Most of us go days without writing anything by hand, and when we finally need to jot something down, it looks like the writing of a third grader. Writing by hand in the digital age feels almost antiquated, but there are plenty of reasons to maintain the quality of your penmanship, or (gasp) even improve it.
Illustration by Tina Mailhot-Roberge.
Writing By Hand Can Lead To Better Learning
There are cognitive reasons that you might want to revisit your penmanship and start writing again. As we've noted before, taking notes by hand can help you retain more information, as you're essentially forced to reframe the information you're hearing instead of transcribing it directly. There's science to back it up too.
There's even research on children that demonstrates writing by hand can cause people not only retain more information, but to also have more ideas. Typing and writing are associated with different brain patterns, explains psychologist Virginia Bernigner. The children in her study who wrote by hand produced more words and ideas than their typing counterparts. The children with better handwriting also expressed "greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory."
Actively engaging in the physical act of forming letters and words can stir your creative juices by sparking areas of your brain that you otherwise wouldn't be using.
Handwriting Is An Expression Of Yourself
Intentionally or not, your handwriting reveals something about you, whether it's messy and manic or carefully executed. There's a relationship between you, the pen, and the page that becomes a personal expression when someone else reads it. They can see the pressure of the implement and the speed of your strokes, or how you carelessly smeared the ink or ignored the lines, with each detail adding a layer of expression to what you're writing. It's deeply personal, and engaging, when reading someone's handwriting.
Of course, the time and thought inherent to a handwritten note also expresses the degree of care that you put into the communication. An email written in ten hasty seconds hardly means anything aside a carefully written letter, even if they have the same number of words. You can read more about the benefits of a personal, handwritten touch here.
How To Improve Your Handwriting
There's no way around it: if you want to improve your handwriting, whether cursive or print, you'll need to practice. And then practice more. Buy a course book that has writing exercises that you can dive into, and take your time. If you're aiming for a John Hancock-level signature, you may want to actually try the The Theory of the Spencerian System of Practical Penmanship, which is essentially the original guide to writing cursive. And then dedicate yourself to practicing every day, as you would with any new skill.
Before you begin scribbling, you will likely benefit from learning how to best hold a pencil or pen. Some people have awkward, unique ways of holding a pencil that they picked up as a kid and then never progressed. These awkward pencil claws can inhibit your ability to control the pencil without too much strain. Talking with Business Insider, calligraphy expert Laura Hooper provides advice on how to hold a pen or pencil:
"Pick up your pen and check out your grip: the writing utensil should rest between your thumb, index, and middle fingers, resting lightly on the ring finger knuckle. Hold your pen and pencil closer to the nib, but not too tightly — your grip should be supportive, but without unnecessary tension. Don't squeeze your pen because this will just make your hand cramp unnecessarily."
Calligraphy and pen enthusiast Dyas A. Lawson says that people are often rely too much on writing with their fingers, "drawing" letters in a way that is ultimately slow and straining. Calligraphers and people to whom writing comes more naturally tend to use their arms more and put less weight on the pen and paper. She suggests you write a paragraph and pay attention to which muscles you use. Of course, writing like a calligrapher might not be for you and you need what's comfortable so that you can practice at length without tiring your hand.
Writing notes during a university lecture might be an exercise in speed, but slowing down so that you have clear intention with every stroke of the pen is the only way you'll actually improve.
Most of all, though, it's all about repetition and imitation of the examples set forth in whatever guide book you may try. Like learning any new skill you need to set aside time every day to practice and keep in mind that it will be a gradual process. Hancock didn't learn to manage his quill in a day, and with consistent practice you can upgrade your handwriting.