The dying art of handwriting and why you need to write more

When we were kids, my father gifted my sister and me a diary. He would remind us every day to write something in it – our thoughts, feelings, daily events. As an exercise, my father would also ask us to write about what we had read in the newspaper or in a book. However, as I wrote, often willingly, sometimes grudgingly, little did I realise that this would set my future in writing.

My handwriting was (and still is) unimpressive. But I would write, nonetheless. During my journalism course year, I took copious notes on my book, long after many of my classmates had graduated to taking notes down on their laptops. Even after I started working, I would take down notes during interviews, until I realised that most people did not have the patience to wait as I tried to write down what they said, verbatim. So, close to a decade ago, my relationship with the pen started its gradual declined as I adapted technology and opted to type my thoughts and stories.

I never gave the transition much of a thought, though, until, one day as I sat down with my kid for his homework, he asked me, ‘Why do I need to write? You are always on your laptop. How come I never see you writing anything on paper.” I realised then that, unlike the inspiration my father had been to me as a writer (I would watch him write poems or travelogues of places we had visited) I may never be one to my son. The reason is quite simple – aside from picking up the pen to jot down a shopping list or a small note in my child’s school diary, I have barely written by hand over the last few years.

The decline of penmanship

In 1657, Philosopher Blaise Pascal excused himself for writing a rather long letter to his friend. What he wrote in French can be translated as, “I had made this letter longer than usual as I did not have the time to make it shorter.” Pascal would surely be in sorrow if he were to visit the world, today. The blue inland post carrying letters from loved ones, the handwritten birthday, Christmas and Diwali greeting cards and even love letters remain memories of the past. People, today, have the time to go online and types pages and pages, but none to write down a few words on a piece of paper.

It is not just adults who are losing the art of writing by hand. Schools, often for convenience, or to adapt themselves to the swiftly changing world, are also embracing technology in the classrooms. To the extent, that the traditional blackboard is being replaced by interactive digital boards, and in some schools, tablets and laptops are taking precedence over notebooks.

Due to the excessive use of touchscreens and tablets right from an early age, children are also finding it difficult to hold pencils and pens. A report in The Guardian quoted UK doctors as saying that most children, today, do not have the dexterity and hand strength that they had 10 years ago. With fewer opportunities to develop their fine motor skills, they find it difficult to grip a pencil and move it.

This early exposure to technology also means that children are spending less time on conventional toys such as puzzles, building blocks and colours - all of which help develop fine motor skills. Schools are also paying less attention to handwriting – where cursive writing was a must when we were in school, many schools have shifted to print and block letters in a bid to save time and teach what is relevant today.

Why handwriting matters

In a world where everything is becoming touch-oriented, why should you pick up a pencil or pen and physically write something down? Well, aside from the sentimental and emotional value of reading something where the writer has taken the effort to pen down their thoughts, writing by hand has numerous other benefits.

Graphology is the study of handwriting and its practitioners claim that they can judge a person’s nature by looking at their handwriting. This is because each person has unique handwriting, and while it may not be possible to accurately read a person’s character just basis of handwriting, writing by hand engages various parts of the brain in ways that typing cannot, and hence could even reflect your mood, as per some studies.

Studies also have shown that pre-school children who have good handwriting often have better maths and reading scores than those who do not. This is because learning alphabets and numbers by writing them down engages the fine motor skills of the finger and hands, the motor skills of the arm and the body, hence exercising the brain a lot more. Further, studies have also shown that the human mind tends to remember things faster when they are written down as opposed to being typed.

In an article in Psychology Today William Klemm, senior professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University writes, “To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. You have to pay attention and think about what and how you are doing it. You have to practise. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.”

Writing is also a cathartic process- it allows you to slow down, think and write down your thoughts, in ways that typing does not.

However, while we may bemoan the impending death of penmanship, it is good to know that not all is lost. One of the world’s most-read and loved books - the Harry Potter series - was written by hand by J.K Rowling. Writer-director Quentin Tarantino also writes all his scripts by hand - according to him, his large, ‘operatic’ scripts demand that he write longhand, putting pen on paper, rather than the impersonal method of typing on the computer.

While I have not gone back to writing down my stories or articles, I try to incorporate handwriting in my daily life. I keep a gratitude journal, where I list down ten things I am grateful about every day. My handwriting has not improved, however, I get satisfaction over the fact that I am finally putting pen to paper again.