper calendar in the kitchen to track our monthly activities, color coded by family member ;) .)
  • For my writing activities, I use applications like Evernote and Scrivener to make notes and organize them into digital binders or digital index cards. With Evernote, I can access my notes from all my devices, so I can record or review my thoughts almost anywhere.
  • In some areas, like health care, digital notes have improved the quality of documentation. I remember having difficulty deciphering patient care notes when I practiced physical therapy.  Electronic medical records can make it easier to create legible and comprehensive records.


Research on handwriting

Note cardsForget my ramblings, here’s what some experts say about the significance of handwriting. According to an article from the New York Times, various researchers have found interesting data about learning and handwriting.



  • Students learn better when taking notes by hand; it forces the brain to process and organize information, which improves memory about the information.
  • Children who learn how to write by hand also learn how to read more quickly. They are better at creating ideas and remembering information compared to their peers who don’t learn handwriting while learning how to read.
  • In two groups of children learning to write, those who had to copy a letter free hand showed more brain activation compared to those who had to trace a letter or type it.
  • Children writing stories by hand produced more words and more ideas than those writing on a keyboard.
  • Cursive activates different brain centers than printing.

All this tells me, yes, handwriting is important, and we shouldn’t abandon paper and pen for convenience.  But that’s just me…

Where do you stand on the handwriting debate?  Do we still need to hand write things, or can digital words replace everything?

Visit my Facebook profile to see a lively discussion on this topic.

Thanks for getting thoughtful with me.


What is a spoonerism?

wondrous memeWelcome to the Wondrous Words Wednesday meme.  My entry this week made me giggle: spoonerism. Ever heard of it?  Read on to learn something new and visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion to find more nerdy words.

My 11-year-old son is preparing for the fifth grade spelling bee. Whew!  You should see some of the words on his list.  Doozies like hirsute, souchong, and obstreperous give him (and me) a tough time.  I need my Merriam-Webster app handy to look up definitions and pronunciation.


We got a kick out of this word from column four (getting to the hard stuff) on his study list:

spoonerism \’spü-nǝ-riz-ǝm\ noun, associated with William A. Spooner, English clergyman and educator at the turn of the 20th century

A transposition of (usually) the initial sounds of two or more words.  For example, tons of soil for sons of toil.

I’m sure, in my mommy induced fatigue, that I’ve done this. Please call Rosh and Josie downstairs for dinner.  She left her poggles at the gool.  Who knew there was actually a name for this phenomenon?

Word Nerd Workout

Can you think of a funny spoonerism you’ve spoken or heard?  How can you share this cool new term with your friends and family?

Word Nerd Digression

Do you remember spelling bees?  My son is getting nervous about his, and although I’m proud he’s preparing so well, I remind him that we’ll still love him no matter how he does. Half the battle of a spelling bee is getting over the anxiety.

In fourth grade, I beat Palmer Johnson, the perennial grade champion, to advance to the school wide bee.  It was held at night, probably during a PTA meeting. The lights burned my eyes as I stood behind the microphone on the auditorium/ cafeteria stage.  I had to spell “different” in round two.  Not hard, right?

My voice echoed in the auditorium as I spelled, “D-I-R-R.”  The bell (of defeat) rang, and I slumped backstage where the principal consoled me with a spicy root beer hard candy shaped like a barrel.

I’ve never liked root beer.  Or performing onstage.  Which is why I express my creativity through writing. :)

Do you have a spelling bee story?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!


When to Use Lay vs. Lie

Lay vs. LieThis problem has bugged me for a while.  It pops up while reading friends’ manuscripts and while writing my own: when to use lay versus lie.

Do you lay down for a nap or lie down for a nap?  (Frankly, I’m jealous if you nap at all!)

Do you lay down the pencil or lie down the pencil?  (Okay, that one is easier for me to judge.)

