How do I physically write faster?
February 18, 2008 7:38 AM   Subscribe

How do I physically write faster?

Does anyone have any tips for how to physically write faster? So far I've been advised to try using soft pencils on good paper, but I'd be interested in other suggestions. I'd also like to reduce my chances of developing tendon irritation from all the repetitive movement of writing. I sit exams regularly, and need to write continuously and legibly for between 1 and 2 hours. This is currently killing my thumb.

I've trawled the net of course, but all my search terms seem to hit pages more targetted at approaches to creative writing.

* Are there any guidelines for how to write clearly and avoid strain injury?

* What is the perfect writing implement, given the requirements of speed and pain-avoidance? Oh, and relatively low cost :-)

* Hand-writing guides. Is there an optimum style? I suspect that "cursive" or "Nelson" handwriting is best. Are there any figures to back this up? I'm willing to put in the time required to adapt my writing style if it will pay off.

Things I am not concerned about:

* Creativity, style, etc. This is about the physical aspects of writing, not the cerebral.

* Being more concise in my essay responses. Good advice, but already taken. I'm aiming for maximum output with minimal physical effort.

* Shorthand. The writing has to be easily and clearly comprehensible by any English speaker.

Other salient points:

* I'm considering asking for extra time in the exams so I can minimise the pain.

* Exams have to be written in ink, and anything that smudges easily is likely to be out. I'd like to try a fountain pen, since I believe the nib would morph with age to complement my writing style; but I think the smudge factor rules them out.

* Anecdote is great, evidence is better!

Much obliged.
posted by ajp to Education (21 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I use flowy ink pens to write faster. G2's flow pretty well, sometimes I use ultra-fine point sharpies. I also don't hold my pencil the normal way. I rest it between my index and middle finger, and bring those two fingers and my thumb together to pinch it (lightly) for control.

I was a history major, and this was my method for 50 minute lecture notes across 10-12 pages, 25 page finals (5 blue books! Woot!), and senior thesis research.
posted by TomMelee at 7:45 AM on February 18, 2008

I don't know about speed, but as far as comfort goes you might want to look into getting an ergonomic pen. A haven't used any of them, but the most "popular" one seems to be the PenAgain.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:50 AM on February 18, 2008

Fountain pens won't necessarily smudge if you let them dry -- I used one for years. The only problem with fountain pens is that fountain pen ink has to be water soluble, so if you spill, everything you've written is gone. I would advise trying as many pens as possible until you find one that fits you. It doesn't have to be anything expensive, I like the Pilot G2.

Also, I thought I was the only person in the entire world (so much grief from my teacher in 2nd grade) who wrote like TomMelee does.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:01 AM on February 18, 2008

Consider writing in italic.
posted by aramaic at 8:02 AM on February 18, 2008 [5 favorites]

Try varying your handwriting size. I know at least two people who wrote faster (and less painfully) after allowing themselves the luxury of larger letters; I suspect it took more effort and precision to make the small letters legible. On the other hand, I also know someone who writes faster now that she writes smaller -- the big loopy flourishy letters took too long, maybe.
posted by danb at 8:05 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel your pain...literally. I've fractured my left wrist (my writing hand) three times and I often-times must write continually for 2-3 hours at a stretch. Here are the things I've found that help maintain speed over longer periods of time.

1) Stretching my fingers and wrist before beginning and every 30 minutes or so. Limber wrists and fingers can maintain speed for longer periods of time.

2) Practicing holding my Pentel rubber gripped pencil (my preferred writing instrument) with as little pinching or tension as possible. This seems obvious, but as my concentration intensifies, I find my grip slowly intensifies as well. It takes conscious effort to keep my wrist loose and grip soft, but it allows me to maintain speed.

3) Writing from the shoulder, meaning that if my entire arm is not engaged, my wrist is taking a beating. I should be able to feel my pen/pencil strokes from my back, through my shoulder, my elbow, and hand. This doesn't mean I are making exaggerated strokes, though...the movements should be barely perceptible. Doing this helped with both my fatigue and speed.

