How can I cure my handwriting problems?
April 2, 2009 8:42 AM   Subscribe

How can I cure my handwriting problems?

I have serious problems with my handwriting. I hate the sight of it, even my signature. It's awkward, ungainly, and inconsistent. This makes life hard, especially if I have to write something that will be seen by others (and in my job I frequently do). It’s not unusual for me to write dozens of drafts, even of a signature. And, of course, the more conscious I become of my writing, the harder it becomes to produce something with which I'm happy. I’ll do pretty much anything to avoid writing by hand. It's not that I want my handwriting to be beautiful -- I just want it to look fluid and consistent.

There are two aspects to the problem. One is mechanical; I've never acquired a settled style. At elementary school (in the UK) I was taught italic, but the emphasis was on calligraphy rather than fluidity, and I developed a bizarre, extremely angular style, which was slow to produce and hard to read. At high school I was forced to give this up and adopt an upright cursive hand. I never really mastered this. My writing became large and clumsy, and I began to hate it. I started to avoid handwriting and use a word processor wherever possible, and lack of practice only made the situation worse. I've never felt I have a style that is my own, and the size, shape, and angle or my letters varies hugely even within a single word.

The other aspect is psychological. I suspect there is an element of OCD in my attitude to my handwriting (the perfectionism, the writing and re-writing, etc.). I have some symptoms in other areas, too, though nothing like so bad.

This seems to be a rare problem, and it's one I feel rather ashamed of. It is serious, however. I get extremely distressed by my handwriting, and the problem is interfering with my job. I'd be hugely grateful for advice on how to tackle either or both aspects of it. (By the way, the problem isn't to do with handedness. I'm naturally right-handed.)

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posted by kitfreeman to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I think the basis of changing your handwriting is (a) identifying a style you want, and (b) practicing it. That being said, you might want to give Handwriting Repair a try.

This, from the same site might also be helpful.
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:59 AM on April 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I found my handwriting got to a less shameful level by writing a lot. It settled on a mix of print and script -- not, I grant, beautiful, but legible and something I do not mind if people see.

So do things that require writing. Crossword puzzles -- seriously -- will ensure your capital letters are distinct to you. (Note that they might not be distinct to everyone -- I cannot distinguish my mother's G/C, she confuses my N/H -- but overall, it has helped. Write in a journal. Write grocery lists. Write to-do lists. Keep a physical agenda. Doodle quotes from poetry. Write letters to friends. Write postcards. This will improve fluidity. You can start with stuff that's only for yourself, but it's important to write a lot.

Second, you should have a handwriting goal -- one that is similarish to your own (if possible), but something you'd find acceptable. Aim for that. If you don't have enough of a settled style, write out your own alphabet of your favourite a/b/c etc and try to stick with those.

Art schools near me occasionally hold handwriting lessons -- not calligraphy, just plain handwriting. I have (sadly) never been free when they're offered, but you might want to check if they're around you, or even if there's adult handwriting lessons online that you feel you could do.

Third, you should have a really comfortable pen. Roller balls tend to have the smoothest feel for me, and I like very fine points so my lines are clearer. (I actually most love fountain pens, but I'm not sure it's a good choice.) It's important that the pen isn't too heavy, feels appropriately weighted, is the right width for your hand, etc. Find a store that has a selection and try them out. The less comfortable the pen, the worse my writing gets.
posted by jeather at 9:09 AM on April 2, 2009

I don't think your problem is rare or shameful. Growing up, my friends and I were obsessive about our writing style and flourishes.

I highly recommend finding samples of a style you like (is there a co-worker or friend who has a particularly nice hand?) and copying them. I changed my cursive style after receiving a card from a teacher with beautiful handwriting. I used her style as a jumping off point for creating my own style.

Also, take some of the frustration and shame out of the equation and practice when there's nothing at stake or no one to impress. Once you feel like you've got a nice style going, do something fun with it. Write short letters or notes to friends or transcribe your favorite quotes or song lyrics. Have nice writing tools can make it an experience to be savored, not dreaded.

