I want to write right!
February 15, 2012 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I want beautiful handwriting.

My handwriting at the moment is perfectly functional, very readable and only slightly messy. However, I'm intensely jealous of the fantastic, flowing hand I find in letters penned by my grandmother, and by my sister's ability with a calligraphy pen.

What I want to develop is a smooth, elegant hand that remains very readable. Flourishes and embellishments are off the menu. I am prepared to practice, but the less I have to spend, the better. Please direct me to online and inexpensive offline resources.
posted by fearnothing to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 101 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried tracing your grandmother's letters? Like you did in grade school, workbooks so-to-speak.

I'm curious what your goal handwriting is. Many types of handwriting are considered subjectively very nice, so it's hard to know what you are going for. Is it tight and tilted? Is it round with distinctive descenders? There might be different techniques for different types of handwriting.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:40 PM on February 15, 2012

I have very neat, very readable handwriting. Three things:

1. I'm not sure what these are called, but when I was in school we had cursive writing books. Basically these workbooks with sentences in script at the top of the page, and lines for you to copy them out. That really helped train my hand to form proper letter shapes. You should be able to find worksheets online.

2. A decent pen. I like a fountain pen (Lamy and Parker are inexpensive but good) but whatever works for you and that feels comfortable in your hand. It makes a massive difference.

3. This is the most important. Practise. Practise, practise, practice. I have beautiful script because of over fifteen years of writing (a lot) every day. By contrast, my mother, who rarely writes except for grocery lists, has absolute chicken scratch for handwriting.
posted by Tamanna at 1:44 PM on February 15, 2012

I took calligraphy classes and japanese brush painting classes when I was young. I'm sure that there are books available for cheap on Amazon. My handwriting is beautiful, unique, flowing, and very satisfying. I practice all the time, I also use graffiti as an inspiration. Carry a notebook, get one of these, or something like it.

Start writing letters to your friends, your parents, your congressman....instead of emailing.

Another hint: buy the right pen. Nothing kills handwriting more than a disposable ballpoint.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 1:47 PM on February 15, 2012

Italic may be the way to hone your own handwriting. This site in Iceland has been around for a while.
posted by holgate at 1:48 PM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

The iampeth website might have somethign for you. Here are their lessons in cursive.
posted by oneear at 1:50 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your grandmother's generation was probably taught the 'Palmer Method', you might look some up and see if it looks like hers. Elegant and readable.
posted by easily confused at 1:57 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was in the 4th grade I wanted to have great handwriting so I studied and copied the handwriting of a girl in my class who I thought had the best handwriting. That's how I developed my own good handwriting. And, for many years, people said I wrote like a girl. They meant it as a compliment and I took it as such.

Now, not to many people see my handwriting and I don't use it very much. But how does my typing look? ;-)
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 2:07 PM on February 15, 2012

Best answer: I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

To address the issue of your handwriting: I was in the same boat for a long time. At around 23 or 24, I decided I wanted to change it, so I sucked it up, went to Staples, and bought one of those kindergarten-level handwriting books. You remember them - the top half has what the letters should look like, the bottom has that cheap brown paper with the top long, bottom line, and middle dashed line. Cartoon bunny rabbits and kittens and puppies are on every page offering you encouragement-via-single-syllable-words.

I'd get home from work, sit down on the couch with a drink and the TV on, and repeat letters and words over and over.

I probably looked like an idiot. I sure felt like an idiot. But five years later, my handwriting fucking rocks.

posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:16 PM on February 15, 2012 [15 favorites]

I (ahem) have nice handwriting. I love writing. I loved writing the minute I was taught in school, and as a kid I would practice for hours and start a homework essay or page over if I made even one mistake. Sometimes I'd copy a paper again just to see if I could make it look better. Not too long ago, an ad campaign used my handwriting, for which I was paid a fair amount (It seems I have a good X-Y differential and "an elegant hand"!).

It's sad that it's something that's not really focused on in school as much these days, because I can see in my Second-grade kid that her laborious printing is keeping her thoughts from flowing on paper. I have printed sheets from this website for her to practice on. I love the book Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting too.

