The lost art of handwriting is one of the few ways we can uniquely express ourselves... Handwriting allows us to be artists and individuals during a time when we often use computers, faxes and e-mail to communicate... -Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (www.wima.org)
Our handwriting is unique, like a fingerprint - exceptional and singularly individual. But we rarely see it any more other than on checks we write, application forms we fill out, and postcards we send home: “Having fun. Wish you were here!” How many handwritten letters have you mailed off in the past year? How many have you received? It’s even more unlikely you’ve written an essay in longhand recently.
Time taken to write by hand is time well taken; as comforting as it is unusual. It inspires, sharpens and energizes our writing experience and our life. Some say that it helps overcome temporary ‘writer’s block’ (the inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing). When writer’s block is coming on, we should leave our computers and go sit in a favorite chair out on a sun porch in summer or before a warm fire in winter, then put pen to paper and watch our thoughts open up and the writing resume.
Joanne Chen, a New York writer, recently raised this provocative question: ‘Is handwriting becoming extinct?’ Her article in a popular magazine prompted an amazing response. The blogosphere quickly filled with commentary and contemplation, much of it expressing fears that handwriting is, indeed, a lost art.
Chen’s seminal essay begins like this −
“Sometimes being a writer is excruciating and slow going, and writing this article was one of those times. After two and a half hours with absolutely nothing to show for it (except a Facebook post), I decided to do something I haven’t done since high school: write an article entirely by hand. No in-box. No screen between me and my words. Just pen and paper and my own thoughts.
“It was so. . . quiet. I felt as if I had been lifted out of a noisy shopping mall and deposited at the library.”
By inserting the ellipse (. . .), Chen indicates a (quiet) pause in thought - common behavior of thought-full writers pondering, pen in hand, their next bit of inspiration. She also points out the psychological, brain development and creative benefits of handwriting, and demonstrable evidence that digital word processing, so detached and abstract, does not engage the brain in quite the same way as handwriting.
Really? I ask because many excellent writers prefer using a keyboard, saying that digital word-processing opens up great new possibilities and improves output.
Ana Reinhart doesn’t think so. In her blog ‘The Well Appointed Desk’ she states −
“What we here all know, that writing helps us think, organize and remember (‘I’m writing it down to remember it now’), is clearly a scientifically proven fact, one that we should help to nurture in ourselves and others. Digital doesn’t solve everything, and might be making us even more forgetful.”
There’s no doubt that handwriting inspires, sharpens and energize our writing. Some noted writers prefer it. For example, J.K. Rowling wrote the first drafts of each book in the ‘Harry Potter’ series in longhand. And David Allen, author of ‘Getting Things Done’, writes “...in your face. Paper reminds us that we’re physical beings, despite having to contend with an increasingly virtual world.” Writing by hand, he says, is good for thinking and creating, with time to reflect, contemplate and revise our work.
Quite beyond these utilitarian observations about handwriting vs. digital word-processing, there is something deeper to consider, something about dignity and renewal. George Bernard Shaw puts it nicely in ‘Pygmalion’, noting the “the beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting.”
There’s something poetic about grasping a writing instrument and feeling it hit the paper as your thoughts flow through your fingers and pour into words. -WIMA
Joanne Chen’s essay ‘Is handwriting becoming extinct?’ was published in the September 2013 issue of ‘Martha Stewart Living’ magazine. Google it for more online discussion. Ana Reinhart’s blog is www.wellappointeddesk.com. David Allen’s website is www.davidco.com. The author is a contributing editor to ‘ECS Nepal’. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. See his website at www.EditWithUs.com.