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October 10, 2012 8:01 PM   Subscribe

I can barely read my own writing! Help!

I've always had awful penmanship [I feel ever so sorry for my teachers in school!] and I would really like to improve on it but I'm having difficulty understanding whats wrong. Now I will give you a list of things that may or may not be the problem for ease of reading!

  • I write almost exclusively with Pilot G-tec c4. I don't think my writing instrument is a problem. I love this pen very much.
  • My grip is maybe a little tighter than usual, but far from the death grip. However it is not exactly correct. It is similar to the image here, but my index finger and thumb are almost parallel to each other (ok theres maybe like a 20 degree angle there but they are much more touchy-feely than in that picture). Also, my index finger is hyperextended much more. I should add that I have loose joints, particularly in my hands, and they all hyperextend and to me that feels "straight" even though it quite clearly is not. If I attempt to keep my index finger straight, either it will hyperextend or my pen sort of falls though to my hand and then my fingers are on the paper; I've tried forcing myself to write "properly" but mostly I end up with giganto letters and awkward spacing and general discomfort.
  • Some of my letters are cursive(f,z,l,b,d,h,t?,p,q), some are not (the rest!). But im not consistent. Sort of. suffix -ed will not have a cursive d. door will. I guess thats not too bad but non cursive d looks like an a lowercase a. I do really like my cursive f though.
  • My letters blend together (ed, th, are just blended blocks of scribble) and some letters look like other letters (lowercase w looks like co or cu or ca, c and a and u and o are easy to mix up). I slow down but this still happens. When I try to write so neatly I write slower than a snail crawls, hello awkward spacing, line height is just wayy off and its bad bad bad. I need to have a certain quickness to my writing.
  • My posture isn't amazing but it's more or less OK. I don't write with my legs behind my head or slouched in very awkward position
Back in high school, I wrote in all caps and that was probably the most legible my writing has been, but for whatever reason I stoppped. I tried it again today and I just found it unbearably slow and for some unknown reason painful (in the elbow?) - nothing about my grip has changed. Writing is only ever painful after I've been writing for nearly 3 hours straight or something.

I just need to improve how it looks so I can actually read my notes that I take. Most are math/science type notes. It helps me tremendously to write them out, even if I do not actually go back to them very often. But it honestly too painful to go back to them a week later because they just look so bad. half the time Im deciphering what I wrote. Apparently others can read my writing, but it doesn't come with great ease or anything - but they can. but what I need is so that I can read it. I'm just not sure what exactly is wrong nor how to go abut fixing it. help!
posted by electriic to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Get a kids book that teaches the alphabet and writing letters. They'll have blank spaces to practice. Just practicing writing each letter, neatly, over and over will improve your writing. The other think you can do is to get some lined notebook paper and take any text -- book, magazine, whatever -- and copy it work for work, as slow as it takes, making it legible and neat -- but literally, as slow as it takes to make it completely legible. Do this daily, only speeding up the pace when you can maintain the same legibility.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:13 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ok, two pieces of advice.

1) Fuck handwriting. Buy yourself some smartphone and a folding keyboard and practice typing your notes in. You're likely to get much faster and not have to waste time and effort handwriting. Typing is much, much faster than hand writing. I did the equivalent in the pre-smart phone days with a Handspring and a Targus Keyboard.

Doing it this way also gets you the advantage of being able to import your notes directly into your main computer and manipulate them there.

2) If you really want to handwriting take a class. Despite what I wrote above I wanted to learn handwriting too. I was simply embarrassed of mine in my late 20's. The free class I did online is now gone, but something like this should do well.

But really, for practicality. Fuck handwriting. Type type type.
posted by bswinburn at 8:17 PM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Did you learn D'Nealian cursive? Because it's famously illegible, especially when written quickly. The looped ascenders and descenders are just awful.

Try Getty-Dubay connected italic. You can buy the workbooks from homeschooling shops, or possibly amazon. I got mine through paperbackswap. Just a few hours of practice made an enormous difference in my handwriting, and you only have to relearn a few letterforms. The rest is quite similar to what most Americans learned in school.
posted by xyzzy at 8:19 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

My fingers hyperextend to a degree and my grip is much more rounded than that image - rather than trying to keep my forefinger straight - which, as you say, just doesn't happen - it's actually bent at about a 45 degree angle at the last joint. It's basically the motion I'd use to pick up something tiny between my thumb and forefinger.

