It’s National Handwriting Day*

Normally, I am not swayed by faux-lidays, but I was excited to discover today is National Handwriting Day. Often times it is far quicker for me to put fingertips to keyboard yet I am still drawn to pen and paper. I’m sure my slight obsession with all things office supply related might have a touch to do with it.

I am a lefty-turned-righty so my handwriting is heavily influenced by learning to form letters and numbers as a left handed person. I still write many of my letters from right to left.

Some friends attribute my strong powers of mental recall to photographic memory and Synesthesia – conditions I have – though I believe a considerable amount can be attributed to my rabid handwriting habit.

Writing by hand makes things stick for me and apparently there is some cognitive benefit too according to a study performed at the University of Washington.

According to research carried out at the University of Washington that involved test subjects of second, fourth and sixth graders, kids who write it out by hand demonstrated the capacity to write more, write better and write faster compared to their computer-using counterparts.

It’s a nice excuse to test drive pens you might have lying around or make some new friends. Plus, I’m sure there are lots of people who would love getting some snail mail written with love.

*Hey, it’s still 1/23 on the East Coast!

51 thoughts on “It’s National Handwriting Day*

  1. My penpersonship — never good at its best — has gotten progressively worse as keyboarding has replaced my writing. Still, I find I think best when I’m jotting down written notes, so I agree with your observations about writing and learning. Typing seems to work better for me when I want to rearrange ideas or express them. Now if this electronic paper that’s been around the corner for the past 20 years would ever finally show up…

  2. I definitely agree that I remember things a bit better if I write them down… but it’s only the act of writing that does it, because my handwriting is so wretched as to be practically illegible. SM and I still write hand-written letters back and forth but it’s laughable because we’re both such shitty handwriters.

    Oddly enough I am pretty decent at LETTERING, because it is drawing, but in the shape of letters. It’s only once I am trying to WRITE that I have problems.

  3. I am a big snail mail enthusiast, so I am happy to celebrate handwriting as well. It’s also a wonderful way to remember people who have died; I know that looking at letters or notes written by people I’ve lost has a way of instantly bringing them back to me, since handwriting is so individual.

  4. I have severe dysgraphia. writing more than a handful of sentences is painful and even a short note requires a high degree of concentration. I know my thoughts flow much better and I write more when I type because tapping a key requires no concentration for me, but forming a letter does. but I’m the exception, not the rule.

  5. My hand writing is almost certifiably illegible (oh, and I can’t spell either), although I can always read it fine. I find writing by hand to be much more freeing because I can spell phonetically and write in different languages without getting stressed out by spellcheck and feeling obligated to use conventional syntax. Also, I use mathematical symbols, so I get things like,

    “Tenements: uck-uck-uck {equal-arrow} Progressive dumbells ~1900.”

  6. As a writer of fiction, I find I just can’t compose stories on a computer. It’s the wrong headspace, or it’s too full of distractions, or something. I do have trouble reading my rough drafts sometimes…

    I know how to make my handwriting legible. I just don’t know how to make it pretty. And… does anyone else have trouble with cursive? I can’t write it, and I can just barely read it.

  7. OK this seems like the right place to talk about this–I am, and always have been, a righty, but my hand positioning is very similar to the way lefties write. I never noticed this until people started telling me this. Has anyone else ever noticed/been told that they write like this?

  8. I love writing by hand, but I have terrible handwriting (sorry, Mom), and if I handwrite too much my tendons start to get all wonky and pained. But I still love it, and I’m with you — I have a real thing for paper and pens and pencils.

    You know, it made me feel less magically-smart to realize a few years ago that I’m a good speller basically only because of synesthesia. I visited Hawaii, and all of a sudden I couldn’t keep words or spellings straight, because for the first time I had to use actual memory to do it (those letters and words are almost all the same colors! no fair!). Synesthesia made me lazy!

  9. Rasha, my cursive is so illegible that my schoolteachers asked me to stop using it in 7th grade and I switched entirely to printing. But somewhere along the line I was told that checks should be written in cursive (at least the number part) because it’s harder to forge. So because I am rolling in it and have to be very concerned about people forging checks to try to steal all my heaps of money, I still write out checks in cursive — but now I forget how to even make half the letters, so it takes me forever and is next to impossible to read.

  10. @paleandnerdy-yes I’ve noticed some righthanded people have that same sort of crooked wrist position that lefties also have-always throws off my perception of their handedness.
    I find it easier to write and edit my poetry electronically. I used to journal on lined paper but I just recently went to blank sheets (and colored ink!) and it better suits my thinking processes.

