What’s so great about writing by hand?

in Potpourri by

For most of my young life, I hated my own handwriting. The other girls in my class wrote with such beautiful, rounded loopy script and I envied them, even the ones who dotted their i’s with little hearts. My scratchy letters always came out flattened, each one drooping ever closer to the line as if they’d all lost the will to stand straight. My sentences invariably seemed to need a good, long nap.

I wish I could say that a lifetime of writing had molded my script into something that resembled the graceful lilt of the other girls, but I’m afraid it’s still relatively unpretty and largely unreadable by the untrained eye. I’m sure I’m not alone. With the advent of keyboards, computers, email and text messages, we’re getting less handwriting practice than ever before. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before we stop knowing how to write by hand at all.

Missing Ink cover 175


This is the chilling thought I had while reading Philip Hensher’s The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting. He’s right, we don’t focus on handwriting so much anymore. Keyboards and electronic communication have made the act of picking up a pen seem antiquated and unnecessary, but as a public service I have written a list (in pen, mind you) of support for the written hand and its continued usage.

So what’s so great about writing by hand?


Making a List

7.8"X11.0" -

Okay, so that was an easy one. Sure, you could get out your laptop and write up a list of things to get at the store, but nothing beats a pen and the back of an old utility bill for the convenient, quick jotting of things.

Secret Notes

Lunch note 200Text messaging is fine communication but who doesn’t love finding a tiny folded piece of paper that says “Have a good day, I love you!” tucked in their lunch bag between the sandwich and banana?  Nobody, that’s who. And let’s not forget the thrill we all once felt when that folded sheet of notebook paper landed on our desk asking “I like you, do you like me?  Check yes or no.”  Stuff of dreams, man.


Quick Exchanges of Information

Car note

Caught in a fender-bender with a creepy stranger on the highway?  Sure, you’ll want to give him your insurance info, but maybe not your direct phone number or email address.  That pen and scrap of paper in your glove compartment make it oh-so-easy to give exactly the stuff you want to give and nothing more.


Cake 200

Maybe some culinary genius is developing a way to type into frosting as we speak, but for the time being the only way to get that cake to say “Congratulations on your promotion Bob!” is for the folks at the bakery to write it on there by hand. Just think how sad that cake would be with those balloons clustered there, all alone. Whose cake is it? Why are we celebrating? Nobody knows.

Your Signature

Image from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. That mark you make when you write out your name is individual enough we use it almost everywhere to make sure you’re you. Backs of credit cards, driving licenses, any contract you’ve ever entered into with anybody has had at least one line for your unique set of letters.  Buying a house? Get ready to reproduce that inky set of letters about a million times. Your one-of-a-kind signature is what makes that house really, finally yours.


Banksy graffiti 200Okay, I’m not exactly advocating defacing someone else’s property, but we’ve all been in that bathroom where the walls have long since been covered in jokes, quotes, Jenny’s phone number, and any number of other ways in which we use our anonymity to shout into the void.  You can argue that the Internet itself has become one big bathroom wall but there is something so satisfying about joining that conversation indelibly with a pen you just happened to have in your pocket.  And then returning to that spot years later to see if your joke is still there. You write, therefore you exist.

There are so many more ways in which writing by hand is useful and even vital to our lives (or at least the fun parts): Wedding invitations, hand-signed birthday cards, pancakes in the shape of your initials. Where would we be without the ability to write these things?  Sad and hungry and alone. That’s our life without handwriting.

So pick up those pens, folks! There’s a bathroom wall out there just waiting for you.


Photo Credits:

Grocery List from www.themorningnews.org (Franz Kline circa 1962)

Lunch note from http://athomewithmrsm.blogspot.com/

Car note from www.poplicks.com

Cake from http://bestcakedecoration.wordpress.com/

Signature: Massachusetts Historical Society (www.masshist.org)

Banksy Graffiti: www.graffitiarea.com

is a perpetual writing student and observer, lately pursuing her BA in English/Creative Writing at Marylhurst University in Portland, Oregon. In her non-school, non-work hours she facilitates workshops for Write Around Portland and devours as much as she can of the written word. Her poetry and prose can be found in the online journals Voicecatcher and Straight Forward Poetry as well as the book Loving For Crumbs -- An Anthology of Moving On. She loves being followed but only on Twitter: @carriepadian


  1. Sounds really interesting. I miss the wonderful letters that used to await me in my mailbox. E-mail is too cold and impersonal.

  2. My husband and I were just discussing the lost art of script writing. We were reminiscing about our days in school when we had to practice writing script on the special tablets. How fortuitous to discover this book.

  3. Glad to see a book addressing the subject. As a teacher, I’m disheartened by the lack of emphasis on cursive writing. The students are mesmerized by my cursive comments on their papers as if I’ve writing to them in a secret code. I have to remind them that it is English. Perhaps the pendulum will swing and we’ll see handwriting reemerge as an art form again.

  4. I still prefer cursive hand written everything. I believe schools need to go back to teaching how to hold writing implements and how to write in cursive. I see people holding pens and pencils in the most uncomfortable methods now days. And most writing is not readable due to lack of being taught. I remember spending hours in school making circles and lines as precursor to learning each cursive letter. We then had to write each one over and over till we got them perfect. I still prefer it to typewritten .

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