How can I learn handwriting from scratch?
April 8, 2007 9:43 PM   Subscribe

My handwriting is so bad, I should probably start completely over and re-learn how to write. How can I do this?

I somehow missed learning how to write properly in elementary school, and now as a college-bound high school senior, I realize that I need to be able to write something that doesn't make me look like a 3rd grader. My handwriting is atrocious, and often receives negative comments from just about everyone who sees it. It's very inconsistent, but even at its best, most juniors highers could do much better. I haven't even learned how to hold a pen correctly, which is probably part of the problem.

How can I learn to write, mostly from scratch? I need everything: grips, strokes, styles, punctuation, etc.

What web resources and personal tips can you MeFites offer me?
posted by comwiz to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Look for lined paper in your newsagency that looks sort of like this;


Understand that a capital R should start at the bottom of the line, be as high as the top line, and have a middle around the dotted line. Most undercase letters shouldn't pass the dotted line.

Other than that, the only hint I can give you is to do what I did when I started to try to improve the standard of my handwriting in my comics. Set aside plenty of time, write each letter s l o w l y and don't settle on anything else than a letter which looks completely legible. And dot those i's, dammit!
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:52 PM on April 8, 2007

Look for lined paper in your newsagency that looks sort of like this;

Or use this callig-paper generator, combined with zadcat's link.
posted by holgate at 10:01 PM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

zadcat's link looks like an interesting update to the Palmer Method (and its successors) which were taught for a good 75 years in the US. It will work as well today as ever, I imagine, but you'll be at a disadvantage because you didn't have the opportunity to learn it young and practice all this time. Sadly, you just missed the end of the era where handwriting was thought important enough to teach in school. You might be able to find some Palmer-based instructional material in used bookstores. Best of luck!
posted by putril at 10:09 PM on April 8, 2007

Take a drafting course. They will teach you how to write, all over again.
posted by adipocere at 10:14 PM on April 8, 2007

There is a previous askme question about this, but I gotta crash right now...
posted by craniac at 10:17 PM on April 8, 2007

Previous threads here and here. I've found some success with zadcat's linked (also used in earlier threads), though I haven't had the time to complete the entire course.
posted by schroedinger at 10:26 PM on April 8, 2007

Zadcash's link has a lot of things I've heard before. Draw dashes down the page of equal length. Draw spirals across the page at indentical heights. Once you start to get that control, you'll start to see your own style emerge.
posted by Gilbert at 10:27 PM on April 8, 2007

If you want to go all out on this, take a calligraphy course.
You'll learn graphic design for handlettering, as well as a very formalized handwriting style. Note that emphasis is put on 'drawing' the letters, so if you were to use that as your handwriting, it won't be fast. Until you can modify it.
If you think you've got the discipline to go through it on your own, pick up a calligraphy book, maybe even the kind that come with the pens. You see exactly how tall the letters have to be in relation to each other, which is probably the hardest part of having neat writing.
posted by lilithim at 10:27 PM on April 8, 2007

The kind of paper described above can easily be found in the US in teacher supply stores.
posted by 4ster at 10:30 PM on April 8, 2007

I'll assume you don't want cursive, since its not really being taught or used past elementery school these days (my experience, anyway).

Sit down with 26 sheets of notebook paper and write each letter until you figure out a way you can write it nicely. Use the back if you have to. I've used this to retrain myself to draw '2's without the loop, 'Z's with a bar in the middle, no loops on 'y's or 'g's, 't's without the loop at the bottom, & computer 'a's (although I retrained myself out of that one later on, just because they weren't as readable small). These were all pretty firmly ingrained aspects of my handwriting that I completely changed in under a few hours each.

Once you have individual letters down, just practice writing out sentences slowly, making sure each letter is well-formed. It should take a long time. Get a page of examples of, ideally, how you'd write when writing quickily. Once you have that, start speeding up, comparing your work to the examples. Don't go faster than you can write similarly to your examples, at least until you're fairly fast. There's a huge difference in my 'good' handwriting as opposed to my shorthand-ish handwriting; most of that comes from not lifting my pen & the clutter that creates, as well as a minor size difference.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:02 PM on April 8, 2007

Block print. Your goal is communication and print is easier to read than cursive.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:08 PM on April 8, 2007

I've had students whose handwriting was impossible to read; it's good that you're trying to do something about it. Just something to keep in mind for the fall: You will have occasion to hand-write in college -- in exams for most of your classes. If you get to college and this is still a problem for you (eg if you can't write fast enough, or if your handwriting is literally illegible), be active about speaking to your professors about it beforehand. Maybe even talk to the Office of Disability Services -- they may be able to get you extra time on exams, or arrange for you to be able to use a computer. (Don't be sheepish about this -- just talk to them and see what they can do for you.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:22 PM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had to "learn" to write anew when I started studying Asian alphabets. Like some posts above mention, it took several hours of sitting down with a blank piece of simple lined paper (although the handwriting paper mentioned above would be ideal) to pound out a personal style for each letter, or in my case each radical.