    I have no idea what either of my nephews’ handwriting looks like although we’re close. They’re in their 30’s and haven’t ever had to do much of it. And I have exactly one example of my former beloved’s; I erased nearly 900 emails when we broke up.

  11. Does anyone else remember That Girl in their fourth-grade class who wrote everything impeccably — I mean, seriously, her handwriting was a visual symphony of proportion and balance and artful loops on crisp, muss-free paper — and also she was always pulled together, and always got elected class secretary and girl scout color guard and such? (Whereas I, for example, always had one shirttail hanging out, was gently sent to go talk to the school counselor during T and Th recesses, and more often than not had some magic marker somewhere on my face?)

    I wanted to be her so bad.

  12. You know, it made me feel less magically-smart to realize a few years ago that I’m a good speller basically only because of synesthesia. I visited Hawaii, and all of a sudden I couldn’t keep words or spellings straight, because for the first time I had to use actual memory to do it (those letters and words are almost all the same colors! no fair!). Synesthesia made me lazy!

    You know, I’ve always been a terrible speller! It never occurred to me that Synesthesia was the culprit!

    I should also note that as I type this I am seeing the colors of the letters, which rarely happens when I keyboard.

  13. My handwriting is so bad that I worry that envelopes that I address will never reach their destinations. Sometimes I can’t even read my own notes unless I write them in block capitals. I blame this on learning cursive in Texas, then moving to Scotland and having all my teachers try to get rid of my American-style flowery cursive as horribly un-British.

    In terms of actual writing I find it much easier to write directly into a computer. Not just because hey, then I can actually read it – I type faster than I can handwrite. Doesn’t seem to make any difference in terms of memory.

  14. I type fast – 109 wpm, according to the typing test I took today – but I feel more connected to my writing when I first write it by hand. Though I do notice when I keyboard my inner critic is easier to keep quiet.

  15. I feel more connected to my writing when I first write it by hand.

    Oh man, not me. Writing is always mediated, of course, but that mediation affects me much less when it’s coming out at 100wpm — which, let’s be honest, I probably don’t think that much faster than 100wpm — than when I’m trying to convince my cramping hand to form all the letters and not transpose any of them.

  16. Writing things down does help me to remember them but I rarely actually write anything. For one, it causes my hand to cramp in such an unbelievable manner. Plus, my hand cannot keep up with my brain. So if I start writing something I’ve forgotten where I was going with that paragraph before I even get out one or two sentences. To be fair, this happens when typing as well just not quite as bad.

  17. I teach writing, and sometimes my students do writing on computers in the computer lab, and sometimes we all write in our writer’s notebooks in the classroom—the skritching of pen/cil across paper and the waves of calm and focus that come over the room when we handwrite really does seem distinct from the tapping of the keyboard. I wonder if that’s me being nostalgic, and what my students would make of the distinction?

    A couple of years ago I went to a National Writing Project conference, and the opening session began with a writing prompt—3,000 people together in a room, writing on little pads for ten minutes. The active, energized, not-quite-silence that came over the room gave me goosebumps. I know my own poetry almost always starts on paper first…somewhere along the drafting process, it goes to the computer.

    (snarkysmachine, how did you make the left to right transition? My dad did, too, and I always thought his was an unusual story…well, hopefully the part about how it happened was unusual…his teacher used to tie his left hand to his desk so he had to use his right, the left hand being responsible for “the devil’s work”, and all.)

  18. I find the wrong pen leads to hand cramping. Also sometimes the point of hand writing things is to slow down the brain. Plus War and Peace was written long hand and so are most of the works of Vonnegut, which sounds like win in my book.

  19. FJ – Me too. I mean not only do I worry I won’t be able to read anything that I handwrite, I’m much more conscious of the physical act of writing rather than the mental process, if that makes sense. It feels staged to me, somehow, not sure why. Writing directly into a computer feels very organic and natural.

    (Interestingly this was not the case for me with typewriters, which I am old enough to remember using. I never liked typewriters, even the electric kind.)

  20. I envy the handwriting of people in olden times. What’s that document in gorgeous copperplate? Oh, it’s a grocery list? Huh.
    My own handwriting causes people to think I know shorthand due to its illegible-to-anyone-but-me scrawl properties.

  21. I was looking at my dad’s handwriting on a card he recently sent to me. People always joke that M.D.s have poor handwriting, but his is so glorious and each letter is perfectly formed.

  22. Writing directly into a computer feels very organic and natural.

    I know, isn’t it strange? You would think that writing would feel more organic — all the tech is even made out of natural materials, if you’re using a pencil! But typing is a very cyborg act for me — the computer is like an extension of the body, the way eyeglasses or cars or other cyborg technology are. (I have neuron wallpaper on my laptop, as a sort of winky reference to it being an extension of my brain.)

