Celebrate the (Hand) Written Word

 Today, January 23, is National Handwriting Day. Created in 1977 by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers’ Association (WIMA) to coincide with John Hancock’s (the man whose name is synonymous with “signature”) birthday, National Handwriting Day celebrates the art of writing by hand.
Why celebrate something as archaic as handwriting in an era of ubiquitous keyboards? Everyone types these days, don’t they? Schools don’t even teach handwriting anymore. Why bother? Because the act of picking up a writing instrument, whether pen, pencil, marker, or crayon, and putting words on a surface (preferably, paper. Writing on walls is graffiti and may get you into trouble) creates a connection between mind, body, and world unmatched by computer keyboard or smartphone touchscreen. Writing by hand forces you to slow down—not a bad thing. When you slow down you have more time to notice things, more time to think. I write my first drafts, including of this blog post, and do my initial edits by hand. I get lost when I sit in front of a blank computer screen and type with no handwritten reference to refer to. I forget what I typed after it scrolls off the screen. Scrolling back through pages and pages of uniform font to find what I typed two thousand words ago makes my eyes water and my head hurt. In my handwritten drafts, on the other hand, my scribbles, cross-outs, circles, arrows, and marginalia serve as visual cues to help me locate information.

We celebrate handwriting for its individuality. Times New Roman is Times New Roman regardless of whose computer screen displays it. Handwriting expresses the writer’s personality the way typewriting can’t. Look at John Hancock’s signature on the Declaration of Independence. You can guess he was not a timid man. My handwriting is mine and mine alone. It reveals clues to my state of mind. It morphs to suit my mood and purpose. Slanted, cramped letters with write-overs instead of cross-outs mean I’m in a hurry. Wandering letters in a variety of sizes mean I’m tired. Rounded, upright letters mean I’m inspired. Big letters with bold strokes mean I’m ticked off and/or fired up. Neat, evenly-spaced letters mean I’m making an effort to improve readability because the writing is meant to be read by others.

We celebrate handwriting because it gives us an excuse to buy pens and paper. That was WIMA’s motivation behind the designation of the day. I love pens. I have dozens, ranging from high-end fountain pens to freebies I collected from hotel nightstands. If you add pencils and markers to the tally, the number is in the hundreds which doesn’t stop me from acquiring more in my quest to find the “perfect” writing instrument. I love paper, too. Bound, unbound, lined, blank, graphed, it doesn’t matter. I confess to an office supply fetish. The sensation of a pen gliding across a sheet of paper, the weight of the pen barrel in my hand, the smell of the ink—these things make me happy. 

“But writing by hand is hard,” I hear you say. It doesn’t have to be. Handwriting today is nothing compared to the formal penmanship of Hancock’s era. I bought a book called A Proper Hand: Writing in the Manner of the 18th Century during a recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg. The author spends thirty-two pages describing the equipment and preparations needed before he got to the actual writing. Nowadays, grab a Bic and a Post-It note and you’re good to go.

If your handwriting is bad, as mine often is when I’m in a hurry or I’ve spent a day signing medical forms (Bad Handwriting 101 is a required med school course.) you can improve it. You can take a calligraphy class if you want handwriting that would be at home at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence or you want to DIY your invitations. Or you can go to a site like WikiHow and find simple tips such as: move your whole arm when you write instead of just your fingers, angle your paper thirty to forty-five degrees from your body.

WikiHow also suggest some ways to celebrate National Handwriting Day. Write a journal entry. Write a letter to a friend, relative, or lover. (Texts and emails are not romantic.) Write a story. Write down your dreams and your goals. And don’t worry, you don’t have to go full Luddite. You can post to social media with #NationalHandwritingDay.

How will you celebrate?

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