How many of you still handwrite? I don’t just mean a letter to a friend or relative (although handwritten letters are growing increasingly rare) or a reminder to do something or a shopping list. I’m referring to writing prose with a pen or pencil.
University student Cynthia Selfe said, “I like the motion, pushing that lead across the page…filling up pages … I like flipping papers and the action of writing. It makes me feel close to what I’m saying.”
Handwriting is an art that many of us are losing.
Handwriting slows us down. It is a sensual and intimate way for us to express ourselves. I love my handwriting, especially when I am using my favorite pen (my handwriting changes depending on the pen), a fine felt marker — usually black. When you use a pen or pencil to express yourself you have more ways to express your creativity. Think of the subtleties of handwriting alone: changing the quality and intensity of strokes; designing your script, using colors, symbols, arrows or lines, using spaces creatively, combining with drawing and sketches. In combination with the paper (which could be lined, textured, colored graphed, etc.), your handwritten expression varies as your many thoughts and moods.
The very act of handwriting focuses you. Writing your words by hand connects you more tangibly to what you’re writing through the physical connection of pen to paper. Researchers have proven that just picking up a pencil and paper to write out your ideas improves your ability to think, process information and solve problems. The actual act of writing out the letters takes a little more work in your brain than just typing them on a keyboard, and that extra effort keeps your mind sharp. Researchers have also shown that writing something out by hand improves your ability to remember it. Handwriting improves memory, increases focus, and the ability to see relationships.
Handwriting fuses physical and intellectual processes. Nelson Algren wrote, “I always think of writing as a physical thing.” Hemmingway felt that his fingers did much of his thinking for him.
According to Dr. Daniel Chandler, when you write by hand you are more likely to discover what you want to say. When you write on a computer, you write “cleanly” by editing as you go along and deleting words (along with your first thoughts). In handwriting, everything remains, including the words you crossed out. “Handwriting, both product and process,” says Chandler, “is important … in relation to [your] sense of self.” He describes how the resistance of materials in handwriting increases the sense of self in the act of creating something. There is a stamp of ownership in the handwritten words that enhances a sense of “personal experience.”
I know this is true in my own writing experience. This is why, although I do much of my drafting of novel, article and short story on the computer, I find that some of my greatest creative moments come to me through the notebook, which I always keep with me. Writing in my own hand is private and resonates with informality and spontaneity (in contrast to the fixed, formal look and public nature of print). Handwriting in a notebook is, therefore, a very supportive medium of discovery and the initial expression of ideas.
“I am certainly no calligrapher,” says Wendell Berry, “but my handwritten pages have a homemade, handmade look to them that both pleases me in itself and suggests the possibility of ready correction.” John O’Neill calls handwriting “bodily art.” He suggests that “the writer’s fingers and the page are a working ensemble, and alternation of intelligible space and spatialized intelligence.”
Berry goes on to say this: “Language is the most intimately physical of all the artistic means. We have it palpably in our mouths; it is our langue, our tongue. Writing it, we shape it with our hands. Reading aloud what we have written — as we do, if we are writing carefully — our language passes in at the eyes, out at the mouth, in at the ears the words are immersed and steeped in the senses of the body before they make sense in the mind. They cannot make sense in the mind until they have made sense in the body. Does shaping one’s words with one’s own hand impart character and quality to them, as does speaking them with one’s own tongue to the satisfaction of one’s own ear?… I believe that it does.”