Bad writing to feel good

Leslie Nielsen is (was) a genius. That’s undisputed fact. But beyond the Airplanes, Fraud Squads and Naked Guns is a film I remember from my childhood — Bad Golf Made Easier. The refrain sticks with me:

I don’t play golf to feel bad, I play bad golf, but I feel good.

Bear with me — this is relevant.

I often look at my terrible, terrible penmanship, my almost illegible childlike scrawl, and wonder why the hell I spend so much on pens and ink and paper, and why I devote so much of my time and energy on this hobby.

It’s like having a Ferrari but being the world’s worst driver. Or being the kind of golfer that rocks up to the club with all the best gear, but can’t hit a ball to save his life. Surely you have to have beautiful handwriting to justify the beautiful pens?

That kind of logic is pretty difficult to argue with. Particularly when your Instagram feed is indeed filled with truly beautiful handwriting, that’s more than an equal for the ink and nib delivering it.

So here’s how I rationalise it. It’s simple: my handwriting would look even worse with a £1 biro. And it really would.

But there are a few other arguments I like to roll out.

First, I enjoy it. I really, truly, enjoy the feel of nib on paper, the colours, sheen and shading I get from my inks, the engineering involved in a quality pen. That in itself is worth the price of admission. And since I have a pen in my hand for most of the working day, I get plenty of enjoyment.

Second, the investment drives me to get better. There is a bit of shame, I admit, at using an exquisite gold nib to scrawl like a four year old. So I try to work on my letter forms, my cursive — and even the quality of the thinking behind my writing. I try to live up to my tools, just a little.

And finally… pens and ink are a hell of a lot cheaper than other hobbies. Like golf. Or drugs. Hell, I’ve got an obsessive personality and I’ve gone “down the rabbit hole” on flashlights, knives and multitools, cameras and lenses, and any number of other hobbies in the past. Sure, there are pens that cost thousands of pounds — but a bottle of ink costs about as much as a bottle of wine, and lasts a hell of a lot longer. There are worse ways I could be spending my money.

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