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How I Improved My Handwriting But Didn’t

Seems like a lot of folks want to improve their handwriting. I’ve had “improve my handwriting” on my to do list for most of my adult life. A few years ago I decided to put forth a serious, prolonged effort. Here’s what I felt worked for me in improving my handwriting:

  • Finding an example of what I wanted my writing to look like. I ended up with a mix of Spencerian and Palmer, but having properly written forms to use as a guide was enlightening, and more than once I found that my memory of how letters were formed was wrong.
  • Identifying the problems I need to solve. I made a list of the items that needed to be fixed. Lower case r’s and k’s, for example, were obvious, others less so. I knew that some words always became a train-wreck when I wrote them but figuring out the exact cause was key. For example, the word survey, which is a problem given that I do a lot of surveys in my job, always caused me trouble. I learned that the reason why is the ve combination. The v ends high, and the e wants to start low. I found a properly written example and copied it. I still have a wreck now and then, but I can write it neatly when I need to.
  • Fixing one problem at a time. First I didn’t like the way my r’s looked, so I figured out what kind of r I wanted to make, did some drills, and then worked to adopt it in everyday writing. After I knew I could make r’s the way I wanted I moved on to other problems, like the ve letter combination.
  • Getting rid of letters that I think are ugly, stupidly constructed, or just annoying. the capital Q that looks like a 2, the capital G that has a beer belly, and a few others have been banished and replaced with sensible alternatives. My goal is neat handwriting, not strict adherence to a particular style.
  • Crossing out anything that’s not up to snuff and rewriting it. It forces me to slow down and write neatly, and it helps kill old habits. There are spots in my journal where a word might be crossed out 5 or 6 times on a bad day.
  • Remembering that I only improve when I’m trying to improve. Writing neatly is not a thoughtless process. Therefore, if I want to write more neatly, I have to think about it and make the effort.
  • Accepting that speed and neatness tend to be mutually exclusive. Fortunately, most of the time I don’t need to write as fast as I think I do.
  • Enjoying the process and allowing myself to be imperfect. Sometimes sloppy writing is better than none at all. The pursuit is the ability, not the requirement, to write neatly.

Here’s the list of the faults that needed to be fixed:

  1. My lower-case r’s looked like i’s most of the time. I wanted them to have the proper stepped shape.
  2. I ended w’s low instead of high, which made them hard to read.
  3. My v’s also tended to end low, and also didn’t have the correct shape – they tended to look like u’s.
  4. Not closing a’s, s’s, and other open letters.
  5. Not crossing t’s fully.

I started working on all of them, one at a time. I thought I’d made great progress, as I felt I was living to this higher standard pretty consistently.
Then I went looking for before and after photos for this post – no point in proclaiming success without proof, right?
When you show your spouse a set of before and after shots, and the response is “Ok, which one was the first one again?” the progress might not be as obvious as one had thought. As I looked for recent examples of nice writing, I found that I had regressed far more than I’d thought. My progress was mostly in my head.
That’s not to say there’s been no improvement. Most of the items above are improved when I write slowly and with a conscious effort. The problem is that most of the time I’m thinking about what I’m writing, not how I’m writing it.
Now, more than ever, I have respect for those who really learned beautiful penmanship when they were young.

3 comments… add one
  • Natalie March 18, 2012, 8:52 am

    I’ve never liked the capital Q. I do a printed Q, using the tail to attach another letter, like in quit. My G has looked like my S, but with a bump on it’s back.


    • Steve March 20, 2012, 9:42 am

      Hi Natalie,

      Thanks for the comment!

      When I look at how some cursive letters are formed, I wonder how they got that way.

  • Mark April 13, 2012, 4:13 am

    If you want a practical and legible handwriting style use italic. Designed by scribes in the middle ages, these were people who earned their living by writing, and it has stood the test of time. There are many websites advising on the italic style. This is just one that I found to be very good; http://briem.net/?e5bc8108.

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