Monica Edinger has updated a post she wrote five years ago about technology in the classroom. I was particularly struck by this bit (emphasis mine):
Fortunately, as I described in my 1994 article, my students quickly proved the worth of this purchase. Given the choice between writing with a pencil and writing on a portable word processor, most soon preferred the latter. Initial frustrations due to minimal keyboarding skills and technical knowledge gave way to delight as the children discovered how much easier it was to plan, draft, revise, and proofread their work. Students became much more independent as they discovered that they could move around text, add and subtract information, and even correct spelling without adult help. The level of their writing soared now that the arduous nature of handwriting had been removed. More children began seeing themselves as serious writers, taking their portable word processors out during free time to write stories on their own. It was clear that the introduction of the word processors had been a great success.
This speaks to something I tell people all the time when they are expressing frustration over problems with getting kids to write. From the time I was tiny, I loved to think up stories (my mom saved my very first story ever, “The Big Ice Cream,” which contains such scintillating dialogue as “Hi! Hi! Hi! Mommy!”) but I have never really enjoyed writing by hand. And by “never really enjoyed,” I mean I kind of loathe it. My wrist begins aching after just a few sentences. So all through grade school and middle school, I started lots of stories but abandoned most of them unfinished because I didn’t like the physical act of handwriting. In high school my folks gave me an electric typewriter, which changed everything. And when I graduated from high school, they gave me my first computer, a kickin’ Commodore 128. (You know you’re jealous.) Finally my fingers could keep up with my thoughts—and my poor, feeble little wrist needn’t be overtaxed ever again.
And of course the cut-and-paste function is the best thing to happen to writing since the alphabet.
So my advice to parents who’d like to see their kids doing more writing is to give them access to a word-processing program and a fun typing tutorial. (Beanie has enjoyed this one.) Handwriting is still an important and useful skill, but there’s no reason it must be tied to the creative act of writing—and may in fact stymie the process. I’m quite sure I’d never have become a novelist if I’d been forced to rely on my cantankerous wrist.