So many times I find myself being pulled in a hundred different directions at once. I often have this nagging feeling that there is something I am ‘supposed’ to be doing on the computer or on the cell phone that I am not doing. Far more often than I’d care to admit, that feeling of ‘needing’ to be connected to my electronic device leads to aimless searches on facebook looking for…well, often I’m not sure exactly what it is that I am looking for.
In this world of technological connection and constant contact with others, sometimes we lose one of our most important connections. The connection with self. Dean Lofton, a writer, artist and publicist based in Austin, TX, is doing something about that lost connection. She is helping women find that connection anew. By putting down their tablets, phones and laptops and picking up…a pen. Recently she and I had the opportunity to have a conversation about it.
JIB: Dean, thanks for joining me to today to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart – writing by hand.
Why do you feel that handwriting is so important?
Dean: Since most people work on a computer, writing by hand creates an energetic shift in thought and creativity and becomes a meditative practice which opens up intuition and deeper insight. Studies show it engages the brain more actively than writing on the computer because of the act of making the strokes of each letter, as compared to simply pushing a button.
JIB: How do you think that it helps for people to put some distance between themselves and their technological devices?
Dean: Our culture largely functions on the idea that faster and more is always better. We’re able to connect digitally 24/7. Writing by hand leads the writer to have a quiet conversation with just herself – to meet herself on the page. It’s an act of radical self-care to take a few hours off the grid to focus simply on your thoughts and feelings.
It also removes the element of constant editing we have in writing on the computer where we have spell check and the ease of deleting and rewriting. When writing by hand one’s thoughts simply flow uncensored onto the page. When you follow your pen, heart and head where they lead you on the page you’re more likely to follow tangents to a new idea. There’s space to ponder and ramble without constant reassessment and critique.
Additionally, we’re bombarded with the electromagnetic fields of wi-fi, cell phone service, etc. We’ve started to think this is normal when we actually don’t even know the health ramifications of this exposure. So I enjoy leading people to enjoy a few hours off of electronics and off-line. I recommend everyone research the health risks of electromagnetic fields.
JIB: Do you feel that the slower pace of handwriting itself is beneficial? How?
Dean: I find it’s more focused with fewer distractions such as email and Facebook being just a click away. But it’s not always slower. Plenty of great works were written by hand just as quickly. But compared to the constant mode of efficiency we’ve all been trained for to make money (for ourselves or our employers), it seems slower. The one-point concentration and meditative state of focusing on one task has benefits in the moment and carries over to other parts of life after class. It’s like yoga for your creativity and very grounding.
JIB: What a great point, Dean. We’ve come to be conditioned to our electronic devices as being ‘better’ and ‘faster,’ but that’s not always the case is it?
Dean: No, it’s not. And we all benefit from stepping away from the computer for a while. It’s important in all areas of life to stop and question, “Why do we do it this way?”
JIB: You teach a workshop entitled Writing Your Life as a Woman. What do you tell your students about the importance of writing their own stories?
Dean: Knowing yourself is the most powerful knowledge. By writing your own stories you move beyond sentimental or resentful memories of the past and are naturally led to ask questions. Why did it happen like that? Why did I make that choice? This leads to more self-awareness in the present and as you plan for the future. It helps both heal and celebrate where you’ve been and clarifies where you’re headed.
JIB: Do your students often balk at the idea of leaving their cell phones in another room and spending two hours with a writing instrument instead? Or do they embrace the idea?
Dean: There is some balking at first, but the benefits are obvious after the first class so it quickly dissipates.
JIB: What is the hardest part of detaching from technology for your students?
Dean: The constant connection gives us the illusion of being so important we need to be reachable at all times. But usually there is someone who can cover any job or parenting responsibility for you for two hours.
Also, we spend a lot of time jumping from one thing to another – check email, read the news feed and comment on Facebook, reply to a text. When you sit down with no distractions the emotions you’ve been too busy to face often surface. If you’re always busy, being still can be overwhelming at first, but it’s usually just what is needed.
JIB: What do they find most rewarding about writing their stories?
Dean: I think it’s the calming, healing insights they gain about their life and a shift to focus on the more important things in life than what’s on our current “to-do” list. Also the group experience of writing by hand, then reading our unedited writing out loud, builds confidence in one’s writing and in general. From sharing our stories we learn we are not so different than each other and appreciate other people and their experiences. Connecting in person with other humans in a deep and meaningful way restores your faith in humanity. It shines the light on how shallowly we divide people into stereotypes and “us vs. them.”
JIB: So, part of the benefit of your classes is the act of sharing your personal story with others?
Yes, having someone witness your story – your words in your voice – is really empowering. We also clap for everyone after they read because, really, no one ever gets enough applause in life. Another reading related rule from the class contract is not apologizing before reading:
I absolutely, positively, swear I will not apologize before reading my writing out loud.
- a. This includes masked apologies such as “It’s really not very good,” or “I’m not a good writer, but I’ll read anyway.”
- b. I will honor the class motto of “Never say you’re sorry before you read.”
JIB: Do you keep a regular journal?
JIB: How long have you kept it?
Dean: Over 20 years.
JIB: What is the most important thing you have learned by keeping a journal?
Dean: Taking time to sit quietly with my thoughts and feelings and letting them flow onto the page is simply good self-care. Even a few minutes always grounds me and inspires me. The benefits carry over beyond my creative writing or emotional reflection and inform all areas of my life. I’m simply kinder, more thoughtful and present when I’m writing frequently.
JIB: Has your journal ever been the vehicle for a specific life change or life enhancement, i.e. goal attainment, changed belief or skill improvement?
Dean: Yes, I’ve often used journal writing to clarify my dreams and goals and this helped me achieve them. One example is being self-employed. As I wrote about how I wanted my life to be structured (notably with lots of unstructured time) I was then more open to see the small tweaks I could make that would lead me to this vision.
JIB: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about journaling or handwriting?
Dean: Writing every day gives you information, in your own words, your own hand that you cannot ignore. It shows you your own patterns – both good and bad. It’s great for solving problems that seem to have no solution and open up your intuition.
JIB: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions today, Dean!
Dean Lofton works and plays as a writer, writing coach, workshop leader, artist and marketing/PR consultant in Austin, Texas. Her credits include The (Charleston) Post and Courier, the alt weekly The Free Times, skirt! Magazine, Point and many others. Her passions include feminism, natural health and healing, dance and jazz. She lives with her husband jazz trumpeter Jeff Lofton and their young daughter. Click here to find out more information about Dean.