Really, it's about learning to form the letters so they flow (the animations on the website I linked to are good for this) and the muscle memory and motor skills development. And, having nice paper and a great pen makes it more pleasurable.
posted by peagood at 2:23 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding italic handwriting; it's right up your alley. Stylish, readable, and not much difference between print and cursive.

Another thing you might consider is looking at various handwriting samples and imitating the letterforms you particularly like. If you already have a tidy hand, you can just throw an unusual letter or two in there and make your writing just a little bit more interesting. I occasionally "borrow" styles from people whose handwriting appeals to me.

Skimming a few graphology/handwriting analysis books from your library might give you inspiration; graphology is a pseudoscience, but it'll give you an idea of the many different ways people write.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:24 PM on February 15, 2012

The secret to my awesome handwriting?

Go slow.

That said, I write in a small, neat "print", with few cursive flourishes (I indulge in the occasional big loopy tail on g's and y's). I'm also able to do beautiful by-the-book cursive longhand, but it doesn't feel natural for me at all.

This assumes, of course, that once upon a time back in the third grade, you had decent enough handwriting.
posted by Sara C. at 2:30 PM on February 15, 2012

Best answer: Teach yourself Italic handwriting. Buy this book by Lloyd J. Reynolds. It costs five bucks.
posted by beefetish at 2:55 PM on February 15, 2012

The most important first step is to understand what makes a great handwriting. It's all about uniformity. Study the characteristics of the sort of handwriting you describe, and notice that the lower case letters are a consistent height, consistent roundness, and the letters slant at a consistent angle throughout. Take a ruler to it and look at how uniform the height and the angles are. It's all about making simple shapes just alike over and over, and removing extra flourishes. Consistent height and consistent slant alone will do wonders toward improving your writing. Tracing is a good exercise, but only if you understand why what you're tracing looks great. Get some notebook paper, use the lines, and practice making simple Italic letters the same height, over and over. Make it a project to doodle and play with writing any time you get a chance. It's fun! Write a few sentences and make all the letters tall and skinny. Then do it again and make all the letters short and fat. Then round and loopy. Then slanted way to the right. You'll start to understand the importance of uniformity, and how to get control and be consistent. And you're on your way.
posted by MelissaSimon at 3:08 PM on February 15, 2012

2. A decent pen. I like a fountain pen (Lamy and Parker are inexpensive but good) but whatever works for you and that feels comfortable in your hand. It makes a massive difference.

I also improved my handwriting a few years ago by checking books out of the library and practising, practising, practising, but I wanted to bump this up. A nice pen really does make a huge difference. I have never, ever been able to write legibly with a ball point pen. I used a pencil as long as I could, and then when I was forced to write my Grade 9 exams in ink, I bought a fountain pen just to piss people off, and--joke's on me!--loved it. I've never looked back. And there are some really fine, really cheap pens around.
posted by looli at 3:26 PM on February 15, 2012

Nth Italic.

I used Teach Yourself Better Handwriting by Rosemary Sassoon, and my handwriting is much better than once it was.
posted by BrashTech at 4:40 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, go to any department store and buy one of those grade-school handwriting books like notmyselfrightnow recommended. It is the easiest and cheapest way to teach yourself better handwriting.
posted by patheral at 7:53 PM on February 15, 2012

So I have pretty great handwriting. I say that not to come off like an asshole but. I think it's pretty non-subjective. I got into calligraphy for a while and I heartily recommend learning the strokes for Italic, but I think the real loveliness of handwriting is finding your own. I mostly hone my writing when I am not focused on it; I spend a ton of time on the phone for work, and I fill up legal pads with doodles. But my doodles aren't pictures, they're words. My name, other people's names, random words I hear on the phone that are completely meaningless in context that I just absentmindedly write over and over again.

I have always done this - its just I think how my brain is wired. What it ends up doing, though, is making me a person who handwrites a fuckton more than your average person on a daily basis. I might write a lowercase cursive "q" 20 times because when I wrote one a loop looked pretty and I liked it (this is all you know, spacebrained as I'm doing other things, I mean that's what people who doodle pictures do too, right?). It just winds up being great practice and I found a unique and frankly beautiful style of both cursive and print evolved out of it.

