As holiday shoppers browse the handmade notecards out front, a group assembles in the back of a bright, old-fashioned letterpress shop near Harvard University. The dozen strangers, from their 20s to their 50s, drag stools to the edges of two big classroom-style tables, conspicuously put aside their phones, and then — fueled with passionfruit-flavored spring water — start practicing their penmanship.

Organized by a three-year-old company called Sip & Script, this 90-minute class is part of a slow but sure revival of handwritten communication, a resolute response to the impersonal nature of emails, texts, and online holiday messages and birthday greetings. “It has so much more meaning when it comes in handwriting,” says the instructor, a former elementary school teacher named Jessica Glazier, as her charges bend over their tracing paper. “We’re trying to bring that back, a little at a time.”

They’re not the only ones, as yet another discarded relic from a forgotten age is brought back, dusted off, gussied up, and imbued with a newfound sense of purpose. Letter Writers Alliance, a league of letter-writers, now boasts 15,000 members. Arizona and North Carolina have returned to requiring that elementary school students learn cursive. Crane Stationery is promoting that celebrities, including Tom Brady and Jimmy Fallon, write personal notes by hand. There are monthly get-togethers in a bar in Brooklyn, called Pints & Postage nights, at which stationery is laid out for patrons to send handwritten messages; they may feel inclined to mail off a note wishing friends and family a happy National Handwriting Day on January 23.

What’s the appeal? Handwriting “is very precious to people,” says Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of the etiquette authority Emily Post. “I still want to see my best friend’s loopy handwriting on a card. It’s so much more meaningful than a text message. And I think we put an even higher premium on it in the age of everything digital.”

Handwriting is about “the fuzzy feeling you get when you realize that someone actually sat down and thought of you, or when you write something for yourself.”

“It’s like going for long walks and eating your vegetables,” says Post, who is also co-president of the Emily Post Institute and cohost of the Awesome Etiquette podcast. “There’s a kind of sense that it’s good, it makes you feel good, and it’s a good skill to have.”

Renewed interest in handwriting “is the pendulum swing,” says Sarah Madges, a nonfiction writer and head of projects of the website Handwritten, which is devoted to examples of, and essays about, writing by hand. “We got so far into digital technology without thinking about how it would feel to let go of this thing that was such a part of people’s lives,” she says. “It doesn’t feel the same to get an email as it does to open a letter. You see someone’s personality in a handwritten letter. It feels like it’s just for you. And people want that back.”

So much that marketers and consumers pay companies including Bond, Letterly, and Postalgia to mass-produce notes that appear handwritten. “Handwritten by robots,” Postalgia boasts, without apparent irony. There’s also been a resurgence of cursive-style font in packaging and advertising for big conglomerates that are trying to seem personal and authentic.

They’re missing the point, says Donovan Beeson, co-founder of the 15,000-member Letter Writers Alliance, which encourages handwriting. “What people are looking for, in all aspects of their lives, is authenticity in things,” says Beeson. Handwriting is about “the fuzzy feeling you get when you realize that someone actually sat down and thought of you, or when you write something for yourself,” Julie Mancini, Sip & Script’s co-founder, says.


Trouble is a lot of people are out of practice. Newlywed Hannah Slafsky has come to Sip & Script to brush up on the cursive she says she’ll use in all the thank-you notes she plans to send for wedding gifts. (The classes progress to fancy calligraphy in Japanese ink.) Writing these by hand “feels more personal. You can tell that somebody took some time. It’s just more thoughtful,” Slafsky says as she practices her ovals, slants, and downcurves. “But I’m a little bit rusty.”

No surprise there. Many public elementary schools have dropped cursive; it was famously left out of the Common Core standards and, other than Arizona and North Carolina, only a few states still teach it, including California, Louisiana, and Tennessee. “Instead of being taught cursive, you’re taught typing,” Beeson says.

Handwriting “is just not used typically in everyday life any more,” Post says. It doesn’t have to be; even college and job applications are submitted online. Post, who still has the letters her father sent to her at summer camp, is horrified to learn that summer campers almost universally now hear from home by email. Less than 14 percent of conventional mail today consists of personal correspondence, the U.S. Postal Service says. “We don’t know even where to put the stamp,” says Beeson. “We don’t know how many stamps to put on.”

“Nobody uses it as much as we used to,” says Nancy Martin, an events planner at MIT, who came to Sip & Script to finesse her handwriting skills. She recalls writing a welcome note, by hand, to a newly hired 22-year-old colleague. “He came over and said, ‘Wow, this is cool! I’ve never seen anybody do this before!’” Martin says she fears, “It’s going to be our secret language. When we’re old, the kids won’t understand it.”

“You have every kind of person — the jock, the romantic, the hipster, the lonely. Everyone has a handwriter inside them.”

They’re losing something else, too. Separate research studies at Indiana University and UCLA have shown that writing by hand engages parts of the brain that typing and texting don’t, improving the way people process and remember information. That’s because writing by hand is slower, the UCLA researchers hypothesize, requiring the writer to listen more carefully and discern the most important points.

“When I first read these studies that said there’s more information retention when you handwrite, I thought, that feels true,” says Madges. “It makes you more thoughtful. It makes you more intentional. It’s working with your hands in that slow meaningful way you don’t do at the office.”

The painstaking pace of it has other advantages, say people who are passionate about handwriting. They just like the idea of slowing down.

“It’s so nice when we’re stuck in a digital world to get away from the phone, get away from the technology,” says Glazier, back at Sip & Script. Writing by hand “is a very slow activity. When I was starting, I would pour a glass of wine and put on music. We can take the time to just enjoy the process.”

Tenley O’Shaughnessy, another student in the class, finds handwriting “meditative — almost therapeutic.” A retired marketer who’s now an empty nester, she says she’s sharpening her skills because “I have more time” to handwrite this year’s Christmas cards.

The revival of writing by hand is also surprisingly social. It took little time for all those strangers in the letterpress shop to bond over their shared interest. At those Pints & Postage nights in Brooklyn, “You have every kind of person — the jock, the romantic, the hipster, the lonely,” says Handwritten’s founder, Brett Rawson. “Everyone has a handwriter inside them.” When a museum in Manhattan held a handwriting event, demand was so high “they had to drag out more tables and more chairs,” says Madges. “It was older adults who were nostalgic. There were parents who wanted to share their love of it with their children.”

“Handwriting begets more handwriting,” says Rawson. “I’m inspired every time I’m in a coffee shop working on my laptop trying to meet a deadline and I see someone writing something by hand,” he says. “I’m like, fuck, that’s what I want to be doing.”