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  • Handwriting Counts: National Handwriting Day
Handwriting Counts: National Handwriting Day
Written by
Jay Hammond
January 2019
Written by
Jay Hammond
January 2019

Believe it or not, there was a time when not everyone could type.

You read that right. In the not so distant past, using a keyboard was not a universal skill. Men, notably, were lacking in this department, relying instead on women who excelled at typing and notetaking. Advances in technology, however, have changed all that. Today, people are more likely to be able to type than to write in cursive. Even those who can write in cursive, are prone to type rather than writing anything out longhand. Since today, January 23, is National Handwriting Day, I thought I’d take a closer look at this transformation and why writers, whether authors, journalists, diarists, students or penpals, should care that handwriting seems to be on the verge of becoming a lost art.

Handwriting is a very individual thing, as anyone who grew up before the mid-1980’s knows. You learned and practiced the basics in elementary school. By junior high, you were starting to experiment a bit with letterforms and flourishes (what woman over 30 didn’t dot their i’s with little hearts or smiley faces at some point in middle school?). Sometime during high school, we each developed a signature and a writing style we liked. We’ve pretty much used it ever since unless there was a compelling reason to change things (certain professions have a recognizable “style,” injury or illness affecting motor control, and frequency of use, particularly how often we sign things are just a few reasons our handwriting can change during adulthood). Advancing age alters our handwriting as well. The same cannot be said for typed text. It’s very generic, despite the variety of fonts and colors available. Most typed communications from texts to emails to newspapers to books to blogs use the same small number of fonts and standardized colors. In other words, it all looks alike.

That’s the problem. And it’s one that writers, especially should consider.

You can’t tell who typed what unless someone claims authorship and even then there’s no guarantee they actually created it. Just look at how widespread plagiarism and outright theft of artistic effort has become online. Sure, copyright offers some protection but only if you can prove you are the creator and owner of the work in question.

On the other hand, if you write something out longhand, whether printed or in cursive, it’s much easy to tell who the author was. I can still look at something, from a letter to the back of a photo to a grocery list, and immediately recognize if my mother, grandmothers, father, brother or anyone else close to me wrote it although most of those people are no longer with me. Their handwriting, particularly their cursive writing but also their printing, is as distinct and unique as they are. It doesn’t matter whether something was written or signed yesterday, last year, decades ago or even centuries ago. As long as known examples of an individual’s handwriting exist, it’s possible for experts to determine whether or not the same individual wrote a document whose creator is unknown or in question. That’s a level of confidence and proof that typing just doesn’t offer.

Beyond proving who wrote what, I think there is another reason that authors, journalists, and diarists should write things by hand: it’s personal. You put some of yourself into everything you write longhand because your handwriting is part of you. It’s an expression of who you are, your personality, how you feel about what you are writing and even whether you believe what you are true or not. All of those parts, whether you consider them consciously or not, make your writing better. More authentic. More yours. And not just in regards to proving ownership. In regards to creating something that affects others because it touched you first. You know a handwritten story intimately. Anyone who reads it, whether they read a handwritten draft or a typed copy, will sense that. That’s important because it is the writer’s intimate knowledge and authentic communication of it which separates acceptable, even good writing from great writing. 

Great writing stands the test of time. It also stands out in time. Writers remember it. Readers remember it. Scholars study it. Libraries and archives collect it in order to preserve it. The future values it. 

Isn’t that what all writers are writing for? We dream of writing something great. How can we imagine creating something great if it looks like everything else and we don’t put much if any of ourselves into it? If you call yourself a writer, find some paper and pick up a pen or pencil and WRITE. Ideally, do that every day but even if you don’t, do it today because it’s National Handwriting Day. 

Do you write in cursive? Let me (and the world!) know by sharing a photo of your handwriting on social media using the tag #NationalHandwritingDay

Do you write longhand? Show me (and the world!) your handwriting skills on using the tag #NationalHandwritingDay on social media.

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