450 Minutes: Thumb-Writing Conclusion

30 days ago (from the time of this writing) I committed myself to a month of working on my thumb-writing skills every day for 15 minutes.

I used a Vernet band writer because that immediately felt good to me when I tried it out. I could never get the pressure I wanted with things that went under the nail or stuck to the pad of the thumb. And the full thumb-tip writers seem a little too bulky.

My method of practice was this:

1. First I worked my way through a kid's "Learn to Print" book.

2. For the rest of the days I would watch tv with the closed captioning on. I would read the text on the screen and write the last word on a pad with my thumb. Then when I was done I would write the new last word on the screen and so on and so on. So it was something of an organic random word generator.

This was where I was at on Day 1 (the video was sped up 50% to fit it into the GIF length)

Here is where I'm at as of Day 30 (this is also sped up 50%, but just for comparison's sake).

For me, this was a success. The writing tightened, is neater, and is completed in about 40% less time. You may look at that and still see it as messy, but it's about 85% as neat as my normal, everyday handwriting. And that's done one handed on a business card which is a fairly "hard" way to do this. 

For example, let's say I had a small pad in my hands. I write a word on the pad and set the pencil down on the table. I ask you to name any short word and I hold the pad against my chest with two hands as if to keep what I've written secret. In that case—with two hands, with my hands up to my chest, and writing on the support of a pad—the writing is certainly neat enough that I don't have to justify its messiness in any way (i.e., "I wrote a word down when I had just awoken from my nap. I was wearing oven mitts and resting the paper on the back of my dog.") It could be argued that the first version of "Love" in the picture below, which was thumb-written in the manner I just describe, may actually be neater than the second version which is just my normal handwriting.

You can see the progress throughout the month in this gif. From day to day there are no big differences, but at the end when it loops around to the beginning, there is a real Flowers for Algernon vibe to it, so I'd say there is definitely progress there. 

The purpose of this was to see if it was worth putting in the effort—15 minutes a day for a month. For me I'd say it definitely was. More than anything, I think the month of practice has made me hyper confident with things I was previously only ok at. Numbers and initials which used to look a little wonky are now pretty much indistinguishable from my normal handwriting. And I'm pretty comfortable writing any word with two hands on a pad, which I don't think looks that awkward. I may still insert some some time cushion into routines that use full words, because that's still helpful. For example, instead of having one person think of a word, have four people build the word letter by letter. That's probably actually more interesting anyway. 

One thing I haven't tried is thumb-writing with one hand with my head turned away and my hand at my side. When I was practicing I could always see what I was writing in my peripheral vision and my hand was in front of me. I'm curious to see what kind of results I get...hold on...

Okay, I'm pretty comfortable with that. Especially for a first time. If I had a routine that required that particular handling I'd work on it more.

I don't really have a ton of routines that require thumb writing, but it strikes me as one of the more valuable tools to have in your repertoire for creating magic seemingly off the cuff. For making predictions, reading minds, or having them read yours, there aren't many more direct methods than this. And as someone who values process-less mentalism over prop-less mentalism, it's definitely something I intend to keep up with. I will put the band writer and a pad on the back of my toilet. That way I should have a couple minutes a day to practice with it and keep from losing whatever advancements I made in technique.

The reason I wanted to get better with the thumb writer is because I love the trick where you're sitting a table with a group of people. You write a word on a piece of paper, then set the pencil on the table. You propose a game of word association and you whisper a word into the ear of the person on your left. That person is supposed to think of the first word that comes to their mind based on your word, and then whisper that word into the ear of the person on their left. And so it goes around the table until it gets back to the person on your right. They then announce their word to the table and you show you predicted it. It's nice because you only predict one word but it seems like you must have read everyone's mind around the table. If you want to give yourself an extra few seconds to write the word you can have everyone go around and say what their word was and what the association they made was. Before it even gets back around to you your prediction can be on the table well away from you. 

My thumb writing skills were never up to snuff for this, but I used to fake it all the time. It requires a reasonably nimble-minded friend sitting to your right. You "predict" the word tree, and then just tell your friend to say tree at the end of the chain. When everyone is giving their word and their thought-process for why that word came to them based on the previous word, your friend just needs to think of some correlation between the word that was said to him and the word tree. He's last in line so he has some time. If worse comes to worse there's an out. He just says, "When she said 'waffle' to me, it made me think of this tree outside my house when I was a kid. Someone had carved the word 'waffle' into it. Then we started seeing it all over the neighborhood on other trees. The police were called. It became a whole big thing on my street that summer.  And no one was ever able to figure out who did it or what it meant."