In Praise of Handwriting

For decades, I eschewed cursive handwriting in favor of keyboarding and printing. That’s right—printing. After several students had complained about my illegible board work, I switched to printing on the blackboard and inputted almost everything else onto digital devices. I did sign report cards, checks, and other legal documents, taking extra care with my penmanship.

Since retiring, I’ve rediscovered the benefits of expressing my ideas the old-fashioned way. I have Julia Cameron to thank for that epiphany. A fan of Julia’s books, among them The Artist’s Way and The Prosperous Heart, I found myself incorporating Morning Pages into my daily regimen. At first skeptical, it didn’t take me long to realize the wisdom of her logic: “When we write by hand, we go slowly enough to record out thoughts with accuracy. On a computer, we whiz along, dashing our thoughts to the page.”

Other benefits of handwriting include…

Better Cognitive Skills

Writing longhand stimulates the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in our brains. The RAS acts as a filter, giving more importance to the information being processed. Also, writing in cursive script enables us to use both parts of our brain. Writing in small letters boosts left brain (analytical) activity that improves attention to detail. Large writing and sweeping doodles stimulate the creative right brain and also provide stress-busting benefits.

Fewer Distractions

Unless we are super-disciplined, it’s almost impossible not to succumb to the many distractions that exist on the World Wide Web: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, video games…Each year, the list gets longer. Sitting with pen and paper allows us to write with more laser precision. It may appear slower, but we are able to identify more relationships between ideas and come up with creative solutions.

Improved Writing

Many famous writers prefer to write by hand. Novelist Truman Capote refused to use a typewriter while writing his first draft. In an interview, he commented: “I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.

Susan Sontag, American writer, film-maker, teacher, and political activist, also preferred the analog method. In a 1995 interview with the Paris Review, she said: “I write with a felt-tip pen, or sometimes a pencil, on yellow or white legal pads, that fetish of American writers. I like the slowness of writing by hand.

A 2009 study from the University of Washington supported these preferences for longhand writing: “Elementary school students who wrote essays with a pen not only wrote more than their keyboard-tapping peers, but they also wrote faster and in more complete sentences.”

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21 Comments Add yours

  1. Hey, Joanne, I get the argument and all the science behind the arguments, but I’ve never had good penmanship. I never made the A/B Honor roll as a kid because of C’s in penmanship. In college, I, of course, took notes in handwriting. Looking back many years later, I thought it wasn’t bad. But as the years have gone on, it’s now become painful for me to hold a pencil/pen and write for any length of time–making a comment in the front of a book with my signature is a task. If I have to squiggle a note, it’s possible I won’t be able to read it later. As to writing, without the computer, I wouldn’t be a writer if I couldn’t easily cut and paste and relocate sections.
    I haven’t quite come to the conclusion that penmanship shouldn’t be taught in elementary schools, like some folks advocate, but….let’s not take a grade on it. (Speaking from my scarred psyche.) 🙂 Great post, Joanne. I’ve shared.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Marsha! My handwriting started to deteriorate during my university years–all that note-taking took a toll. Also, family and friends would comment. I’ve come to the conclusion that my handwriting is not meant for public viewing. I force myself to write slowly and carefully when signing books. In my journal, I let loose and don’t worry about misshapen letters and missing loops. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathryn Jane says:

    Great topic, Joanne! When the story is pouring quickly from my brain, rather like watching it on television, I have to use the keyboard to keep up. But when I’m stalled, and the words just aren’t coming, I grab my pen and notebook and all of a sudden the story is alive again, writing itself, with my hand as a creative messenger 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hi Kathryn, You’ve captured the essence of Julia Cameron’s books with the expression: “hand as a creative messenger.” Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I write my stories on the computer now because the words come too quickly for pen and paper, but I cannot create poetry on a computer. I have to do it longhand or the poem sucks.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Good to see you here, Catherine. When I d dabble in poetry, find myself gravitating toward longhand. I edit and polish on the computer. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with all of this. I believe writing a book longhand does stimulate the thought processes. Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Susan! While I can write several journal pages, I would struggle to write an entire book in longhand. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. vicki says:

    Hi, Joanne! A good topic. I have pretty good handwriting. I learned a version of cursive with lots of boats and curls. So it can be hard to read. But that is what they taught. The only thing I’ve changed over time is my V. It’s more open because at one job I had to sign my name way too many times and the V transformed.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Vicki, Interesting to read about the “V” transformation. Like everything else, our writing adapts to our circumstances. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I’ve adopted a kind of cross between script and print, although I admit my favorite way of communicating is typing on the computer. Less painful for my hands. I’m convinced script is going to become effective code, since most kids can’t read or write it anymore, which is sad. But I do agree that writing by hand is very effective. Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Jennifer! I recall reading about a man who was upset that his children could not properly sign their names. I agree that script could easily become code at some point in the future. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Pat Amsden says:

    Some of your points are interesting. However having raised a child with dysgraphia who was in the top five percentile for understanding and comprehension, I’m of the opinion it should be a matter of personal preference. Perhaps more so, since I’m now losing the ability to handwrite and am oh so glad to be able to keyboard. Tolstoy was blind and bedridden when he wrote War and Peace. It doesn’t seem to have stopped him.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Hi Pat, You bring up valid points. The computer is definitely a godsend for children and adults with special needs. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I’m a leftie, my writing has always been atrocious, lol. I use a combination of mostly print with a little handwriting thrown in when I’m forced to cursive, but much prefer the keyboard. It has the added benefit of correcting my spelling, too 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I find many of us have switched to a print/cursive combination. I wonder how the graphologists would analyze us. Thanks for dropping by, Jacquie 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pat Amsden says:

    It has definitely not slowed down your ability to write.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. junekearns says:

    I’ve just gone back to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages regime, Joanne – after a bit of a slump! That practice always seems to help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi June, It’s reassuring to know the morning pages are patiently waiting for us. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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