Most years, at least one of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more legibly. Sometimes it’s my only resolution.

By legibility I mean literally making the words in my notebook something I can return to and read. I often can’t decipher my own writing, even immediately after. Why is this? Why don’t I write more clearly the things that I presumably mean to preserve?

It’s bad. Here’s a sample. No idea what it’s about, though it’s just a few days old. Something about Django :-)


I could say the thoughts are so urgent I can’t slow down and risk losing them, but that’s not right at all. I go on for pages like this and worse, sometimes just writing lines to make the thoughts come. What good is writing if it’s unreadable?

No, I know at some deeper level I’m not valuing the writing itself enough, that the sloppiness is a way of being dismissive about what’s in there. (And yet when I go back through and can decipher things, I sometimes find such interesting stuff!)

In a way illegibility in your own writing is a lack of regard for your other selves, for the you who will read this down the road, and maybe do something with it, reshape it, reconsider it.

This lack of regard is contagious, too. Ian-the-sloppy-writer transmits his lack of care via page to Ian-the-reader, who cannot bring himself to understand what was meant, what these garbled scratchings are. Ian-the-guy-from-yesterday-who-was-in-ecstasy-about-something-that-looks-like-care-or-is-it-core? Illegible writing makes the thinking itself less real. The words are like a dream that you forget upon waking.

Legibility is a way of taking yourself seriously. Connecting your different selves and benefiting from them, maybe. Valuing thoughts. Making ideas more substantial. Like a time machine, clearly written words transport you to the place and state of mind in which they were rendered. When you read a printed novel, even the third or fourth time through, you get into the frame of mind the author must have had when he or she wrote it 1. This is in fact what literature is for, this going out of you and going into someone else, some place else, using texts like tools for small acts of self-transcendence.

I wrote this on my laptop to avoid the risk of losing it all somewhere in a Meade notebook and a Uniball, but I’m going to be making a practice of my slow, long hand this year.


  1. There’s a contrary view here, I realize: The actual longhand notebooks of Hemingway or Proust or whoever are for many readers way more time-travel-y and evocative than their published, new-paper-smell novels. I guess I’m trying to say that printed words and really legible handwriting can sort of disappear and not get in the way of what is written.

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