Of course, I also write "like a lefty" - I tend to curl my wrist so my hand is actually above the line I'm working on, rather than below it. I don't know why I do this, but I always have, and I can, when I want to, write very neatly and precisely at any size, or write very fast and small. (I am not totally sure what you mean by "my fingers are on the paper" - my whole hand rests on the page when I write, except my thumb and forefinger.)
posted by restless_nomad at 8:32 PM on October 10, 2012

I've forced my handwriting to change a number of times in order to be able to understand math-type notes. My p's used to look like rho's, my G's used to look like 6's, my q's like 9's, etc. Is part of the problem the similar-looking symbols?

Also, I find the spacing between lines or words to be very important as well. Increased spacing between words makes it clear they are distinct and makes interpretation easier. Larger spacing between lines makes distinct ideas clearly separated. If you're using lined paper, try switching to blank printer paper.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 8:51 PM on October 10, 2012

Alternative approach:
I'm right handed, and I've been practicing writing left handed for maybe a year or two now. My handwriting is terrible right handed, but it's actually not too bad left handed now that I've been doing it for a while. I think it's because I have to slow down and actually think about the letters. Not only is my handwriting less messy and illegible, it actually looks better than right handed. So that might work for you if all else fails.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:24 PM on October 10, 2012

The pen you are using is a micro tip. Microtip's are hard to write with. The pen is almost scratching the paper. Try using a medium tip pen. I think you will be surprised at how the pen will flow and how much easier it is to write. The writing usually is neater with a larger tip.
posted by JujuB at 10:35 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

What helped for me was learning calligraphy. It really forces you to sloooowwwww down when you write and makes you conscious about every little bit of the letter you write.

I find that The Calligrapher's Bible is a pretty decent starting place. You can just get one of those cheap felt tipped calligraphy pens and practice your letters over and over and over. It's really tedious but it worked.
posted by astapasta24 at 11:01 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

bswinburn: "Buy yourself some smartphone and a folding keyboard and practice typing your notes in."

I'm not saying this is always a bad idea, but for "math/science type notes" it can be. Equations and diagrams are hard to type! You'll either have to use special notation like LaTeX, or use a stylus to draw the non-textual bits.
posted by vasi at 11:53 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is it possible that you have an undiagnosed learning disability? The way you grip your pen and terrible handwriting are classic indications of a learning disability.

That aside, you need to practice your handwriting. Very few people use cursive today, so a good block print can be your friend.

Sit down in 15 minute increments and practice your printing. You can get that special lined paper we used as kids at most big box stores.

Practice makes perfect and sometimes just trying to do better, and working at it is the only way to get better at something.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:26 AM on October 11, 2012

Maybe try a fountain pen? The Lamy Safari is cheap, available everywhere, and reasonably good quality. When I got one, it forced me to slow down a bit - both because a fountain pen requires that you go a bit slower and because it's simply a joy to write with; It keeps me more aware of the feel of the pen on the paper and the inky line I'm laying down. That, in itself, improved my handwriting.
posted by The Dutchman at 7:52 AM on October 11, 2012

I'm not saying this is always a bad idea, but for "math/science type notes" it can be.

Good point, and a problem I ran into.

My solution to that problem by typing "fig 1..2..whatever" in the notes where a figure or equation would go and then had a pad of paper for the equations off to the side. I would integrate them later into the main notes.
posted by bswinburn at 9:10 AM on October 11, 2012

I had ISSUES learning cursive and so I never really bother with it other when I sign my name. I don't hold my pen "right," bla bla bla. However, my handwriting was still pretty decent in high school. It's degraded considerably since then. I put this down to a lifelong excess of nerves.

I'm diving back into meditation practice right now, the neverending story! After a 1/2 hour Zen sit with some other folks yesterday, I put down my email address on a piece of paper. I swear to Bog my handwriting was more legible than it normally is and I didn't have to try that hard. My mind was still frittering away but something inside had changed, at least temporarily.

So consider that lack of mindfulness/nervous energy may be a contributor to your poor handwriting.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:26 AM on October 11, 2012

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