“Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter. And lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.”
Handwriting is the time machine to take us back to a world before the digital age consumed every aspect of our lives. As we look over our words on paper, scribbled in incoherent penmanship, we get a sense of who we were back then and what consumed our lives. The mistakes that were crossed out on the page, the doodles in the margins and the overall messiness of our handwriting will always be more truly reflective of life than words typed on a computer.
Now before you accuse me of blatant hypocrisy as I write these words on a computer while advocating the handwritten word: hear me out. There is a time and place for handwriting. In an increasingly digitized world it is unreasonable to expect all your words to be handwritten. But I believe that there is value in the handwritten word that a digitized word can never achieve.
When I was in grade school I remember the worksheets with three parallel lines and a middle dashed line. We would practice cursive writing on these sheets. I still remember the elegant loop on the lowercase “g” or the protruding side of the capital “I”. With the controversial debate of whether cursive writing should still be taught in schools today, opponents of handwriting have argued that it’s an outdated method. And you know what? They are absolutely right. It is an outdated method. But that’s where its charms lie.
Handwriting Provides an Escape
Does your mind tend to wander with thoughts before bed or in the shower? These thoughts find their way during those times because those are the quiet moments away from your phone or computers and they are few and far between nowadays. These thoughts, while seemingly random, are important and they need an outlet.
Picture yourself at a desk with a pen and a pad of paper. Seems daunting, doesn’t it? But I urge you not to be afraid of it because that is a form of escape just like moments before bed or in the shower.
I remember an exercise my writing professor assigned us in class. He told us to write and keep writing. There were no rules on what to write about just that we could not let our pens leave the page; we had to keep writing. At first it seemed like a ridiculous idea to me because I thought eventually I would run out of things to say. But after a few minutes I cleared the surface of my everyday thoughts and began writing about things that I did not realize were even there beneath the surface. It was an eye-opening experience because it was then that I realized the power of handwriting. It’s distraction-free and allows an escape from your everyday life to focus on thoughts that are often bogged down and ignored.
I have a stack of journals filled with my writing from years ago. A lot of the entries admittedly make me cringe as I navigate through my tween years complaining about my parents and my lack of freedom despite being “mature” enough. But it’s valuable to me because it was a snapshot of who I was back then. As I read my handwritten words from years ago I step back in time and suddenly I’m that thirteen year old girl writing in my diary with its own locket and key. There is something about seeing my handwriting at the tender age of thirteen with its messy attempt at cursive and all the glorious spelling mistakes that is much more personal than reading a file written in a Word document.
I think about passing down all my journals to my future children. And you have to admit, it’s a lot more meaningful to hand over a physical copy of your writing than a digital copy of a typed document.
Handwriting is the New Art Form
Similar to how paintings were replaced with photography, pen and paper is being replaced with computer and keyboard. And just like photography, computers function as a more efficient way of producing a similar result. Notice I said similar but not the same. That’s because, fundamentally and physically, it is not the same. Just like a painting, a handwritten note takes longer but is much more personal because of the effort that goes into it. And just like a painting, I consider handwriting an art form because it is a depiction of a time and place and is wholly unique to its maker.
If handwriting is so rare nowadays that it dabbles in the realm of art then, like all good art, it must command moments of reflection and contemplation. Therefore it would be absurd to replace the typed word with the handwritten word in places where it doesn’t belong such as essay writing or writing this very blog post. But if the typed word is writing for the masses then the handwritten word should be writing for yourself in quiet moments of reflection.
So open up a blank page and grab your favourite pen. Feel the scratching of nib against the paper and watch the ink flow. This is your time machine. This is your escape.