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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