Well, darn—I missed it!

Who knew?

Now I do, and you will too …

National Handwriting Day is celebrated (by silly, old-fashioned letter-writers like me) on January 23, the birthday of the American Revolutionary leader and first signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, John Hancock.

Here he is, looking ever so dapper with his white wig and feather pen:

Portrait of John Hancock (1737-1793) by John Singleton Copley, 1765, via Wikipedia

This unlikely holiday was declared by the charismatic Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association in 1977 “to acknowledge the history and influence of penmanship.”

A mission dear to my heart.

Admittedly, my main motivation for writing by hand is nostalgia, a deep desire to preserve the tangibility of pen and paper in an increasingly digital era. But, it turns out, handwriting is worth much more than its weight in historical charm. Rock-solid research indicates that the trend toward phasing out penmanship in favor of touch-screen and keyboard proficiency should be carefully reconsidered.

Just the facts, ma’am:

  • According to the information aficionados at Hanover Research, teaching handwriting skills boosts cognitive development and motor skills in school children and can also help improve writing skills and reading comprehension.
  • Another study, led by University of Washington Professor Virginia Berninger, proved that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard involve different brain patterns and lead to different results. When kids in the study wrote by hand, they actually produced more words faster than they did on a keyboard, and they also expressed more ideas, suggesting that handwriting is associated with heightened creativity.
  • The Pen Is Mightier than the Keyboard, a study published last year by researchers from Princeton and UCLA, showed that adults also benefit from handwriting when it comes to taking notes. “When laptops are used solely to take notes, they may be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing,” say the authors. “In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.”

I may not be a linguistic expert, but I interpret those findings to also imply that handwriting letters trumps typing every time. Anecdotally, at least, I’ve found that penning engages the heart more profoundly than poking at keys, and recipients relish the results.

Engraving of “The Love Letter,” painted by Edward Henry Corbould via Wikimedia Commons

Haven’t handwritten in a while? Give it a go in honor of the recent holiday, and try a touch of whimsical lettering for an extra dose of fun.

Leave a comment 9 Comments

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    You know how I love to write handwritten notes. It just feels good to sit and write to someone on a pretty card. I always feel better after I have written a note or letter because when you are writing, you are fully engaged in your thoughts with that person. For some reason, typing on the computer just doesn’t produce the same effect at all.

  2. Cindi says:

    This recent push to abolish cursive handwriting from schools in favor of printing and typing is one more thing to make me wonder whatever happened to basic logic and common sense. For one thing, it is much faster than printing. It is also more beautiful! I place it in the same category as art. To me, writing is a form of artistic expression. It has moods, too! Oh my, the many times I have used writing to vent anger, express sadness or share joy. There is nothing like it. I would like very much if the geniuses that come up with these ridiculous ideas would think of something more constructive to do. Maybe we should send them handwritten letters so they can feel the joy of receiving something personal in that mailbox out front 🙂

  3. As you know MaryJane, I am all in favor of letters, as I have sent a few to you and always my other friends as well. I have wretched handwriting, a product of going to 8 different schools in 3 states, by my senior High School year where there was no continuity of learning to say the least. But I still write letters! And when I was in college I discovered I could look at the board ( do they still use blackboards anymore? ) and write without looking at what I was doing, great for class notes . And the handwriting was no worse, haha.
    Yep, with all that research to back it up, I guess we all need to write more and type less!

  4. CJ Armstrong says:

    I vote for handwritten letters and notes. I send them regularly and love to receive them. There is nothing like a sweet note on a beautiful card, or an “epistle” handwritten on lovely writing paper from a friend or relative.

    • MaryJane says:

      Don’t we know about your love of letter writing! We got the sweetest, long card/letter from you for Christmas. We passed it around remarking what a good letter writer CJ is.

  5. Virginia Meyer says:

    You know, it just makes me cry that my children (ages 18 and 22) cannot read or write cursive handwritting. I wasn’t even aware of it, until recently, when I asked my daughter to read me a letter that had been hand written. (I couldn’t find my glasses and, well, she has younger eyes….lol) She took one look at it and handed it back and said, “I’ll help you find your glasses.” Wha’?! Yep. You guessed it, she couldn’t read it. My jaw darn near hit the floor. Then I apologized to her for not being a good mom. I had no idea that my kids were not learning/using cursive writting in school. Wow!

  6. LisaH says:

    I was doing some of my own research recently on letter writing. Did you know there is a Letter-Writers Alliance? It is only $5 join. They not only connect people but they have some really cool stuff you can buy, too. http://letterwriters.org/#about. One of the things I decided to do this year is keep track of all the correspondence I send throughout the year. It has helped me already to be more aware of how often I keep in touch with different loved ones and friends. I adore handwritten letters and notes. Sadly, I send a whole lot more than I ever receive. I always hear the same thing from people. “I love getting letters from you. I just don’t have time to write”. It makes me sad because the ones I have received, I keep. I enjoy reading them years later. I had a pen pal in England that I had been corresponding with since I was seven (about 39 years). We had only spoken once by phone, a lavish birthday present when I was ten. In 2009 I traveled to London and we finally met in person. Her letters are precious to me. I love the whole process. Everything from selecting the paper and pen to making the envelope and choosing the stamp. If people love to receive handwritten letters so much, why can they not find the time to send one themselves?

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  8. Melva Vick says:

    I love to write letters and cards. I still send them to my relatives and friends for all occasions. I hear the Post Office mail carriers say there are not many cards in the mail. It is such fun to write real pretty on the envelope…to hope to brighten someone’s day. I love calligraphy and try to improve using art mixed with it.
    I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. Maybe I am not alone – loving to hand write !

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