Ugh I sound so braggy. Just doodle words and letters and experiment. The side bonus is you wind up with tons of paper that makes you look like a serial killer.
posted by mckenney at 8:36 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something else to pay attention to while you're retraining yourself in the basics is your grip. Proper grip is to writing as proper form is to lifting weights.
posted by flabdablet at 9:10 PM on February 15, 2012

Tips for improving your handwriting.

This is the site that I referred to when I wanted smoother, more fluid penmanship. It completely transformed the way I write.

I had neat handwriting pretty much all my life (something I was often complimented on), but I also held writing instruments extremely awkwardly (friends and teachers used to remark on how I was even able to write with the way I held a pen). After several frustrated attempts trying to get myself to hold a pen "properly" and write more adroitly, last year I followed the directions on that site meticulously, forced myself not to cut any corners, and stick with the new techniques. In less than a few months of practicing drawing lines, loops, circles, writing letters of the alphabet, numbers, etc. in several spare notebooks when I had time, I noticed SIGNIFICANT improvements in my penmanship and precision. My handwriting looks more elegant and refined, and -- this may sound hyperbolic, but it's true -- I've never felt more in control with a pen/pencil than I do these days. Even today I'm improving, despite how natural it is now, and it feels awesome.

At first glance, a lot of the advice on the page looks pedantic/frivolous, but you'd be surprised how much of a difference subtle changes in the way you hold a pen can make in your handwriting. The most important and arguably overlooked lesson I learned from that site was that I needed to un-learn writing with my fingers (kudos to you if you already know/do this). Your fingers serve primarily to hold the pen in place, while your shoulder/forearm muscles direct the stroke/movement of the pen (similar to basketball, where you use one hand to shoot, and the other to hold the ball in place). Writing with your fingers makes crooked strokes on the page and causes unnecessary strain on your hand. The site goes in more detail about why, and I think it would behoove you to read over it and give it a shot. Here's an excerpt on how to learn to do this:

"To get a feel for the proper muscles (and start training them correctly), hold your arm out in front of you, elbow bent, and write in the air. Write big. Use your arm and shoulder to shape letters; hold your forearm, wrist and fingers stationary and in writing position. You’ll feel your shoulder, arm, chest and some back muscles doing most of the work. That’s good. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Try to duplicate it each time you practice."

These instructions may seem bizarre and tedious to you now, but as NotMyselfRightNow can attest to, a surefire way to get beautiful handwriting is to develop good fundamentals/habits and practice, practice, practice, even if it means you'll look like an idiot in the meantime. It'll feel awkward and frustrating at first (as it is with un-learning and replacing any habit) -- your hand might cramp, you might feel like reverting to old habits because it seems like a waste of time, your handwriting will look like shit -- but stick with the new techniques and you'll absolutely see progress and gain confidence. If you're really committed to developing better handwriting, I think you'll find this to be the most effective way. Hey, it worked for me! Just keep practicing, and don't give up.

Best of luck, and have fun.
posted by matticulate at 11:15 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's an article in Slate about a mother and daughter improved their handwriting.
posted by ShooBoo at 11:29 PM on February 15, 2012

I had to take exams in longhand about 10 years ago--and realized that I'd have some major legibility issues. My blackboard handwriting was always good, but my pen-and-paper writing was a total disaster. I could always read what I wrote, but I found that my brain tended to get ahead of my hand, producing lots of errors and bizarre words. I knew what they were, but someone else might not.

So I spent a few months doing some online tutorials, reading books about good handwriting, etc. It probably helped a bit, but really, the best thing I learned to do, and the thing that I do to this day when I'm writing out a card or a note to someone is simple: SLOW DOWN.

That's it. I'd say that taking about 30% more time to write words made them 95% clearer.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:16 AM on February 16, 2012

So my father has the best handwriting of anyone I've ever encountered. It is incredible, he gets complimented on it frequently by others, it's amazing.

He learned how to write via the Peterson handwriting method.

If you really want to learn how to write cursive flawlessly and impressively, all I can say is that it worked for my father (and my grandmother, who supposedly learned it from Peterson himself back when dirt was new.)

My own handwriting, which has occasionally been complimented, pales in comparison. One of these days I'm going to sit down and learn the "write" way.
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:40 AM on February 16, 2012

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