In an age defined by typing and texting, it’s easy to dismiss handwriting as an obsolete form of communication. Our kids aren’t taught cursive. We take notes on keyboards. Most of us limit our handwriting to sticky notes or whiteboards. Penmanship is an anachronism.
Still, I used to be good at it. My mom gave me a calligraphy set when I was in the 8th grade, and I got serious about script. I started to see letters as art forms. The rules of calligraphy began to shape my handwriting. After a while, my sloppy cursive started looking better.
Over time, I learned other handwritten forms. I took a drafting class in High School, and learned the precise, orderly capitals of blueprints. As I got into advertising, I paid more attention to fonts. I even adopted some of my favorite letter shapes, like double-loop “g”s.
Eventually, these scripts merged together into a messy hodgepodge. It’s not uncommon for one page of my notepad to feature 3-4 distinct handwriting styles. Sometimes they change in the middle of a sentence.
Also, my confused alphabets weren’t the only factor making my writing ugly. I started to develop nasty hand cramps. If I held a pen for more than 10 minutes, my right hand and forearm would cramp. My script would go from bad to illegible.
A couple months ago, while looking at my work notebook, it struck me. My handwriting sucked. And that hurt. I love typography. I revere alphabets. I’m mesmerized by original manuscripts. I felt like my sloppy handwriting disrespected communication itself.
So, I decided to go back the drawing board and learn how to make a beautiful alphabet freehand, with a pen.
There are plenty of reasons.
First, I believe that when we type, we lose a connection to the words. I’m a fast typist. Words flow through my fingers. But it all happens so fast, I don’t retain anything in my mind. It’s like the words pass through me. When I type notes in a meeting, I’m too busy recording to pay attention to the speaker.
Humans — being meat-based — evolved to operate best in an analog world. The more we rely on digital interfaces, the further we remove ourselves from a natural state.
In other words, handwriting is a more true and human means of accomplishing what we mean our writing to accomplish. It forces us to connect our thoughts to our bodies. To process ideas physically. To integrate the whole brain and body, in the service of thinking and learning.
Second, as a writer and copywriter, I love typography. Typefaces are magical. They’re the actors who give our words a voice. I’m constantly amazed at the way a letter shape, line thickness, or cut of a serif can evoke a personality.
But if scripts convey a personality, then my current handwriting conveys sloppiness, laziness, and schizophrenia.
And so, I’m going to re-learn nice handwriting. I’m doing it for myself. I’m doing it to bring some beauty back to something I do every day. I’m doing it to honor the letters and words I live by. I’m doing it to keep better notes, send better thank-you’s, and write nicer birthday cards.