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Forty years ago today, on January 23, 1977, National Handwriting Day was established in honor of John Hancock’s birthday. Hancock was the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence, and he did it with style and pizazz. In fact, the term, “John Hancock” has become synonymous with signing your name.

I don’t know about you, but my signature doesn’t have the elegance and ornamentation of Hancock’s but if I were signing a document as important as our Declaration of Independence, I’d certainly strive to make my signature pretty and legible.

When I was a child we practiced handwriting, forming loops and curls on that three lined paper we got in class. I even tried my hand at writing backward, a method Leonardo Da Vinci used to keep his notes secret from others. Although why no one thought to hold the paper up to a mirror, is a mystery to me. I don’t think the teacher was thrilled with my Da Vinci-like efforts, though. Trying my hand at writing left-handed was also intriguing (I’m a rightie). That came about because I had an aunt who had a stroke and had to learn how to right with the opposite hand. She did a fairly decent job of it, too. Much better than my attempts.

Today, as I understand it, cursive writing isn’t being widely taught to school children. The advance of computers and keyboards on cellphones is making a big dent in the upcoming generation’s ability to write in cursive. Apparently, they are still being taught to print, but not to write cursive. That’s a big shame, because learning, and writing, cursive has more value than producing an attractive signature.

Thinking about the loss of the ability to write, and by default read, cursive makes me wonder if the printed word and all the world’s computer files should ever be completely destroyed by some disaster, leaving nothing but ancient cursive letters, journals, and such, how will future generations be able to read the Declaration of Independence, or the Magna Carta, or peek into their ancestors diaries and love letters? Ooh! Story idea! But I digress.

According to experts, practicing the loops and curls of cursive writing leads to greater language fluency. Writing also helps develop fine motor skills, engages your brain in a way the keyboard doesn’t, and helps you focus. When you write your brain gets primed to react in a literate way. Who doesn’t want to be more literate?

The physical act of writing can be a peaceful activity, if you don’t have a death grip on your pen or pencil. That will give you hand cramps. And who can be peaceful when they’re in pain?

Putting words on paper by hand also helps you remember. Think about what happens when you forget your grocery list. Can you envision the words on the paper? I can. I managed to get straight As in my high school zoology class because I wrote the teacher’s notes from the board and was able to visualize what he, and I had written. It didn’t hurt that he tested straight from those notes, either. ☺

Your handwriting is also a part of your identity. Experts can tell who wrote something by comparing the way the letters are formed and connected. You can look at someone’s handwriting and, if you are familiar with it, identify who wrote it. And you can always identify your own signature, which comes in handy if your IRS refund check gets stolen.

So today, and maybe even this whole week, celebrate John’s birthday and National Handwriting Day. Here are some ideas you can use to have fun with this little known holiday.

  • Pen a note to a family member you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Surprise a friend with a handwritten letter, and I don’t mean one of the hundreds of FB friends you might have. Typing the note on FB won’t count.
  • Start a handwritten journal or diary—the kind you used when you were a child, except more grown-up. Choose a lovely bound book that feels luxurious when you open it. You could even treat yourself to an expensive pen to use solely with the journal. Make the exercise an experience.
  • Write a poem in longhand. For me, it’s the only way to write poetry. It just doesn’t flow on the computer.
  • Write a chapter of your book in longhand. Go outside if the weather’s good, or take the tablet and pencil to the nearest coffee shop. Make it a special event.
  • Try your hand at writing backwards. It takes real concentration to make readable letters. Then hold your work up to the mirror and read it. Or see if your kids can read what you’ve written. It might blow their minds.
  • Buy, or download, some handwriting practice paper, like you used in grade school, the kind that showed you how to high to make the hump in your h, m, m, and circles in the b, d, p, q, and where to cross your t and dot your i. Try forming your letters on it. In the photo at the top of this blog, I practiced a bit on handwriting paper. I don’t remember it being so hard when I was in grade school. It took concentration to get my letters in the right spots, and I think I missed the mark on some of them.
  • Practice writing your signature for autographing your bestselling, or future bestselling, books at signings.
  • Buy a calligraphy pen and see if you can create a signature that rivals the flowery one John Hancock used on the Declaration of Independence. You might be surprised what a little practice will do for your handwriting.

How about you—do you have a suggestion to add? Do you like to write in cursive or do you prefer to print?