I was talking to my dissertation advisor recently about some sources I was planning to use in my research when he said, “If you read script…” and then gave me the archive at which housed original letters and journals from the subject of my study. “I read script,” I said simply. I didn’t tell him, not only do I read it, but I also write it and have been able to do so since I was eight. I remember those script letters (sometimes called cursive) above the chalkboard there to remind me how to form the letters. Modern students might be surprised that not only was I required to write in script, but my penmanship was graded as well. I took great pride in forming my letters correctly.
I know all the arguments for abandoning handwriting lessons. Some of them are valid and some are not. I can tell you from experience that schools have largely abandoned hand-writing lessons and stopped teaching keyboarding making students able to read but they struggle with writing. It was painful to watch teenagers writing in big block letters like a kindergartener. Since I am a writer, I can’t imagine living in a world where I could not write down my thoughts quickly and effectively.
About the same time I learned script, I received my first diary. If you are as old as I am, perhaps you remember the little diary with a lock and key. We didn’t write anything scintillating in it, at least I didn’t. The pages were filled with I went roller skating today, Laurel is my best friend and I think Timmy A is cute. I know now this was more than an exercise in penmanship. For a writer, keeping a diary, no matter how sporadic, taught me that what I was thinking and feeling was important. Logging it in a way where I could come back and examine my thoughts was important. It makes me a better human being. The diary allowed me to grow my understanding of myself and the world around me. I also learned that what was so vitally important one day may not be days later. Later in life, I used long-hand writing as a way to record things that were happening that I knew I wanted to remember but, in the moment, it was too difficult to think or even grasp fully what was happening. In this way, I recorded sitting with my father in the emergency room after his stroke and an ex-fiancé’s suicide attempt.
Writing in script is not just a nostalgia I long for. It appears to many creative writers, writing their first draft in script, what we call “long-hand” is part of their creative process. My mother, a poet, wrote all her creative work in long-hand first. I would recognize my mother’s neat, elongated script anywhere. I wrote my first novel, at age fifteen, all in long-hand in a composition notebook. I have many creative friends who write all their creative work in long-hand first. It isn’t because they are anachronistic, it is because they see a value in it.
We could debate the values of writing or not writing long-hand in script. In many instances, it is inefficient. But in letting script slowly slip away, we need to acknowledge we are losing something especially important. Script is more than just documenting. It is a way to be creative and thoughtful. There’s something different about holding a pen in your hand and writing on a piece of paper. Studies have already shown that students who take notes long-hand retain more information. When writing in script, there’s something going on between the hand, the paper, and the brain (and perhaps the heart) that is just too important to lose. There’s plenty of websites to teach you how to do it. Go buy one of those journals, get yourself a pen that feels good in your hand and start writing.