    Of course there are benefits to more mediated, non-organic-feeling composition — it’s more deliberate and often more careful. Writing with a pen or pencil is a very different experience than thinking, and that’s good in many situations — just as in other situations it’s good that typing is a similar experience to thinking. I admire people who have equal facility with both, and who can write volumes and volumes of paper journals and whatnot. I just find it physically uncomfortable, and a little embarrassing as I often have to cross out perfectly simple words that I’ve spelled inside-out.

  23. @fillyjonk – It really is strange. I find that I write much faster and much more easily since I switched entirely to computer. The only time I handwrite anything now is either things like grocery lists that I want to take with me, post-its, or interview questions, which I copy into a notebook because reading off a print-out looks tacky.

  24. @ Cassandra Says & fillyjonk – I too prefer typing, and always have, since I got my first one-piece Macintosh for my eleventh birthday. If I make a mistake, there’s no evidence, I can fix it right away — so freeing! Plus, even though my cursive handwriting is very neat (Catholic school), I can type much more quickly than I can write (not like Snarky’s Machine, though – that’s awesome! 109 wpm?!??!?).

    My cursive handwriting actually looks identical to the sample handwriting in the Palmer Method cursive textbook. And my print looks just like Helvetica. But, I’d still rather type.

  25. not like Snarky’s Machine, though – that’s awesome! 109 wpm?!??!?

    It’s why I have so many embarrassing typos!

    I’ve always wanted handwriting that looked like Arial.

    I’m starting to feel the generation gap here. I’m pushing 40, well I’ll be 37 in two months and I didn’t touch a computer until I was 14, but it was still only a novelty. I had a baby pink typewriter, which I adored, though I had to settle for handwriting my stories at night so nobody would hear the rather LOUD clackety clack of my quiet select typewriter.

  26. (snarkysmachine, how did you make the left to right transition? My dad did, too, and I always thought his was an unusual story…well, hopefully the part about how it happened was unusual…his teacher used to tie his left hand to his desk so he had to use his right, the left hand being responsible for “the devil’s work”, and all.)

    Ha, this sounds painfully familiar. While Sister Angela never came out an explicitly blamed the devil, she did brandish the wooden spoon when I “reverted”. It was mostly through fear that I developed the ability to write righty.

  27. About the nun issue…a friend of mine ended up 100% ambidextrous for this very reason. It was freaky, she could literally just switch hands when one got tired. Apparently the church in Nigeria (where she grew up) is particularly old fashioned about this, and she was literally forbidden to even pick up a pencil with her left hand, but she did it anyway at home just because she was stubborn like that.

  28. Snarkysmachine – I hear you on the wrong pens causing cramps. I fell in love with a beautiful Monte Blanc rollerball with a gorgeous malachite inlay and discovered why their barrels are bigger than most pens – it’s more comfortable! I also get pens with rubber shafts.

    OTOH the wrong keyboard will cause wrist *and* hand cramps…. Laptop shopping is a kick because I’ll go to the stores with the biggest selections and just walk down the laptop aisle trying the different keyboards to see which is comfortable and if I can type without clicking the mouse. (Some laptops make this very difficult!)

    Re: pens – anyone else particular about ink color? I never buy blue-ink pens. Black is my norm, but I also like purple and green. In college I’d grade homework in purple & green :)

  29. It took me years to get past my own obsession with making my text readable (years of being told my handwriting needed extra work in primary school) to be able to compose with equal facility on both the keyboard and the pen and paper. On the PC, this manifested as a tendency to fiddle with fonts and formatting to the point where I wasn’t letting myself actually get text up on the screen unless it was “right”.

    These days, I have my computer, where I do a lot of composing. And then for the times when I can’t be in contact with my computer, I have a five-subject notebook and a pencil case cram-packed with pens and pencils which lives in my bag. The pen-and-paper composition happens when I’m doing things like winding down to go to sleep (or in other words, when I’m in my bedroom) or when I’m travelling from point A to point B (trains, buses, waiting on the station, walking to the bus stop, etc etc etc). What’s rather ironic about it is my computer at the moment is a laptop model (although at present it has a large flat screen, a full-size keyboard, and a full-size mouse all plugged into it… because I’ve discovered that no matter how portable a laptop is supposed to be, it’s still not as portable as a plain old paper notebook).