Also, it helps to find handwriting that you like and try to imitate it. When I was young and studying Japanese before the internet was big, and even the internet is not that helpful for this, I would scrounge around and be delighted when I found a sample of "real live" native Japanese handwriting. Each sample would have one or two features that I would envy and try to adopt in my own writing, again by sitting down with blank paper and practicing it.
posted by msittig at 11:39 PM on April 8, 2007

As msittig said above, learning Chinese did wonders for my English handwriting. The suggestion about drafting courses above might have the same effect, since both things get you really thinking about the marks you're making on paper. Emphasize clarity for a while, rather than speed, and eventually it'll become habit.
posted by bokane at 11:59 PM on April 8, 2007

Yes, calligraphy. I had terrible handwriting as a child, until taking calligraphy in 7th grade. I did poorly in the class, but the structured letter shapes sunk in, and within a year or two I developed a handsome, individualistic writing style that was both legible and frequently complimented. Also, finding a good, everyday fountain pen helps enormously. When ink flows smoothly, it's just more fun to write nicely, and easier, too.
posted by Scram at 12:36 AM on April 9, 2007

I recommend the book Write Now by Getty and Dubay. I've barely started and it has already helped me.

It teaches italic writing, which you'll find very similar to the "standard" writing style you learned in elementary school. Better still, there's a connected form of italic that looks better and is much easier than (Palmer Method) cursive, and you can even move on to italic calligraphy if you wish.

I also (echoing Scram) recommend getting some fountain pens. I've become a fountain pen hobbyist and, even before reading that book, found my writing improved with these pens - mostly because you're forced to slow down a bit and write carefully, although you can speed up after you're used to it.

Take a look at the Fountain Pen Network forum if you're interested - even if you aren't, take a look because there's a good handwriting forum there too.
posted by mmoncur at 1:01 AM on April 9, 2007

I appreciate that this is entirely a matter of personal preference but I hate to see adults writing in block print - to me it looks as if you haven't progressed to the next stage...well developed italics will be legible and looks much more grown up (to me).
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:53 AM on April 9, 2007

Maybe try swapping hands? Learn from scratch to write with your left hand if you currently write with your right, or vice versa.

Just write in block capitals? That's the coward's way out, but it does mean your handwriting will always be legible, and requires little effort.

But I think the advice already given of practice, practice, practice is what's needed, along with special double-lined paper like pre-school kids use (you can probably make this yourself in Photoshop and then print it out). Go slow, and really work on each character. Use a soft pencil to make life easier. An entire sentence should take you a few minutes to write, at least initially.

Be aware that there are a handful of good medical reasons why some people have poor handwriting. I've got weak wrists, for example, and my handwriting is atrocious. This comes from an illness I had as a child.
posted by humblepigeon at 3:30 AM on April 9, 2007

How well or poorly you write in things that only you will read (class notes, for example) doesn't matter, as long as you are actually able to read it. (I've certainly written plenty of things that I was not able to later decode.) But it really does matter how you write in in-class exams, if your college will have them -- when I have graded these, I am in a hurry, and something that I simply can't read receives a poor grade; I do not spend the hours it would take to decode chicken scratches. So for public consumption you need to be able to write fast and legibly, although you can write differently the rest of the time if you so prefer.

Personally, I've had good luck changing some features of my handwriting using devilsbrigade's method of consciously forcing repetition. This works great for deciding to change one or two letters at a time. But I've never tried to change the entire pattern of my handwriting; for that a more systematic approach would be better. Most important is to have a model -- how do you want your handwriting to look? There is no point in learning the Palmer method (and having handwriting just like your grandparents') if you don't actually like the way that looks, for example.
posted by Forktine at 3:39 AM on April 9, 2007

(Actually, I started writing in block capitals five or ten years ago as the easy way to make my writing legible, and it's gone and backfired — I started taking shortcuts and connecting letters, and now I've got my own idiosyncratic capital-letter "cursive" that nobody else recognizes. If you're interested in ever being able to write quickly, just learn a proper cursive hand to begin with.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:34 AM on April 9, 2007

My friend did this when we were in grade 10 or 11. He created an alphabet where none of the letters were curvy, because he had decided that curly letters didn't match his new temperament. (He was a bit of an artist.) And sure enough, over the course of a few weeks/months he totally changed the way he wrote. You need to carefully write up what you want your new handwriting to look like, and the copy copy copy till it becomes second nature.

