Dotting the I

I’ve been writing slower lately. Not that I’ve ever been a fast writer to begin with, but I suppose what I mean is I’m writing slower now with purpose.

I usually start every morning with an hour or two of reading and writing time. I’m up around 5:00 a.m. most days, and once I’ve got my coffee I’m sitting at the kitchen table ready to absorb ideas. Often those are the ideas of others from whatever book I’m reading, which I absorb by taking notes or annotating the text itself. Other times, often in that same morning block, I absorb my own thoughts and ideas by writing them down. The act of finding the words to express an idea—a thought or image or feeling—and then pulling those words into sentences is how I absorbing those ideas, moving them into my conscious mind.

Lately I’ve realized I absorb ideas best by writing them in longhand in my notebook rather than typing on a screen. Something about the physical motions of embedding my thoughts into the blank page with marks of dark ink feels like a rite, like something sacred. I like to use a fine-tip pen that flows cleanly and crisply, allowing me to write small and fit a lot on a page.

And here’s the thing about a good fine-tipped pen: it is precise. Which makes shaping letters and words feel almost delicate, and sloppy handwriting somehow more sloppy. Move too fast with a precise pen and the line may be too fine to read; write too small and the letters may be too close together to be legible.

So lately I’ve made a point of overcoming my worst handwriting habit by making sure I take the time to dot every lowercase letter that needs it—my “i” and my “j”—as I form the letter. Typically I would write out the entire word, then my hand went back to add the dot(s) over those letter forms as needed, or even more often, I would leave them undotted altogether. Overall the effect was messy and uneven. Now the results are neater and easier to read when I go back to it.

Just this one small change in how I physically write has made the act of writing more meaningful, and more effective for me. Now I am absorbing the letter and the word and the sentence more fully than before, and therefore absorbing the thoughts and ideas I’m writing more completely.

Taking the extra millisecond to add the final dot over a line feels slower than before, but it’s not actually all that slower. What moves slower is my brain, and that’s the real point of this. By being more mindful about the process and movement and actions of writing ideas, I am more focused on the ideas. I am more open to their message, more productive in their implementation.

When we talk about being sure to “dot our i’s and cross our t’s” we typically mean being sure that we have reviewed every detail of something important after it is nearly complete. But there is something we can gain by going slower in the first place, writing by hand, carefully and mindfully dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s in the moment we make them, forming every letter and every word with a greater sense of purpose.

I am dotting my i’s to honor my i’s, and the meaning behind them. And by writing with awareness, I know I will absorb what I am writing much deeper than ever before.

One Comment

  1. Great post! I’ve switched back to a journal for ideas and freewriting as well, and it makes such a difference. I think I’m going to invest in better pens and take your advice to slow down – I find that the nicer my pen, the neater I write – and I think it’s because I’m enjoying the process. I never really thought much about the “why” behind that, but I think you’re on to something with the whole process being different.

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