    I’m also another one with a stationery fetish (my term for it). I love this time of the year in Australia, because it’s the beginning of our school year, so all the stores have things like pens, pencils, textas, and soforth on special. Plus notebooks, exercise books, binders, and just about anything else. I’ve been restraining myself over the past couple of years, however, since my stash currently occupies most of a full-size office stationery cupboard. Of course, the beauty of this is that I can just open the doors and see everything laid out before me. It’s reassuring, to be honest, rather like having a full pantry.

  30. Re: pens – anyone else particular about ink color? I never buy blue-ink pens. Black is my norm, but I also like purple and green. In college I’d grade homework in purple & green :)

    I am very particular about it. I don’t like blue ink either unless it’s blue-black gel ink. I like the idea of purple and green ink but they always too light for me to take seriously. I am trying to get over that though. I really like dark black ink. I’m certain the fact I already see letters/numbers in color has something to do with this.

  31. I started using computers and typewriters as soon as we had any at home, which was around my 10th year of life, so from then on my handwriting became a positive mess. It’s legible, but I tend to blend letters together because I think faster than I write and then I want to write too fast, and then I want to correct the missing letters, and it all becomes blotchy…

    I type almost as fast as I think. That sometimes leads me to not think overly much before I type… but my accuracy is bad, so I can type fast but I backspace a lot, too.

    I’m also synesthetic! Not only do I see vowels and numbers as colors (for some reason consonants went monochrome a few years ago), I can also see *time* in a spatial, 3Dish shape in my head. Explaining that one to people is near impossible, but, well, I can see time, and it makes remembering appointments as well as history lessons a lot easier.

  32. I can also see *time* in a spatial, 3Dish shape in my head. Explaining that one to people is near impossible, but, well, I can see time, and it makes remembering appointments as well as history lessons a lot easier.

    Me too! I have never been able to articulate this as well as you have here.

  33. @living400lbs – Me too! My preferred colors for notes are purple and green. Lab notebook is black. I don’t have any blue pens.

    While I type very quickly, I spend so much of my day on a computer, coding, that I really enjoy handwriting. I have a great fountain pen that I do the majority of my writing with. And the having the right tools really make a difference. I was thinking the other day, that I really love my notebooks because they are like scrapbooks for my experiments! Who doesn’t love cutting things out and pasting them into books?

    I also find that the process of hand writing up my experiments forces me to focus on the results and clarify my thinking in a way that typing out the same data does not.

  34. Echoing the note-taking thing! It’s absolutely the best way to get information to stay in my brain. Every time I’ve started a new job or gotten together on a volunteer project I have to orient people to this habit of mine. Many folks seem nervous that I am taking notes while I am with them. If I don’t write it, I remember much less. People are always telling me there are public records of meetings, class notes, powerpoint handouts, etc., but I still NEED to write it down. I try to remember to throw away notes after 6 months or a year, but sometimes I forget.

    And I absolutely have to keep a physical calendar. Putting it online, in my smart phone, etc. just won’t get the event in my head. They will likely have to pry my nice leather calendar out of my cold dead hands!

    Yes, yes on the black ink. I don’t have any visual processing issues related to color, but I think my hubby does. Plus, I think it just looks neat and professional.

    Thanks for the link to the LWA. I used to do letter writing, maybe I should start again. I love the link there to the “postal experiments”…..that could be really fun!

  35. I tend to write on the computer a lot because 1) I’m on it and 2) typing is fast enough to keep up with my brain, but I often write by hand due to my job(s). I work in the medical field by day, so we have to sign and date EVERYTHING. In black ink. So when I see blue or any other color ink, I have a minor meltdown because using blue is like blasphemy at my job. We have to fill in data on various forms which also semi-obviously, has to be done by hand. So I write plenty at work, and I’d say on on average day I sign my name 10+ times, sometimes as many as a few hundred. (I wish I was kidding.)

    On the other hand, my chosen profession is teaching. (I just graduated so, waiting on that.) During my student teaching I worked in 2 different classrooms. One had an LCD projector which was AWESOME. But I still used the whiteboard pretty much every single day in both classrooms. It’s a lot easier to show physical examples of things that I can cross out or erase right in front of the students, or make (questionably awesome/useful) drawings to try to get my point across. I actually hate my handwriting, because it’s not that beautiful bubble script that many girls can do. Mine was actually so similar to my first boyfriend’s that he left me a note once and I had to double-take to make sure I didn’t write it to myself! But in any case, besides the actual teaching, I was always jotting stuff down on post-it notes, in my planning guide, or wherever. I also find it easier to organize my thoughts when I write it by hand. Especially with stuff like math problems or spelling – I’m a great speller but if someone ever asks me how to spell a vaguely complicated word, I have to write it down, then I can spell it.