Time to research the grammar once and for all.  I consulted my trusty Grammatically Correct, by Anne Stilman, for help.  The situation is a bit confusing; stay with me.


First, you must understand the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.

  • Transitive verbs act on a named object.  (Hint: they transfer an action to an object.  Thanks Grammar Girl.)
    • I like cookies.  Sarah will bring fruit.
  • Intransitive verbs are complete by themselves.
    • I run.  She sings.

Now, we can apply that to lay and lie.

  • Lay, to set something down, is a transitive verb and requires an object.
    • Lay the box down on the desk, please.
  • Lie, to be in a horizontal position literally or figuratively, is an intransitive verb.  The action is complete itself.
    • I want to lie down for ten minutes.

Nerd QuoteSeems straightforward, right?  Well, we haven’t mentioned past tense yet.

  • The past tense of lay is laid.  (Many think it is lay.)
    • She laid the box on the table
  • The past participle is also laid. (Many think it is lain.  Nope.)
    • She had laid the money on the counter.
  • The past tense of lie is lay.  (Carumba, here comes the messy part.)  Many people use laid for past tense lie, but that’s not correct.
    • I lay on the sofa for an hour yesterday.
  • The past participle is lain, not laid.
    • I had lain on the sofa for a while before he came home.

Are you still with me?  Let’s practice and see.  Choose the correct verb.  I’ll put the answers at the end of the post.  No peeking!

Word Nerd Workout

  1. I’m going to lay/lie in the sun this afternoon.
  2. She laid/lay the money on the counter before she left for school this morning.
  3. Yesterday, Ella lay/laid down for a three hour hap.
  4. The dog had lain/laid in the sun for hours, so her coat felt warm.
  5. Edmund prefers to lie/lay low and avoid social conflict.

Got it?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.



  1. lie
  2. lay  laid (A bright reader, who happens to be 11, caught my error.  Really, I just wanted to see who was paying attention ;)  I wish!  Thanks Andersons!)
  3. lay
  4. lain
  5. lie


Vocabulary From Literary Discussion: Hamartia

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, a great meme for exploring new words.  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion to find more interesting vocabulary.

Last week, I was listening to an episode of The Narrative Breakdown called “Character Flaws.”  The hosts, Cheryl Klein and James Monohan, tossed out references to classic literature and modern TV as they discussed the role of character flaws in a good story.  (If you write, The Narrative Breakdown is a great podcast to follow.  Thanks to Andrea Badgley for this tip!)

Two important literary terms popped up often.  The first one I looked up to check pronunciation and meaning: hamartia (I always pronounced it \ha-mar-sha\ but I was wrong!)

Hamartia \ha-mar-‘tē-ǝ\ noun from the Greek hamartanein, to miss the mark, err

  • A tragic flaw that causes a character’s downfall

Hubris \’hyu-brǝs\ noun from the Greek hybris

  • Exaggerated pride or self-confidence

Hubris could be a character’s hamartia.

Word Nerd Workout

The Great GatsbyThink of a character with a tragic flaw or hamartia.  Hint: go back to the classics!  For example, Jay Gatsby’s hamartia is his obsession with his past relationship with Daisy Buchanan.

Also, practice saying hamartia so you can impress your friends!

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!



How to Find a Good Audiobook: The Audies

Audie AwardsEven though I love books, it’s hard to make time to read.  Notice I said “make” time, not find it.  Important things like reading and exercise don’t just happen, people.  We’ve gotta schedule time and ferociously defend it.

Sometimes making time to read means planning it in the calendar. (30 minutes for reading about the writing craft- I can do it!)  I also add reading to my day by listening to audiobooks while I drive (hours and hours) to my kids’ activities.

Audiobooks help me keep up with middle grade fiction – My kids and I enjoy books together without danger of inappropriate content. Also, I prefer non-fiction in the audio format.  At bedtime, I want to read a story, not a chapter on how ten thousand hours of practice leads to success.  But non-fiction while cleaning- that keeps my brain stimulated while I scrub toilets.

