There is a curious satisfaction in putting pen to paper (especially when that pen is a Muji 0.38mm — try it, it’ll change your life). The simple act of writing down a word becomes a pleasant activity. In the margins of nearly all my notebooks, you can find the word “hello” written over and over again in cursive, simply because I enjoy the way the familiar loops of the “H’s” and the “L’s” flow out of my hand. It’s my go-to mindless doodle.
The topic of teaching cursive in school has been hotly debated, especially since states began to adopt the Common Core standards, which don’t include cursive in the elementary school curriculum. Some say it takes too much time to teach and isn’t necessary in this age of technology, where typing is much faster than either kind of handwriting anyway. Proponents of cursive insist that it helps develop fine motor skills, helps improve creativity and that knowing cursive is necessary to read vital historical documents like the Declaration of Independence or your grandmother’s love letters.
A dive into the actual literature behind these claims shows that support for cursive is largely conflated with evidence supporting handwriting in general, whether that be print or cursive. But there actually is ample evidence supporting the cognitive and creative benefits of handwriting. It activates different parts of the brain than typing and aids memory and understanding. When I recently received a handwritten letter from a friend, I felt obliged to reply in kind. I was surprised, as I penned my reply, at how different it felt to compose on paper versus on my computer. It forces you to take stock of your thoughts before you ink them in, adding a deliberation to your writing that is easy to bypass on a computer, where you have the option to easily delete and edit your words. There seems to be a reason why writers such as Quentin Tarantino, Joyce Carol Oates and Neil Gaiman still prefer writing their first drafts by hand.
Writing can even be a form of meditation. Julia Cameron, creativity guru and author of “The Artist’s Way,” swears by a ritual called “morning pages” — essentially, handwriting three pages of pure stream of consciousness first thing in the morning in order to clear your mind and boost productivity for the rest of the day. Multiple people concur, including artists, entrepreneurs and businesspeople.
For me, it is a practice that is grounding, reminding me that I exist in the world, keeping me from getting sucked into the whirlpool of my own mind. It concretizes my thoughts — which, for someone in an almost constant state of frenzy snared with self-doubt, can be clarifying.
Technology undoubtedly makes a lot of things, including my job as a copy editor, much easier. At the same time, I appreciate having the ability to close my laptop and pick up a notebook if I feel like it. It’s why I hope they don’t stop teaching handwriting in elementary schools anytime soon, even if it’s likely that the love letters our grandchildren read will be screenshots of Tinder conversations. So even if you’re not convinced, try it sometime. Write a letter, or a journal entry, or even a word. Take some satisfaction in the beauty of it, and in the process you’ll be keeping an art form alive.