Poor handwriting is very common, but cleaning it up or developing a new style can be an enjoyable exercise.
posted by annaramma at 9:14 AM on April 2, 2009

While the level of dislike for your own handwriting might be less common, I think many people are envious of the writing of others who have a style or legibility they do not have. My wife has a nice, flowing script, where mine is jerky and awkward. I'm more or less comfortable with this, but I realize my handwriting is not always legible, even to myself at times.

As stated above - find a style you like, and repeat it over and over and over and over and over. Eventually the style will become muscle memory, less something you force and more something that naturally happens. If there is some element you dislike, you could practice shapes, until those shapes come naturally. specialagentwebb's links look promising.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:22 AM on April 2, 2009


Once I put an add similar to you asking for help with my handwriting, and someone sent me this link, I practised each day one page and it really helped me to write better.

Give it a try,
posted by zulo at 9:35 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Having finished college 15+ years ago my writing went downhill over time.

But I started Mandarin last year and the class requires me to spend two+ hours a week writing the Chinese characters like this 学話行 etc etc. to the point of hand pain.

This develops fine motor control and I've seen my regular handwriting improve drastically since I started this.

Not recommending Chinese per se but mechanical repetition -- going as slowly as necessary to get the form right -- is important. Also get a good pen & paper, a bad instrument results in bad control.
posted by mrt at 9:54 AM on April 2, 2009

My handwriting is awful... but I've found using a decent fountain pen makes it look better.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:12 AM on April 2, 2009

My 10th grade American History teacher had incredibly nice handwriting. He said that the reason why his handwriting was so nice was because when he was in the Navy, all he did was sit around, eat donuts, and practice his handwriting. So I'm guessing it's a practice thing.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:51 AM on April 2, 2009

Taking a calligraphy class might help! Many adult-education centers offer them.

This video tutorial might also help.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:52 AM on April 2, 2009

i fixed my chicken scrawl over a summer in high school by sitting down and deciding how i wanted to write every single letter and then writing them that way over and over again. i ended up with probably the most legible handwriting in my class! i rarely pick up a pen these days except to sign my name on a credit card receipt, so when i do have to write something down it's a bit of a pain, but i know that if i sat down and practiced for a bit i could get it back to extreme legibility. to summarize: practice practice practice.
posted by lia at 10:54 AM on April 2, 2009

I am EXACTLY the same, except that my handwriting is tiny and cramped instead of too big.

You mention cursive and calligraphy and italic. How's your printing? I never learned cursive writing properly thanks to bouncing around different schools when I was growing up, and I print pretty much exclusively. And when I want to be especially clear, like when I'm filling out a form, I write only in capitals (with the actual capitalized words having the first letter larger than the rest).

I write a lot, by hand, and the only thing that really helps is to slow down and consiously take my time. I don't copy things out, or practice letters, just slow down and concentrate on it being neat. I know it's not amazing advice, but I really can see a difference.
posted by Caravantea at 11:28 AM on April 2, 2009

I found that this is a great workbook for learning great looking italic-style handwriting.
posted by trinity8-director at 1:23 PM on April 2, 2009

Response by poster: OP here. Thanks to you all for your suggestions, which I'll follow up. And thanks, too, for reassuring me that I'm not alone in this

Caravantea: Yes, I'm less unhappy with my printing, especially in capitals, and rely on it a lot. It's cursive (joined-up, running) that gives me most problems. But printing is slow, and I feel it looks childish. It also deteriorates badly at speed.
posted by kitfreeman at 3:17 PM on April 2, 2009

I love handwriting, and back when I was learning cursive, I always practiced more than I was told to. It felt good - even today, the right pen, the right paper... I wish I had the excuse to write more often. Back then, I'd start a page over if I didn't like the way I wrote my name and the date on the top - I understand your OCD tendencies, clearly. I have the bump on my finger to prove it. But I also had great teachers, and it's such a shame that you didn't. Now, between twenty and thirty years later, while I don't do calligraphy, I do have a clear script that is often admired and these days, valued. I've been paid to do things like handwriting for an ad campaign, and to write and address cards for a store's top 200 clients for their Christmas gifts. I bought the book Script & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting last weekend, and can't wait to immerse myself in it.