    On top of all that, I hold my writing utensils really weirdly, in a sort of a clutchy death grip the puts my thumbnail into my index finger. Nobody ever corrected me, so now I have a permanent callous on my finger from writing. I’ve never met anyone else who holds their pencil like me. I think that’s a good thing, because it definitely gets painful!

  36. I love this thread! There is nothing like getting a handwritten note in the mail, it just brightens up the day! And those letters become precious as anything should the person pass on, especially suddenly and unexpectedly. Those letters are a lifeline to the past. My friends and I always make sure to send a handwritten letter every now and again even though there is the more convenient em, tm and im which of course is a much faster way of communicating. But then again, I have a stationary and card collecting problem. I just love them and have pretty docorative bags full of beautiful artistic cards that I just can’t resist. And I always buy two — one to send and one to keep just in case. I also don’t like cards with pre-printed messages on them… I’ll articulate my own thoughts to paper thanks.

    I always write in a dark purple ink and fountain pens are my favorite, but I’ve found some rollerballs (I never use ballpoints) that are quite good and inexpensive from Pilot. At work I prefer to use blue so I can distingish between copies (even color) and my originals.

    To me there is just some Romantic about handwritting although I would not want to receive a letter written form say the Regency period. My friend and I tried it and it’s well..annoying really, I mean we have plenty of paper so no need for all that. Plus we cheated and put them in envelopes anyway. But it was a fun to try.

  37. I have a very dear older relative who really hates talking on the telephone and doesn’t even own a computer. We communicate through hand written letters & notes and I can’t begin to tell you how much pleasure it gives me. It has, however, made me very aware of how crappy my handwriting has become so that is something I am working on.

    School geek moment – when I went back to college full-time to finish my undergraduate degree, I bought a special, shiny, pink metal pen with a squishy handle that I used for all of my class note-taking. I loved that pen and had it for several years until my idiot boyfriend at the time borrowed it and broke the squishy part.

    If you are a pen lover or just like desk stuff, check out http://www.levenger.com

  38. @Paula – Levenger + Rhodia Notebooks = a very happy Snarky.

    I love writing letters and cards. I do this to the exclusion of a lot of electronic correspondence. There is just not much more satisfying than getting a cute handwritten note from my mom accompanying her weekly cast offs from her “Worst Case Scenario” desk calendar.

  39. I hated my handwriting when I was younger but now I love it – how it dips up and down, even on lined paper and how the letters run together. I particularly love writing certain words for the shapes my pen must make…they flow together so wonderfully, all because of how I write. I find that fascinating. I like that I can pinpoint both my mom’s and my dad’s handwriting in my own.

    I wish I wrote things by hand more, especially my stories. I think I would feel more connected to them if I could but my brain moves so fast that my fingers can only keep up via keyboard.

  40. Question for the reprogrammed righties….

    Do you find that you have a hard time keeping left and right straight? A friend of mine was born left-handed, but she was trained into being right-handed, and now she constantly gets her left and right confused. It’s to the extent that you have to point in the direction you want her to turn instead of just saying, “Turn Left.”

  41. Chloe Mireille, I have trouble telling left from right, and respond much better to pointing than spoken directions. I used to have to put my hands in front of me like I was playing the piano to tell which hand was the right hand and which was the left, but I can figure it out without using my hands now, it just takes a moment. I’m right handed, and always have been.

    In college, I used a black pen with glitter in the ink. The ink was smooth and dark, and the glitter wasn’t distracting so it wasn’t hard to read like most sparkly pens.

    I did write by hand yesterday! I don’t often, but it’s satisfying, especially for listing ideas.

  42. I’m a righty (I’ve tried to write with my left, but the pen just falls out of my hand) and I can’t do right and left. I have to ‘make an L’ and it used to drive my driving instructor nuts. ^_^;;

    I used to hand-write a lot more than I do now – I have notebooks-upon-notebooks ful of story ideas and random scribbles. Nowadays it’s pretty much just notes from lectures.

  43. I love this topic. I was given a writing assignment last weekend, and stared and stared at my computer for a couple hours until I hunted down an old legal pad and outlined it in pen and paper. Then I was all set.

    As far as pen colors: I am madly attached to a particular type of pen and use nothing else. I use the same pen in two colors: purple for personal, black for business. Blue ink is very, very wrong. Once, at my father’s home, I was hunting for a pen, and came across a box of my same exact pen, down to the width of the point, in his desk. So I assume this is genetic.

    My great sadness is that because I am on computers all day for work, I now have carpal tunnel in my right wrist, and writing hurts after a while. I graduated school by taking notes – if I write it down once, I never need to look at it again, because it’s embedded in my brain for life. Any other way of learning and my mind can be a sieve.

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