Also, block letters are the way to go. There is nothing more illegible than cursive witting.
posted by chunking express at 6:41 AM on April 9, 2007

Type as much as possible. I did this with great success in college 10-14 years ago. This can only be more common today.

When you must write, abandon cursive. Cursive is simply evil for people like me who have less than legible handwriting. I think cursive has no place in the adult world outside of signatures and love letters, but that's just my opinion.

And, as said many times above, SLOW DOWN.

Slowing by 10% can make a noticable difference. Slowing by 30% can make it seem like a different person writing.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:23 AM on April 9, 2007

I've got the same problem, so this thread is really interesting to me. Thanks for asking about this.
posted by xammerboy at 8:29 AM on April 9, 2007

I'll agree with zadcat's links, and a good book italic would have some suggestions. Personally, I hate the cursive I was taught in school because it makes letters much more complex than necessary to avoid breaking ligatures. Here is some things that I've found that helps as a person building good handwriting.

First, get a pen with good flow. Whenever I use a cheap pasty ball-point bic, I feel like I have to fight the pen just to get a good line. Fountain pens are great, if you want to put out $30-100 dollars and can trust yourself with them. Othewise, gel-pens, roller ball, or even fine-tipped art markers are good.

Second, do most of your writing on a good comfortable writing surface. I hate using many lecture-hall flip-out desks because they are too small, the wrong position, and the wrong angle. If you can grab a table, do it.

Spend some time every day practicing zig-zags, loops, and arches. Don't try to conform to the template suggested by anyone else. Focus on consistency of angle, shape and spacing. If you are bored during a class, scribble out a few lines of zig-zags and loops. Your goal is to develop good muscle memory for the fundamental strokes used to build the letters. IME practicing strokes offers better gain for time invested. You can spend a half-hour working on the lowercase "r," or you can spend a half-hour working on the short-down-stroke used in 'agijpqru.' Counter-clockwise loops are used to build 'acdegoq.'

Finally, a thing that really helped me improve my handwriting was to not worry about ligatures (light strokes that connect letters). Some advise no ligatures, some styles demand lifting the pen only between words. Personally, I let ligatures appear where they are natural. And use a pen lift where it feels natural.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:28 AM on April 9, 2007

"Hand writing?" You mean like scratching words on wood pulp with one of those grease stick things? I reckon you might just have to hitch up the buggy and pay a visit to your local school-marm.

Seriously, I very rarely write by hand, and when I do it's almost never for the benefit of someone else; usually I'll be the only one reading it, and even then only once, to transcribe into a computer or PDA.

If you're going to take the trouble of re-teaching yourself to write by hand, I'd definitely recommend doing it with handwriting-recognition software in mind. Your new handwriting style should be easy for a computer to read, so that you ease the transition as paper becomes less and less common.

Make sure your letters and numbers are distinct from one another ('6' is different from 'G', 'S' is different from '5', 'O' is different from '0', 'l' is different from 'I' is different from '1') and use a consistent stroke order/direction for each character.

And cursive? There's no reason to use cursive unless you're someone's Grandma. Anything formal enough to require script is best typed up and printed, unless you're into being deliberately archaic, in which case the calligraphy classes mentioned previously might be fun.
posted by contraption at 10:42 AM on April 9, 2007

With respect to contraption, I couldn't disagree more. Having decent handwriting is mandatory for writing decent thank you notes, if for no other reason in the world.

We write poorly today, as a culture, because the pens we use are designed to dent paper and grind the ink in (or it seems that way). Echoing others, get a good fountain pen (doesn't have to be expensive: the Lamy Safari is like $16 and has a very firm nib, so it's easy to transition from "normal" pens) and slow down a bit. The fountain pen -- even with a stiff nib (my favorite pen is a Namiki/Pilot Vanishing Point with a softer nib) -- encourages you to approach writing as if you were painting. The ink naturally soaks into the paper, so you don't have to clench your hand and grind the point. Relax your hand, and much of the rest will follow.
posted by socratic at 5:42 PM on April 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

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