In Defense of Handwriting

In Defense of Handwriting

Recently, one of my co-workers beckoned me and another coworker over to his desk where he showed us a commercial for the new Microsoft Surface Studio. I was amazed by its processing power, vivid screen, and intimate interface. If there is anything more astonishing than technology, it is how fast our technology advances.

After watching the video, I went back to my desk, where, off to the side, lay my writing notebook and one of my fountain pens. They looked a lot less cool than they had three minutes earlier.

Handwriting in my workbook.
I practice my handwriting in a workbook as well as by using it in recording my thoughts.

It’s been roughly a year since I began practicing my cursive handwriting. I’ve always enjoyed pens and paper, and I’ve been a steady journal keeper for over a decade, but this past year has kicked off a new obsession for me.

As a kid, I hated practicing my handwriting, particularly cursive. It didn’t make sense to me. Why take something as simple as the alphabet and garble it up into a tangle of unrecognizable squiggles? So I traced out the homework—most of it—but I never actually use any of it after the lessons ended.

My print handwriting remained extremely clumsy for years, until I started writing more in high school, but even then, it was only slightly less clumsy. After I graduated, for reasons I don’t remember, I took a sudden interest in cursive again, but it was a temporary stint.

I went back to my second-rate print and stayed there until October of last year. It was my last semester of college, and I attended a religious devotional on campus where I heard a story that changed my life.

It was a story about Heber J. Grant, who served as the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1918 until his death in 1945. As a boy, he was made fun of for his poor handwriting. He wanted to be a bookkeeper for Wells Fargo, which he heard paid a lot more than “shining shoes,” but bookkeepers at that time wrote by hand and needed exceptional handwriting. So he practiced. Hard. Eventually, his handwriting became so good that he was hired as a penman to write all sorts of documents. He even taught penmanship at a university (source).

I had heard this story several times before, but this time it resonated with me powerfully. I doubt my handwriting was ever as bad as his, so if he could do it, so could I.

I began brushing up on my cursive, digging through Google image searches of handwriting examples and YouTube video demonstrations. During my research, I found a TEDx talk by a man name Jake Weidman. He is one of about a dozen certified master penman in the world, and he is by far the youngest. During his talk, he showed samples of his artwork, things I didn’t even know were possible with pen and paper. He also made a compelling case for why we can’t let the art of handwriting die. Here are some points he made that inspired me:

  • Handwriting is more personal than typing. Unlike selecting from a limited list of computer fonts, handwriting is creative, expressive, and unique to the person writing.
  • Jake talked about the power of the handwritten notes he received as a boy from his mother. While I served a two-year mission for my church, I was always grateful for letters from home, but especially the handwritten letters written by my mother. Somehow, her handwriting made me feel just a little closer to her.
  • Handwriting activates the brain and helps us think and remember in a way that typing can’t (source). That’s something I really value because sometimes I don’t feel like I remember things very well. I need handwriting to help make things stick.
  • This is something he said that sunk exceptionally deep: “It is not technology that is the direct enemy of the pen; it is our dependency on technology. And the greater we grow our dependency on technology, what we may soon find is that we have created the most technologically advanced way of creating illiteracy.”

Jake Weidmann’s talk fed the fire ignited by the story of Heber J. Grant. So, inspired by these two men, I have been practicing my handwriting for over a year, accumulating fountain pens, fancy inks, and expensive journals along the way.

For Christmas last year, my younger brother Hyrum, who was also interested in handwriting at the time, got me a set of Spencerian Script workbooks. Platt Rogers Spencer is a legend in American penmanship, and the style he created is one of the forerunners of modern cursive. Spencerian Script was designed to be both elegant and efficient, two qualities I want my handwriting to have.

The Spencerian Script workbooks my brother Hyrum gave me last Christmas.
The Spencerian Script workbooks my brother Hyrum gave me last Christmas.

Since I started practicing Spencerian Script, I’ve noticed big improvements in the style of my handwriting. but I still don’t feel like I’ve developed good control over my pen. I haven’t practiced enough to acquire the fluidity of writing that I want. So I’m going to step up my game and exert more consistent effort until I really nail this.

Just like any craft, writing requires skill and tools. Pen and paper are the traditional tools of the writing trade, and I want to be as skilled with my tools as a painter is with a brush and canvas. There is something unexplainably captivating about cutting edge tech, but there is still an appeal to traditional writing instruments, something about them that fascinates me, despite how quaint and archaic they might seem.

As technology marches on, I believe there will always be a demand for handwriting, however juvenile that belief might be. I have to believe this because to see handwriting die would be a tragedy, not only for me but also for the rest of the world.

What’s your opinion about typing vs. handwriting? Tell us in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Handwriting

  1. I always struggled with my handwriting. I would watch my mom do calligraphy and wish I could write like her. Before getting my degree in elementary education I had to pass a handwriting certification. Now my handwriting is legible, but I wouldn’t consider it beautiful. I think it is important to know how to write legibly. I have watched people I know feel very inadequate to write things they have to by hand when their handwriting is messy. Not everything can be done on a computer. It really will be tragic if the art is lost.

    1. Thanks for commenting! The struggle with handwriting is real. I’ve been practicing for over a year, and I still struggle. And you are totally right: computers, as cool as they are, can’t do everything, and let’s hope they never replace completely the art of handwriting.

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