Quote of the week

A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain t...

A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain taken by A. F. Bradley in New York, 1907. http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/publications/siycfall_05.pdf http://www.twainquotes.com/Bradley/bradley.html See also other photographs of Mark Twain by A. F. Bradley taken in March 1907 in New York on Mark Twain Project Online. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

–Mark Twain


Quote of the Week

English: A cabinet card copy of a daguerreotyp...

English: A cabinet card copy of a daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson (unauthenticated) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A word is dead

when it is said,

some say.

I say it just

begins to live

that day.

Emily Dickinson

Handwriting and Typing

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in orange, including the primary visual cortex (V1, BA17). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I recently read an interesting article–actually several articles, because the first one piqued my interest enough that I read more–about the differences in brain activity and learning when we write by hand compared to when we type. I was not surprised to learn that there are differences in which parts of the brain are engaged with writing than with typing on a keyboard. It is, after all, a very different physical activity. What really surprised me was that the difference was not isolated to the parts of the brain involved in motor and visual activity but extended to the verbal centers as well. I was also not especially surprised that there is more widespread engagement of the brain with handwriting than with keyboarding in adults, but I think it is interesting that it holds true in children too. Given the changes that have taken place in the past ten to twenty years as computers in various shapes and sizes have proliferated and their roles in our lives have increased accordingly, I would expect that the brains of those old-folks of us who grew up writing our assignments by hand, at least until middle school or high school, would respond differently to handwriting than to typing, but that the effect is present even in children who have lived their entire lives with iPods and laptops around them is remarkable. I also think it’s remarkable that the effect is not just a functional MRI result showing more activity in different centers of the brain but that it is also measurable in the quality and speed of composition of students’ writing–it’s a real effect with differences that are visible without sophisticated monitoring devices, not a theoretical increase in brain activity without any clear effect on output. It begs so many questions about how we learn, how we think, how we recruit new parts of our brains into our activities, that I find myself babbling. Okay, I admit, I’m a nerd. I wonder whether it matters how we usually write–for instance, doing schoolwork by hand while using the computer only for games, or doing schoolwork on a keyboard while handwriting only grocery lists and phone messages–and I wonder if it will change in time. I wonder a lot of things.

I find myself grateful that my children’s school has all their assignments done by hand at this stage, though I think that policy changes as they get older. Computer skills and typing ability will clearly be very important for them, so I don’t want the school neglecting that, but if doing their assignments by hand improves their learning, then let’s keep them   writing by hand for a while longer. Now I have a reason besides selfishness to hope to avoid buying a new laptop or fighting with my kids to use mine for a few more years.

What I’m really curious about now–but I think would be impossible for them to study–is a comparison among writers, not just students and average adults, who write primarily by hand and those who write primarily by keyboard. Are the writers who write by hand noticeably more creative or more fluent or simply more successful? Or is there no difference? If there are differences, we wouldn’t know how much was due to their medium rather than their personalities and thought processes, but I still think it would be interesting to see. In the meantime, I’m typing, not handwriting, what I’m saying here. But if I find myself writing something really important, even if it’s just a letter to my husband or kids, I’ll probably write it by hand.

How Handwriting Trains the Brain


The Many Health Perks of Good Handwriting


The Pen May Be Mightier Than the Keyboard 



Traditional publishing or Self-publishing

Last time, I wrote about the quality of self-published books and our expectations of them. While I was reading on that subject, and just about self-publishing and traditional publishing in general, I came across this interesting article from a few months back. He addresses the question of quality and quantity in self-published books, and I think his idea that the industry may evolve in such a way that self-publishing becomes a sort of testing ground or minor league for the major publishers is intriguing.


Second Careers

After I noticed how many people I could think of, just off the top of my head, who changed careers, I read a little more about it. I was looking for anyone who discussed the uncertainties that come with that change of course, and I came across this interesting article.

I can’t say that I have the confidence that article claims I need, but I also have no intention of trying to submit anything anytime soon. Right now, I’m just trying to figure out how to balance all my responsibilities with my desire to write and to improve my writing as much as I can. I imagine that if I reach the point that I actually aim to be published, I’ll have developed that confidence.

Course Corrections

I worked as a doctor until six years ago, when I quit my job to stay home with my children. Since then, I have been a busy stay-at-home mother, and I’ve enjoyed it. Now, I’ve decided to have a go at my earlier dream of writing, though whether I’ll ever attempt to publish it and not just write for myself is unclear to me. I haven’t regretted leaving medicine, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t agonize about it when I did. And I don’t have high ambitions in writing, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to do well. And thinking that it would be nice to be good at it, it would be nice to be successful, immediately leads to regret, for all the years I spent on a different path. I feel a step or four behind. I wonder how much better I could be if I hadn’t wasted all that time. My low ambitions in writing are a direct result of my late entry. And the indecision I felt before I left medicine, when I was trying to decide what to do, included a sense that I had already committed myself to one path and couldn’t hope to succeed at a new one.

Lately, though, I’ve come to realize that a lot of us have convoluted journeys like mine. More than most of us probably realize. The Pioneer Woman left a life behind and started anew somewhere else, and she seems to be thriving. Jan O’Hara is another doctor who left medicine and now writes and blogs about it, and I found her by chance, not by googling for someone with a story like mine. In fact, maybe working in medicine is somehow helpful (I doubt it), judging by Michael Crichton and Robin Cook. And then there’s Clive Cussler and Ian Fleming. That’s off the top of my head, not from searching for people who have changed course midstream. I shouldn’t even have to think that hard, because my mother is a successful lawyer, but she didn’t go to law school until her late thirties.