4) Maintaining the proper angle of my pencil. Keeping a good angle lets me use my fingers more efficiently.
posted by mrmojoflying at 8:08 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

On days when I'm stressed, I'll get a hand cramp and notice that I'm gripping my pen WAAAAY too hard and pressing down on the paper really hard. The over-exertion kills me, if I pay attention and relax, it's not nearly as tiring.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:11 AM on February 18, 2008

Write more outside of exams, rewrite your day's notes, find something useful and purposeful to write every day. When I was in nursing school and regularly writing notes for 5+ hours a day, 5-6 days a week, I could write neatly, legibly and VERY fast (it did hurt at first). Before and after that period, my writing was either slower and neat, or quick and messy. The key is practice, in my experience.
posted by biscotti at 8:14 AM on February 18, 2008

Seconding flowy pens (gel or rollerball; I love most Pilot pens). I used to press really hard when writing with a pencil; pens have eliminated that. There are zillions of pens with rubbery or squishy grips that might help you.

I have only anecdotal evidence and the word of a flaky graphology instructor to back me up on this, but adopting a form of "print-script" - i.e. a hybrid between print and cursive - might be easier for you than learning cursive. Many people write in print and then start connecting the letters as they continue; a short note on a Post-It could be in all print, but by the time of the second page in an exam book their writing looks more cursivey. Graphology Instructor mentioned that a print-script style is often developed to save time and motion while writing. I write like this, and some of my lowercase "s"s are printed and some are cursive, and my "f"s have a little triangle at the bottom where I move from one stroke to the next, but everything is legible. (Bear in mind that professors are reading your writing, not third-graders, and unless your penmanship is truly atrocious they are able to read it just fine.)

What helped me move from hideous penmanship to a clear, pretty hand was working on my printing. When you're taking notes in a lecture, spend the first ten minutes writing in the clearest, steadiest print you can. There will be some point where you'll have to speed up your writing to keep up with the lecture, at which point you'll probably start connecting your letters automatically, the quickest way your hand knows how. If you start with a good, clear print hand, your handwriting at the end of the lecture will reflect this.

(On preview, my handwriting is quite similar to italic per aramaic's link... definitely check that out.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:21 AM on February 18, 2008

With regards to the PenAgain, I tried a few and I heartily disrecommend it. It slowed me down, made my handwriting less legible, ran out of ink very quickly, and its spring mechanism works poorly—some pens I couldn't keep in the active state, others I couldn't keep from deactivating.
posted by grouse at 8:53 AM on February 18, 2008

I used to be a pen shorthand writer in court, and I'd agree with a previous poster that practice is the key.

Another tip is to not grip the pen too tightly - in moments of writing stress when you want to get an idea out before it goes, the temptation is to grip the pen harder. Try and keep the grip such that the pen could be taken from your fingers by someone else without them having to tug hard.

It might also be worth noting how you write the common words in English. If you can write "it", "and", "the", "an" etc in one fluid motion without lifting your pen off the paper, that's going to save you huge amounts of time (maintaining legibility, of course!). Also avoid the temptation for the extraneous flourishes - are you putting little hearts in place of the dot on the "i"?!

When writing shorthand at speed, you try and avoid strokes that go backwards, despite the theory having them there. For example, in standard handwriting, "S" will drag the pen away from the direction of writing. If you can write an "s" from the bottom to the top, that would save a tiny amount of time - although there aren't that many letters in the Roman alphabet that pull you back. You'll have to examine your particularly writing style to see if this is true in your case.
posted by stenoboy at 9:42 AM on February 18, 2008

When you're concentrating intensely and up against a deadline (as in the case of an exam), it's natural to grip your pen tightly and to tense up your entire arm. You should be holding your pen loosely enough so that someone could sneak up behind you, grab your pen and pull it away from you without your hand leaving the desk. I'm wondering if some sort of alternate stress-relieving activity during exams (like chewing gum, maybe) might allow you to relax your hand and arm more.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:43 AM on February 18, 2008

I just also wanted to call attention to aramaic's italic link, it's excellent.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:55 AM on February 18, 2008

Have you tried felt-tip pens? They do smear on glossier paper, but that is something you can plan for ahead of time. As far as feel, I *hate hate hate* ballpoint pens--my already glacial writing becomes tectonic with ballpoints AND my legibility goes down--and I can use a felt-tip as well or better than most pencils. That's not saying much though.
posted by Benjy at 11:04 AM on February 18, 2008

I think fountain pens may be a good mechanical complement to other people's suggestions. I used one in college to good effect, although I didn't have to write as much as you did. The main benefit of fountain pens is that they require no pressure at all on the paper to write a line; gel pens and rollerballs still require a little ball in the pen tip to roll by catching the paper, while a fountain pen has no such mechanism. When you write with a fountain pen, the weight of the pen is enough downwards pressure to write, and your hands a free to move across the paper instead of into it.

Smudging was rarely an issue, although I assume that you're not left handed (for left handers it is a significant issue). I've heard that Noodler's ink has solved the waterproofness problem.