At five our daughter is already begging to learn, and so I'm trying to help her using these handwriting practice pages. I go to teacher supply stores and buy practice books and the proper lined paper for her too. We have some laminated pages too, for dry-erase pen practice. I thing re-learning the basics might be key for you, before considering style. That will come. It's like trying to play a song before you've even learned to form a clear note. And, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Perhaps thinking of it as a calming, meditative hobby, like learning to knit or even to bake properly might be one way to get around your self-critical view of your handwriting, and remove yourself from your previous bad associations. If you treat yourself to a lovely pen, some nice paper and the time to lose yourself in long lines of loopy o's, would you enjoy that? Buying a good pen, that feels right in your hand and has a nice weight and good flow of ink is kind of glorious. My husband loves his Waterman, and it makes bill paying marginally better for him. For everyday writing, I love a nice gel pen (and am loving brown ink lately) with a cushy grip. If you say it's interfering with your work, could you justify the time for the exercises, and will having the right tools make it less painful for you? After all, it's the muscle memory that needs work too, and you wouldn't perform surgery with a butter knife. And then, to work on your speed and flow after the individual letters are mastered, is there someone you'd write letters to? (I'll volunteer, you know.)

Here's a neat article, and here's another one, just in case you're interested. I'm kind of sad that something like handwriting could cause someone so much stress, when it can be such a joy. I hope I've helped. I hope you find what you're looking for.
posted by peagood at 3:34 PM on April 2, 2009

One more thought - and it's so crazy, it just might work! (Said in sitcom voice)

We have a shallow box (from some writing paper, coincidentally) filled with about an inch or two of salt for our daugther to practice her letters and numbers in. She's in junior kindergarten, and we brought this idea home from school. It's about the ability to erase and move on - to not get hung up on a mistake, to have it staring back at her as it does on paper - and that with just a shake, she can try again. It's also a gross motor skills thing, and a repetition thing. So, maybe?
posted by peagood at 3:53 PM on April 2, 2009

For my undergraduate degree I did an awful lot of reading, and took pretty extensive notes by hand. Adding up all the little bits, I might have been doing an hour or two of hand writing a day. I noticed that after a few months my handwriting had improved considerably - so spending time practicing ought to help.

The other thing that I feel really helped my handwriting was to switch to fountain pens. I find my hand is far more relaxed writing with a fountain pen, and consequently my handwriting is nicer.
posted by iona at 4:34 PM on April 2, 2009

Funny thing- after I was diagnosed and began treatment for ADD, my handwriting improved greatly. Instead of being this boring ol' thing that I wished like hell I could be doing anything besides, it became possible to concentrate on actually forming the letters the way they were supposed to be formed.

(My handwriting, when I don't pay attention, looks psychotic. Every single letter is formed differently. Sometimes they'd be small caps, sometimes they'd be all caps, sometimes even within a word, the letter would be different. It drove me crazy.)

Also, over time, I have changed my handwriting a letter at a time. I decided that I didn't like how I wrote my Ds and Bs, so I worked on changing them. When I got that down, I changed other letters until I got a result that I could live with.

Look into using different writing utensils- I tend to press very hard when I write, as well as putting a few pages of paper behind what I'm writing on. The extra pressure slows things down and makes my motor control a little smoother. I love using the super fine tipped sharpies (whatever the smallest tip is- the tiny felt nubbin at the end of a metal stick). It gives perfect resistance, it forces me to work at a very deliberate pace, because if I go too slow, it bleeds, and if I go too fast, it skips. At least for practice, try that.

(Funny someone mentioned the Navy- my grandfather also has impeccible handwriting, and he too practiced it in the Navy. He can write in all possible directions, with both hands. Sitting on a ship must be powerful boring...)
posted by gjc at 4:42 PM on April 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks again for all your support and advice. If all else fails, I'll join the Navy.
posted by kitfreeman at 2:48 PM on April 3, 2009

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