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A Post on Penmanship


“The beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting.” — George Bernard Shaw

When was the last time that you thought about penmanship? Probably not a while, right? We do most of our writing on a computer, with the notable exception of the handwritten grocery list that you will inevitably forget on your kitchen counter. With everything being written on a screen, should we ever consider our penmanship or care about handwriting? Maybe this is the time that we should focus on it even more? Well, from what we can tell, it seems like penmanship might be more beneficial than one might presume.

If you wish to learn about the history of American penmanship and how we got to our current writing system, I would highly recommend the Art of Manliness Podcast #482: The Power of Penmanship. This podcast channel is great in general with lots of interesting interviews, but this one gives particularly good insight into the history of penmanship. I’d also recommend listening to this episode before reading this article for a deeper understanding and context.

 

In this article, in order to contribute to the penmanship discussion, I will explain the benefits of good penmanship, and why one should consider writing in cursive in the 21st Century. My main focus will be on the importance and benefits of:

  • Posture
  • Efficiency
  • Aesthetics
  • Engagement

Posture

As the Japanese martial artist Morihei Ueshiba said, “A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind.” Although stance does not apply to us in this article, posture certainly does. Proper posture helps us prevent fatigue and develop a healthy body (particularly your back). It might not appear to be ‘comfortable’, but it will when you are accustomed and apply it correctly.

Although this is a 19th Century German sketch, the rules still apply the same today, considering our skeletal structure cannot evolve in a couple hundred years. It is best to have an inclined desk surface for writing, with a chair that has decent lumbar support. This keeps you from leaning your neck downward and keeps your back straight. Your elbow should be an inch or two off the edge of the desk and your feet should be flat on the ground with your kness at a 90 degree angle. Your non-dominant arm should also be used to stabilize your body and the piece of paper as well (that can be slightly slanted if you prefer). You can buy a desk slant board that will make a flat surface inclined (as shown in the image above). If you can’t get access to an inclined desk surface, make sure your chair is at a proper height. This prevents your shoulders from being too high and your neck from leaning too far downward.

Also, don’t forget to wear appropriate clothing. Dressing in pajamas can be comfortable but it can also incentivize you to slouch. Nevertheless, wearing comfortable shoes is probably more important, especially if they help make your feet flat, comfortable, and less likely to move around. You can even wear a jacket or put a blanket on your legs to keep them from frequently moving! Here’s a helpful link for more information on posture instructions and tips.

The Chair

Especially when working from home, a good chair is essential. There are plenty of affordable options in the modern age, but also plenty of expensive ones. More affordable options around $200 include the Staples Tarance Mesh and the Alera Elusion Series Mesh. Considering how much time we spend sitting, it is ideal to have the best chair that you can afford, just like you should invest in the best bed mattress. If you are able, you might want to look into an ErgoChair 2 at around $350, the Steelcase Series 1 around at $400, the Herman Miller Sayl at around $800, or even a Herman Miller Aeron at $1,250 if it is in your price budget. If possible, test the chairs in person before purchasing one.

The Pencil

Although your posture helps greatly, it is also important to invest in the right tools. In this case pencils are the best tool for practicing your penmanship. Instead of your standard #2 pencils, maybe try Blackwing pencils. This was once a highly desired pencil by artists, but has been recently brought back to provide a more affordable but equally great writing experience of the original Blackwing. The trick is to have good quality graphite and wood, which yellow #2 pencils lack entirely. If you look out for pencils with good graphite and wood, they should provide a practical writing experience.

Efficiency

With good posture comes other benefits, most importantly, speed and efficiency. Good posture leads to comfortable sitting and less stress on your body when writing for long periods of time. It is the same reason why posture is so important when playing instruments, it allows your body to move easily and in a stable position.

Speed

Cursive, thanks to good posture and practice, can help you take better notes in class, especially when you have a fast-paced professor, and even improve your writing. When you are journaling or formulating an argument in an essay, it can be hard to write at the same pace as your thoughts. If you learn to write faster, and in your own style, you can get through your thoughts quicker and avoid having your hand cramps hold you back.

