The Lovely Habit of Writing a Journal or Letter – in Longhand

Back in the days when people kept secrets, and privacy was guarded preciously, people kept personal journals. Some kept diaries, which were even more private. High School girls bought little books with locks on them and recounted the whimsy or heartbreak of each passing day. “Dear Diary….” Diaries were rarely shared, but journals, well, they were the grandparents of blogs.

0615henbc (2) - CopySince there have been pen and ink, people have recorded whatever they deemed worthy: Feelings, events, scientific exploration. As a family historian of sorts, I appreciate the written records that these people left. I have the letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother in WWI, and I can see where he hesitated sometimes on a page. Sometimes, the intensity of the thoughts being conveyed are also conveyed in the penmanship – more or less careful, more or less pressure on the page.

Letters were carefully handcrafted, lovingly written, and gratefully received. We are still touched when we receive that thoughtful sympathy note or thank you card, showing the time and attention that the sender put into communicating a personal message.

Our penmanship says a lot about us. Whether we are detailed or careless, happy or sad, and many other traits are found there. There’s a whole fascinating science, graphology, that studies this, and analyzes handwriting traits. Our penmanship is very personal, although we were all taught the same basic handwriting skills in elementary school. I’ll bet many of us remember excitement at graduating from block printing to “cursive” writing.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Most children today are learning to communicate primarily with a keyboard (sometimes a very tiny one) rather than a pencil or pen. As a result, an increasing number of US school districts are abandoning the teaching of cursive script writing altogether. I find this very sad, and a little troubling. If they can’t write script, they will also have trouble reading it, and so much beauty is found in the original handwritten documents of our past.

On the flip side of this block font movement are the people whose sensibilities embrace penmanship and all it brings with it.  A font is actually being developed to mimic Sigmund Freud’s handwriting.  And there are good arguments for continuing to take the tine to write our thoughts out in long hand sometimes.

writeSo much of the art of living is lost in shortcuts. I keep paper notebooks where I scribble my thoughts for future blogs, notes about family history research, and questions for my financial planner. I love doing my daily puzzles with a pen rather than on my Kindle with a stylus. I doodle in the margins of the newspaper while I’m thinking, and it’s relaxing.

Do I use my electronic devices to save data later? Sure. My family tree software is the well-organized repository for an incredible amount of information. I cull through my random thoughts and type blogs.  I have Excel spreadsheets for the numbers in our financial goals.

But there’s just something about noodling things out in those notebooks that nobody else ever looks at. Sketching out my random thoughts and feelings, before I choose to share some of them. In my own (sometimes not so) fine hand, I work through the chaos and find my message. It’s almost therapeutic, and certainly something I hope to continue as long as my hands, and my mind allow.

My grandchildren still write handwritten thank you notes, but they also Facebook me and do most of their writing on their phones and iPads.  I hope as they get older, they will appreciate the consideration of the handwritten word as well.  I always will.

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18 Responses to The Lovely Habit of Writing a Journal or Letter – in Longhand

  1. denawrites says:

    As a graphologist and journal writer, I’ve found that the moment I start to write about an idea or feeling I’ve held for many years—-I see it from a whole different perspective. It’s really mind-blowing.


  2. As much as I love electronics, I’m a big fan of writing. 😉


  3. Peter S says:

    I wonder if my 3 year old son will learn cursive at school, if not we’ll just have to teach him ourselves. Strange to think that in the future he might have trouble reading my handwriting!


  4. SimplySage says:

    I think this post needs to be Freshly Pressed, by the way. Excellent thoughts.


  5. Pazlo says:

    Curious…do you keep all your journals? Do you have journals and notebooks going back years or decades? I’m guessing yes.
    What do you think that means, keeping all those notes, all those “records”?
    How about photos? Do you have old ones? Still print new ones? Are they all on a camera or phone or laptop or cloud?

    What happens to all of these “records”? Our blogs and emails and all the communications that go on here in cyberspace? One delete button and all four of my blogs are GONE FOREVER.
    It would take a building fire or a generational housecleaning to get rid of all the photos, 8mm movies, old periodicals and other bits I have here in the real world.

    It saddened me the other day to think that if I died there would be a handful of people that I’ve never met that have been the only ones to read these words. Eventually, they’d be deleted after inactivity. And all this…all this “cyber-me” will be as if I didn’t exist.

    In a purely zen way, it’s rewarding to think of “leaving no mark behind but footprints.”

    Here’s to words, from one wordsmith to another.

    Be at peace,



    • Interesting, thoughts, Paz. I’m so glad you stopped by today, and shared them!
      In my genealogy searches, I’ve found some wonderful things – and when we have thoughts written by the hand of an ancestor, it’s like seeing an organic piece of them – they feel more like real people and less like a story. Since genealogy is a way of connecting to our families and who we are, I really love seeing not just their thoughts, but some of their characters as well, through their handwriting. In those cases, I love seeing everything they left behind. I archive those things digitally, however, so that I can easily share them with other family members! 😉


    • SimplySage says:

      I thought about my blog if something happened to me. I’ve got my sign-in and password in a place for my oldest daughter to take it over or preserve it should something ever happen to me. She’s gonna be our family historian—she’s the sentimental one—and she’ll be great at taking it over. Only time will tell. 🙂


  6. Pingback: Future Challenge – Note to Self (Longhand or Keyboard?) | The Retiring Sort

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