AudibleHere’s the problem with audiobooks: a bad narrative performance can ruin a book. When my kids went gaga for James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series (MG/YA fantasy in which children are genetically altered to be able to fly), I listened to the first book. Ugh!  The reader’s style totally sabotaged the story for me.

I’ve had better luck lately.  Here’s why:

Three Hints for Choosing Good Audiobooks

The first two seem obvious, but the last one is a gem I recently discovered.

  1. Get recommendations.  Follow the suggestions of trusted friends, book bloggers, and podcasters.  Most episodes of Books On the Nightstand feature an audiobook pick.
  2. Listen to the sample.  Just a few minutes will tell you what you need to know about the narrator .  If I hear a high pitched, whiny voice, so I pass on the audiobook.
  3. Check out the Audie Awards.  Thanks to the magnificent Mignon Fogarty of Grammar Girl, I learned about “The Audies”.  The Audio Publishers Association gives two awards every year.  One Audiobook of the Year to honor an audiobook for its quality, innovation and marketing, and influence on the industry.  Another Distinguished Achievement in Production, which honors excellence in all areas of production.  There are also winners and finalists in over 31 categories like fiction, sci-fi, history, and kid lit. .

Now I know what to look for when I peruse

A Sampling of 2014 Audie Award Winners

Still Foolin EmThe Book of the Year for 2014 was Still Foolin’ ‘Em, written and read by Billy Crystal.

The Production Award went to The Storm King, written and read by Pete Seeger.  It’s about the history of civil protest and its connection to folk music in America. (Never heard of it.  Have you?)

Other 2014 winners:

  • Classic literature: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, read by Simon Vance
  • YA/Teen: Viva Jacquelina! Bloody Jack, Book 10, written by L.A. Meyer, read by Katherine Kellgren
  • Kids up to 8: Hooray for Anna Hibiscus, written by Atinuke, read by Mutiyat Ade-Salu
  • Kids 8-12: Matilda, written by Roald Dahl, read by Kate Winslet
  • Literary Fiction: The Goldfinch, written by Donna Tartt, read by David Pittu
  • Fiction:  Doctor Sleep, written by Stephen King, read by Will Patton (It’s the sequel to The Shining – I’ll never listen to this, award or not!)

Note:  Eleanor and Park was a finalist in the teen category; I listened to the audiobook and loved it!  Here’s my review of E & P.

Visit the APA site for the complete listing of 2014 Audie winners and finalists.

Do you listen to audiobooks?  How do you find good ones?  What are some of your favorites?

I highly recommend the Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter series, especially if you like fantasy.

Thanks for sharing!


What Does Lugubrious Mean?

wondrous memeRain falls in Virginia as I write, and the clouds have stolen color from everything.  This gray weather compliments my Wondrous Word for today.  To learn about other descriptive words, visit Kathy, our meme hostess, at  Bermuda Onion.

Here’s my word:

The lugubrious landscape outside my window depresses me this morning.

This is one of those words I learned for SATs but forgot.  I heard it while listening to the last chapters of The Amulet of Samarkand.  (Whew, I’m glad we’re done with that book.  It dragged at the end, probably because our listening time in the van was disturbed by the conclusion of fall sports and the hectic holiday schedule.  I don’t plan to read the next one in the series, but my ten-year old, who loves fantasy and adventure, burned through all the Bartemaeus books at our library.)

Back to the Wondrous Word:

The lugubrious landscape outside my window

The lugubrious landscape outside my window

lugubrious \lu-‘gu-brē-ǝs\ adjective from Latin lugubris, from lugere “to mourn”

  • mournful, especially exaggeratedly mournful
  • dismal

Word Nerd Workout

Think of a synonym for lugubrious, or, even better, a lugubrious character or setting from a book.  (e.g., the dark heath in Wuthering Heights).

Thanks for playing along!