Research from the University of Washington has also found that students who wrote in cursive “wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas”, compared to those who wrote with a keyboard. Although this research was done in middle and elementary students, our hand muscles aren’t too complex. It is never ‘too late’ to start improving your penmanship.

One tip that we reccommend is to spend time practicing your penmanship while jounrnaling. You can even create a random story if you prefer, just find a written task that requires minimum thought. Through that task, you can focus intently on every letter you write. The more you practice writing with intention, the quicker your beautiful handwriting will become second nature. Also, don’t forget about posture when writing your beautifully handwritten letter, your body will thank you in the long run!

The Style

Simply put, cursive is undisputedly a faster style of handwriting. The letters of words connect, and the movement of your hand is less rigid than standard handwriting. Cursive form allows your hand to glide across the page, while standard (block letter) handwriting requires you to write each letter one at a time. Our hands are also better at drawing curves, rather than lines, and is a more natural form of writing. Not only is cursive efficient and less stressful, it is quite beautiful!

Aesthetics

Let’s be honest, there’s nothing more satisfying than to see good cursive handwriting. Sometimes it is hard to realize that somebody did that and not a machine, especially when seeing the work of master penmen. Other languages like Russianalso have very unique cursive styles, and regularly use cursive because of how efficient it can be. Besides technique, it is important to also begin using a pen on a regular basis. It requires less energy than a pencil and simply creates a better writing aesthetic.

The Pen

If you are feeling more comfortable with your handwriting and are less prone to errors, it is best for style, comfort, and aesthetic to use a fountain pen. It may appear to be ‘old fashioned’ or expensive, but it is more cost effective in the long run!

The Goulet Pen Co. is our reccomended pen supplier, providing everything you need ranging from inks, pens, to paper and other accessories. For a beginner, the Pilot Metropolitan is a classic, sturdy fountain pen that will not break the bank. Ranging from $15–20, along with an ink piston converter or ink cartridge option, it is a small price that will last you many years!

You can eventually upgrade to a gold nib fountain pen, which is much softer and produces an even more elegant look to your writing. They can range anywhere from $90-$5,000 depending on your price point, so just make sure to search through YouTube and The Goulet Pen Co. to find the right one for you. A finer pen will provide a finer experience, and eventually encourage you to write in cursive habitually!

Engagement

Writing in cursive will also incentivize you to write by hand more often, as well to other people. This connects to a particularly good point in the AOM Podcast (mentioned in the introduction) that penmanship gives us a stronger sense of humanity and connection to others. When you write somebody a letter it not only shows your personal style, but also indicates to the person that you put effort into connecting with them. Every letter they see is yours, and not Times New Roman.

Whenever you write, your mind must locate each spot on the paper to ink, remember the size of different letters, space everything out properly, and then perform the task for each letter. This requires an active brain and thus allows you to be closely engaged with whatever you are writing. Since writing by hand creates an association between the task and what you are writing, it can be particularly helpful when creating a to-do list or taking notes in class. Research has also found that cursive is much more beneficial than block letter writing, especially considering the “better sense of personal style and ownership” that it creates.

This is also why it can be similarly beneficial to use a typewriter once in a while. Although it is closer to the computer when it comes to the written style, and certainly more expensive, it takes more time and intent than typing up an email. Typewriters also lack spellcheck and iMessage, allowing you to write in the moment without distraction. Check out our post on typewriters if this topic interests you.

 

Especially during this interesting time of lockdowns and isolation, it might be the perfect time to work on our handwriting. Many people have a little extra time these days and this could be a worthier pursuit than binging Parks and Recreation (although I can understand). Maybe one can create a better relationship with an acquaintance or distant relative through handwritten notes? Maybe we just need something right now to remind us of our humanity. One can loose a sense of it when we all know each other through is Times New Roman.


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