We probably all feel a little behind, a little late to the party, when we start anew, and some of us probably keep feeling that way for a long time. But maybe we’re all getting to the party at the right time. Maybe, those course corrections are an important part of the journey. Maybe they even help us, if only to increase our appreciation of the new path we choose. And we shouldn’t feel like there’s ground to make up when the people around us, the ones we’re comparing ourselves to, also came to it late and feel like they’re making up ground too.

Quote of the Week

English: Anthony Trollope c1870s

English: Anthony Trollope c1870s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.”

Anthony Trollope

I have to like this quote, because three hours a day is really all I can hope to find. It’s actually more than I can hope to find on most days, to be honest, but I can manage that much on good days. It’s especially encouraging to me, since he was so prolific. Balancing work and family is challenging, especially when the work doesn’t pay!




A few years ago, I came across this survey, and I’ve been trying to read all the books I hadn’t already read, with a few exceptions for personal taste and a few repetitions of personal favorites. I recently finished reading Possession by A.S.Byatt, a book which I found entirely because of this list and wouldn’t have otherwise known about. “Wow” would be the best description, I think. This book reads like Mozart sounds. It’s absolutely mind-bogglingly amazing. Just wow.

I don’t even aspire to write this well. I’m not smart enough or talented enough. I don’t have enough words. And I certainly don’t have enough practice, coming to it so late. It’s a book that, in the past, would have scared me off writing, because I couldn’t possibly be this good. It still does, a little. Why put myself to the trouble of writing when I can just read something like that, that’s so far beyond my imagination? But then, I am a runner, and I love running, even though I’ll never run a marathon in under two and half hours (or anywhere near it) or win an olympic medal. Now, unlike a year ago, I can read this astounding book and be not exactly inspired, because it’s so far beyond my reach, but undaunted. I can’t do that, but I can do something. Not everyone can be that good, and not everyone has to be. Sometimes, I read books like this one and stand back in awe, but sometimes I read Harlequins and fly through them in an afternoon. And I read and truly enjoy almost everything in between. Just because it’s not the best thing ever written doesn’t mean that a book isn’t good for the purpose it serves and isn’t worth writing and reading.

So, even though I couldn’t dream of such talent, I can still write. Now the problem isn’t that I’m scared off writing but that I’m scared off sharing it. What if someone read something I wrote just after finishing Possession? I can only suffer in the comparison. Fortunately, since nothing is finished yet, I have a while yet to work up to that. And, truth be told, I’ve been scared of sharing for a long long time. Have you read anything that made you step back and say, “Wow, how’d they do that?!”? Does it intimidate you or inspire you?


Woohoo! I’m pathetic!

English: This image depicts the English - Unit...

English: This image depicts the English – United States version of the 2010 Apple Wireless Keyboard rearranged in the simplified Dvorak layout. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Want to know how pathetic I am? I finally got my new bluetooth keyboard, and I’m ridiculously excited about it. I spent days waiting, checking my order status every day until it shipped, then tracking it every day until it came, and checking the doorstep every hour until it finally arrived. Over a keyboard. Some people take trips to Tahiti. I get a new keyboard. Isn’t it beautiful?

It’s hard for me to find time to write, for many reasons mostly pertaining to the continued existence of real-life responsibilities, but also because of mobility issues. Ever since my oldest son’s best friend, at the age of two, grabbed the screen on my laptop, as it innocently sat in my lap, to break a fall and instead broke it, I have been leery of using the laptop with kids playing too close. Now I can type on my iPad in the room where they are, instead of hiding in some distant room and hoping no one wreaks too much havoc behind my back or, more likely, not writing at all because they’re all awake and at home and will cause who-knows-how-much damage if I’m not there to stop them. So, like I said, woohoo!

Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall

I have been wracked with indecision here. I want to write, and if I can’t put myself out there enough to write on this blog, how can I hope to put myself out there enough to write anything bigger? I have wanted to do this, and then changed my mind, more times than I care to tell. I still have quite a bit of trepidation about putting myself in a public forum,
online, where so often the wolves, or trolls, attack from the comfort of their desks or kitchen tables. But I am compelledto do it, really. I don’t know why. It’s already such a struggle to find time just to write, not for a blog, let alone finding the creativity and courage, that I’m not sure I should divide my attention with another project. This will be my training exercise at putting myself forward and speaking in public. Sort of. That said, even my husband doesn’t get to see this blog, and no one I know personally knows about it. See how courageous I am?

Portrait von Sir Walter Raleigh

Portrait von Sir Walter Raleigh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the title of this post is a quote I like, from Sir Walter Raleigh, scratched with a diamond on

a window pane. Queen Elizabeth responded “If thy heart fail thee, climb not at all.” Or at least, that’s the story I’ve read. I like clever

quotes I can’t aspire to say some things as well as many others already have, so why not quote? I think I’ll make a quote of the week (or month or day, we’ll see) a regular part of this blog. Just for the fun of it.

Anyone out there want to add a favorite quote of their own?

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