The main issues with fountain pens are:

1. They run out of ink consistently sooner than other pens. I had to refill my pen every week; during a final I would always have an extra fountain pen and an extra gel pen.

2. They are choosy with specific types of inks. Ink A may work flawlessly in Pen B but not in Pen C, due to how ink much the pen flows (heavy or light) and the ink thickness. If you stick with one pen and one type of ink that works with it, this is not a problem.

3. They are fragile. Drop a fountain pen nib-first onto the ground and you'll be buying a new pen. Give one to a ham-fisted friend and the nib may be damaged. If you're the type to unconsciously disassemble and reassemble your pen during dull moments, you may end up squirting ink everywhere.
posted by meowzilla at 11:17 AM on February 18, 2008

Practice writing with a refillable pencil - they break if you press down too hard, which always was the main reason for pain when I had to do lots of writing.

To increase speed you just have to practice writing faster. If you find your writing gets illegible slow down a bit and repeat process. At the end of the day you'll just have to practice - your hand gets used to the demands of writing - think of it as exercise.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:38 PM on February 18, 2008

can you type? It may be easier for the school to let you sit an exam using a laptop (or even a manual typewriter, if you can be quiet enough not to bother everyone) than giving you extra time for the test.

As far as the pain goes, it may be worth seeing a hand specialist; there may be some physical therapy (working with medical silly putty) or even a lightweight brace that would help you get through the exam.
posted by jenkinsEar at 1:09 PM on February 18, 2008

I bought pen after pen before finding one I loved, which is the Zebra F-402. Weirdly, part of what I like about it is how heavy it is, which I would not have predicted. You need to spend time and money finding a pen that's right for you, because I would bet money that there is one. However, I would bet some lesser amount of money that it probably isn't the F-402. I think this is an Idiosyncratic Thing.

I also grip weirdly; I rest pens against the first knuckle of my ring finger and the tip of my middle finger and crook the rest of my hand around the pencil like a claw (this is probably hard to imagine). This means that most of what ends up sore after writing is a part of my ring finger that's not useful for anything else at all, and a similarly useless part of my pinky knuckle that rubs the page when I write usually ends up red and smudged with ink. Again, this was something I started back when I was learning to write and I don't know if it would help you now, but different grips are worth trying.

Cursive is fast, but it gets that way after lots and lots of practice, and may never be legible.
posted by crinklebat at 5:30 PM on February 18, 2008

You need a pen with a good ink flow, then you don't need to push it hard into paper. The best choice is a good quality fountain pen. There's no problem with smudges if you pick paper that's absorbant enough and if you're minimally careful. Two good inexpensive fountain pens I had were lamy safari and rotring core. The first one looks futuristic and professional and the latter one looks like a toy but is well-built and has better ink flow, therefore it may be easier to write with. If your handwriting is small, I recommend a fine nib, standard nib may be hard to make legible with small letters. The tradeoff is that unless your paper is smooth, fine nib may scratch the paper a bit. On the other hand smooth paper will not absorb ink as fast and you may have trouble with smudging. I refill ink pens from ink bottles but if you're in a hurry you can use cartridges, they might be a bit expensive though. A good fallback pen is staples cheap gel pen with caps. It has much better flow than even great Zebra gel pens. That's why these zebra pens can do without a cap. Don't use pencils or ballpoints, I don't think you can write a lot with them, they're meant to take short notes. One nice shortcut is not dotting the 'i', because then you can
write all words without taking pen off paper, and I feel it's still legible. If you can use keyboard sometimes, old IBM clicky keyboards ('model M') are reputed to be the best for speed, accuracy and comfort. You can sometimes pick them up on ebay auctions for cheap. Definitely don't use the rubber dome mushy keyboards or an average laptop keyboard. HTH..
posted by rainy at 6:29 PM on February 18, 2008

Seconding jenkinsEar. If you have an injury associated with handwriting, the school should let you type instead. That's how to write REALLY fast.
posted by lunchbox at 9:00 PM on February 18, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments. Fountain pens and cursive writing seem the most viable options to me. Typing would be good, but lacks the immediacy of writing, and adding diagrams would be difficult.

Interesting link:

In their particular data, the cursive writers in exams write more words, but they don't necessarily have a greater words-per-minute writing speed than other styles. This suggests that cursive writers simply keep on writing while other students pause for thought. So perhaps there's simply a correlation between writing style and overall output - though not a causative link.
posted by ajp at 6:45 AM on March 2, 2008

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