Apparently, January 23 is National Handwriting Day. My handwriting is pretty bad, so instead of a post about handwriting, let's talk about hand-writing. (Thanks, hyphen!)

First, let me be clear that I'm not talking about the writing we see in those beautiful calligraphy Instagrams and TikToks. If that kind of stuff is meditative or whatever for you, please do more of it. I have fun trying, but I'm not good at it.

a pen illustration illustrating Margot Lester's post on bio writing

Benefits of handwriting vs typing

The benefits of writing by hand accrue regardless of how pretty or even legible your writing is. Research shows that because it's slower than typing (for most of us, anyhow) it improves our cognitive processing. Pardon me for quoting myself:

The reason is cognitive processing, a fancy term for how our brains evaluate, store and recall information, and then use it to solve problems and make decisions. The Princeton–UCLA research found that when we take notes by hand, we listen more carefully, distill the information we hear, and summarize it, rather than writing everything down verbatim as we’re prone to do when typing. This more active thinking improves understanding and retention.

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Writing by hand also helps us center and ground ourselves by capturing our thoughts and doodles, channeling our creativity and helping us organize our ideas. I am a long-time list-maker, and though I can totally do it on my phone or iPad, I still do it by hand. The analog nature of it feels organic and immediate and more permanent than pixels in the ether. But, yeah, it's a drag when I realize in the store that I left my list on the kitchen counter.

Why keeping a journal is good for you

Some people are surprised to hear that I'm not a big journaler. I've started and stopped journaling so many times in my life. Every time I start, I feel a giant eye-roll coming on for some reason. But every time I stop, I realize it was beneficial in some way. I guess maybe I'm a situational journaler? A lot of professionals journal on the regular. Here's one reason why:

“There’s real value to being able to empty our overloaded minds,” says Katie Mazzocco, entrepreneurial productivity coach and CEO of Full Spectrum Productivity in Imperial, PA. “In our culture of constant noise, it adds clarity to our ideas.” She sees true profit value in journaling. “I have lots of clients who have a tendency to abandon a current project that is producing revenue to pursue an idea that isn’t fully developed. Incomplete ideas don’t make money. You’re actually losing money by not finishing a project in progress.”

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Gratitude journal benefits

The one kind of journal I do keep going is a gratitude journal. Almost every night for the last three years I've been writing three things I'm thankful for, three positive intentions for the next day, and three things I like about myself. It takes maybe 30 seconds, but the impact is tangible. It doesn't mean that I don't feel sad or lonely or chippy sometimes. Of course I do. But the duration of those feelings is shorter and their depth is shallower. That's pretty cool.

Benefits of nature journaling

I've also been experimenting with nature journaling. Last Fall, I kept a weekly journal of the activities on a redbud tree in my backyard, as part of the National Phenology Network's Nature's Notebook initiative. I tracked some data (like the percentage of leaves that had turned or fallen) and made some qualitative measures, too, like what changes *I* was experiencing during the season and what kind of mood I was in. I also wrote about how fun and fulfilling it was to participate in a citizen science project.

This year, I've started a nature journal that I take with me when I go on hikes or visit arboretums and botanical gardens. The practice sharpens my observational skills and deepens my connection to the natural world. It also reminds me to thank the universe for these natural gifts and to think about a way to express that gratitude tangibly (like picking up trash or signing up for an invasive species removal project at the site).

The result of these two kinds of journal-keeping is a new class I'm developing that combines both forms. I'm excited to tell you more about that later!

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