In praise of writing by hand (legibility not guaranteed)

No bones about it, I have terrible handwriting. I think it’s legible for the most part, but no one would ever call it nice. I don’t mind so much, but I do get handwriting-envy on more occasions than is normal (I think).

HOWEVER. Despite my poor penmanship, I still love writing things out by hand. I’m always fooled by the keyboard, thinking that I’ll be able to organize my thoughts better, more quickly and in a more logical fashion, but it rarely turns out to be true. Yes, the legibility decreases the more I write, as I find myself scrawling faster and faster so as to get the words out before my brain moves on to the next thought, but I find I care less.

When I’m typing, I’m completely conscious or every typo, spelling error or other sort of mistake that I make and am constantly frustrating myself by going back and correcting things that have really nothing to do with the ideas I’m trying to express. In the end, nothing you write the first time over ends up being the final product, so why should it matter if you’ve typed something wrong or skipped a word or letter here or there? Because things are clearer and because there’s that annoying little red or green squiggle under every mistake made in a furious rush to get the words on the page, every clerical foible takes precedence over the actual flow of script.

According to this article yesterday in GalleyCat, I’m not alone in my thoughts. Apparently, children in a particular study who wrote longhand, wrote “more, faster, and more complete sentences” than when they were faced with a keyboard and computer screen.

I promise you I’m no literary genius, hilarious person, venerable stringer-together of words or class-A wit, but I will say that when I read over notebooks I’ve kept over the years, I surprise myself over what I find there. I’m better pen to paper than I am on a keyboard, but the ease of typing still wins out time and time again, despite this knowledge.

Obviously, final products are pretty much required to be typed in today’s world, and I would feel sorry for the poor person who had to read more than one page of anything hastily scribbled by my own hand.* Ideas, though, personal journaling, observation and sudden flashes of inspiration are so much better served by pen and paper, no matter the legibility. After all, who’s going to really care what it looks like or how much your hand hurts if what comes out is the best thing you’ve thought of yet?

*Sincerest apologies to all of my high school teachers, particularly those of you in the English and history departments. You surely have suffered worse, but condolences just the same.

10 Responses to In praise of writing by hand (legibility not guaranteed)

  1. I find the same is true for me. Handwriting forces my brain to slow down so I can more clearly explain myself. I type so fast that I blow through sentences and ideas without fully explaining them. Plus, who doesn’t love the feeling of a pen in hand?

  2. Since handwriting something takes longer, I think people put more thought into getting a sentence right (or at least closer to right) the first time than they do while typing. I usually type because ideas tend to flee my brain faster than I could write them down, but it does make it much easier to create a poorer passage with the intent to fix it, add in supporting details, and so on at a later point.

  3. Emily Carter says:


    As a kid of 18, I thought my life would be better if I could compose on a typewriter. So following freshman year at college, I purchased a Royal Standard Office typewriter and spent the summer mastering the art. And it has done good for me. But, I do believe writing on a keyboard requires a conscious learning effort. Once done, hey, its faster and I create more junk than I ever use!! :)

  4. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Hmmm…Meetcha halfway on this one; I’m old enough to remember penmanship classes in elementary school, which I was always terrible at; legibility was about the peak of my calligraphic skills. (Al though I hear Emma Thompson always sends her kid’s manauscripts in written longhand, so she must be amazing at it) I have fairly neat printing, which I do for my notebooks, etc., and some while ago I discovered that using an outmoded Brother electronic typewriter kept me closing to my work than using the latest e-board. (Also prevents pesky friends from sending me pix of Lindsay Lohan sideboobing on a skateboard, which can derail a storyline pretty fast) If you poke through your slushpile, you’ll notice the old-fashioned elegance of my signature at the bottom of my typed query, though-one should always at least have enough flash for that!

  5. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Another thing you may notice is that when using a high-speed e-board like I’m using now, one tends to make more typos (see previous post) than by either printing or 20th century typing; makes a difference, in my opinion…

  6. Leila Rheaume says:

    It looks like most people are saying longhand slows them down but I find just the opposite. Typing while I’m writing a first draft slows me down. Like Rachel said, if I’m typing, I feel the need to fix every typo as I go along. When sentences are coming to me one after the other and disappearing (or, at least, losing that all-important perfect word) if I don’t get the idea down fast enough, it’s not in my best interest to stop and fix typos.

    When I’m writing longhand, I feel like I can mess up until the words stop coming and then go back and scribble out mistakes, circle paragraphs and draw arrows to where I really want them in the passage, etc. It just feels so much more organic for me to be able to shape the writing on paper during the first draft. Then I get to go back and iron out the wrinkles when I type it.

  7. My handwriting is worse than a doctor’s, so I am very happy to do all my writing work on my laptop. I usually do all the correction after, so it doesn’t really slow me down.

  8. ryan field says:

    I would give up chocolate faster than write anything in long hand at this point :) I’m also left handed, so that’s never been fun with ink or pencil.

  9. D.C. DaCosta says:

    I think it all depends on:
    1. the decision to accept the fact that it’s a First Draft (and continue to get the ideas on paper while ignoring the mistakes); and
    2. one’s skill as a typist. The “study” about kids doing better when writing longhand probably doesn’t take into account that few kids under age 13 are competent typists.

  10. Pingback: Friday’s Round Up – November 30, 2012 |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>