Sometimes the perfect style is a messy one
When did you first start noticing other people's handwriting, and comparing it to your own? For me, it was my first year of high school. My friends had already developed their own styles, my art teacher's writing was mesmerizing, and I was jealous.
In my eyes, my writing did not measure up. No style, no cool factor.
I decided to do something about it.
Mum, at my request, bought me a handwriting book meant for younger children. The kind where you trace each letter of the alphabet nice and big, multiple times. I tore out a page from a magazine showing handwriting that I admired, and traced that, too. Over and over and over. And over.
It took a while for the practice to pay off, but I was eventually able to put a mental tick in the improve-my-handwriting box. When I was at Uni studying graphic design I loved the topic of my final art history dissertation. So much, in fact, that I wrote it in sepia ink on torn-edge parchment paper into a book I bound myself. My part-time job while studying was as a calligraphy tutor. I wasn’t as good as many, still plenty of flaws to work on, but I was happy with how far I’d come.
Sounds like success, right?
Why, then, after all that effort and praise, would I choose to throw it all away and embrace messiness?
This Is Why I Write Messy on Purpose
First let me tell you what didn't influence that decision.
- because I care that people might think I'm vain (I don't)
- because I don't want anyone else feeling bad that their handwriting isn't neat (I don't care what your writing looks like as long as I can read it)
- because having nice handwriting is something to hide (it's not)
This is not the case of an ugly duckling-turned-swan who now feels ashamed of her gorgeous plumage. I deliberately write with what looks like a careless hand on a semi-daily basis is because it's good for my productivity, my brain health, and for getting ideas across in the way I want them heard.
It's me, not you. Let me explain.
I find it faster to write in a scrawl than to write neatly. This lets me get the 10 ideas I try to write each morning down as quickly as possible. I don’t want those elusive wisps of inspiration to evaporate before I can grasp their tail feathers and pull them down into my notebook. If I take too long with one, the others might disappear or morph into something else.
I can type at around eighty-five words a minute when warmed up, but that's no substitute for the nourishing tactile experience of writing by hand. On real paper. Speed is important, but it's not the only consideration.
Taking an every day activity and doing it differently every now and then has been shown to be good for brain health.
“What happens in your brain while you're doing this becomes exercise because different, underused nerve pathways and connections get activated. The result is the production of a kind of natural brain fertilizer that strengthens nerve connections and helps them and your nerve cell receivers (dendrites) stay younger and stronger.” ~ Lawrence C. Katz Ph.D., and Manning Rubin
Occasionally I'll try writing with my non-dominant hand for good measure. No one ever praises writing done with my left hand. Hooray! Somehow that takes the pressure off. I'm not naturally ambidextrous, but I've practiced a lot, so it's legible.
To my eyes it's refreshing to see the looseness and unevenness of my messy writing on a page. It has more life, spontenaity. Less care about getting down and dirty when there's a job to be done.
How do you hold your pen when writing quickly? My Mum taught me to hold the pen between my index and pointer fingers when I had a lot of writing to do—something we both have in common with Taylor Swift. Because this isn't my usual grip, my writing automatically gets looser and less even when I hold my pen like this. I'm more than ok with that. Try it! You won’t need to apply as much pressure from your fingers to hold the pen, so your hand won’t tire as fast.
Getting the Right Message Across
You wouldn't wear a tuxedo to do the gardening (sorry for making assumptions about your life) and you're unlikely to attend a graduation ceremony in your gym clothes. The same principles help me decide when to write carelessly and when to be neat. I match the style of my handwriting to the occasion, to what feels appropriate at the time. This can look like–
- a scrawled note on a scrap of paper with details someone has asked for
- a carefully written page of notes on a topic I enjoy
- a messy list of ideas in a brainstorming session
- a beautifully penned thank you note to a customer who was patient while we sorted out some website glitches
Now to turn a logical point on its head. Sometimes wearing a ball gown to mark assignments or sort the mail might be just what you need to keep from going crazy. Mundane tasks are necessary, but you're in charge. You don't need to let anyone shove their personal “shoulds” down your throat.
Some people believe that messy handwriting is a sign of an intelligent, creative mind, while others think an ugly scrawl simply means you’re lazy. Opinions. That’s all they are.
Dress for the Occasion
Remember the ugly duckling to swan analogy I mentioned at the start?
Another comparison you might like to consider is the experience a girl that other people have labelled “beautiful” has to live, every day.
Should she worry that she's giving out the wrong message, simply by being herself? Should she wear dowdy clothes and horn-rimmed spectacles so as not to draw too much attention? Should we ignore her opinion because a pleasing outer package doesn't usually go with intellect? Should the tall girl wear flats, and stoop, so she won't stand out in a crowd?
Of course not, to all the above.
It's past time for society to acknowledge that the girl they've labelled as “beautiful” gets to choose, without consulting them, when to wear her little black dress and when to don her scruffy gardening threads.
Change Your Handwriting, Expand Your Writing Wardrobe
If you're reading this with a wistful heart because your writing isn't yet where you'd like it to be, why not do something about it, like I did?
If you think it’s too late or that you don’t have time, you’re wrong. It is not too late, and you do have time. Anyone who can pick up a pen has time to shape the way their writing looks. Find a style you like, and copy your heart out.
Believe me when I say your writing won't end up looking exactly like the model you choose. Over time your personality will shine through in a curve here, a loop there. Remember—one brand of speech came forth from England to America, Australia, and New Zealand. Just look at the variations in the English language that have evolved in each of those places!
Your writing will go through a similar transformation over time. Still delightfully readable, but unmistakeably yours.
- If your handwriting is poor, you can improve it—find a style you like and copy it over and over again.
- Once you can write neatly, choosing to be messy from time to time can be good for your productivity.
- Brain health improves when we change the way we do daily tasks.
- In some situations, messy writing can help to get your message across in a way that careful script can't.
- There's a parallel between how you choose to write and the clothes you choose for different occasions.