How can I improve my handwriting skills after the age of 40?
July 27, 2004 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible for someone to improve their handwriting later in life, say at the age of 40? Do you have any tales of inspiration or warning?

I mostly print, and would like to teach myself to print more neatly, something like the font Comic Sans.

I suppose the broader question I'm asking is if its possible to acquire any number of skills (playing piano, drawing) later in life. Not sure why this appeals to me, perhaps it's a midlife crisis avoidance ritual or something.
posted by mecran01 to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
i've done it. my handwriting is awful, dreadful, terrible. i can't even read it half the time. i dislike it because when the need arises to write a note (sympathy cards, business thank yous, love letters), it's embarassing.

i fixed my handwriting the way i should have been taught handwriting in the first place. i sit down with a good pen, on a clean writing surface, with decent paper and i copy out text long hand. i try to it as often as possible, but absolutely at least once a week. although my handwriting when i'm taking notes for myself is only somewhat improved, when i sit down to write out correspondence, the difference is remarkable.

(as for the broader question, i think it's just a matter of time and inclination. i started making quilts the year i turned 30 and i've gotten better at it in the last year.)
posted by crush-onastick at 11:06 AM on July 27, 2004

Given decline of brain plasticity with aging, it would seem that an adult learner will never achieve the level of skill they would have, had they started as a kid. Having said that, hope is not lost, as far as achieving decent, workable dexterity, given the right instruction, approach and dedication. For music, check out Tone Deaf and All Thumbs?: An Invitation to Music-Making.
posted by Gyan at 11:20 AM on July 27, 2004 [1 favorite]

I started teaching myself the piano at around 35. It's coming along nicely - as long as it's not epxressly forbidden, I don't feel shy about plunking down at nice grands or baby grands in public spaces and jamming. Nobody has ever told me to stop. I just make it all up, inventing patterns and then riffing off them. I started with one key, learned another the following point being : children learn by play unless they are taught otherwise. Technical skills and knowledge are useful, of course, but not at the expense of pure play - which is sublime.

Here's a thought on your writing - try learning to write with your opposite hand ( becoming ambidextrous ) while you're cleaning up your "natural" hand's handwriting.

This will also stimulate the release of neural growth factor and enhance your efforts. Neural growth factor release can be stimulated - by especially by new learning, by travel, and through social interaction - until the day you die.
posted by troutfishing at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2004 [1 favorite]

From yesterday's Times.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:31 AM on July 27, 2004

It's certainly not impossible to teach old dogs new tricks, though I don't think we pick things up as quickly as kids.

I've also got really bad handwriting, and I restrict myself to printing because I can't read my own longhand. That said, you'd be amazed (well, I was) at what a difference it makes to slow down and c o n c e n t r a t e on each letter. Usually my handwriting suffers because I'm thinking two words ahead.

I had a girlfriend who studied Japanese calligraphy, and even though she had to do calligraphy with her right hand and wrote with her left, it made a big improvement in her regular Japanese penmanship. So perhaps you could find a calligraphy class (English-language).
posted by adamrice at 11:39 AM on July 27, 2004

You can (and I say should) fix your handwriting. It's pretty easy and it can be worked on in very short sessions. No need to copy out texts longhand, or use a nice pen. Just find a style of lettering that you like and start practicing.

This guy did it (recent NYT article -- get it before it disappears).

Here are some comic book fonts. These are usuall all-caps style, instead of a mixed case. I write like this all the time. It seems slow at first, but it speeds up pretty fast (from when I graduated from my shitty high school writing). I wouldn't do cursive if you paid me, but this might be what you want. If so, go for it. Freak.

Practice anything -- whole sentences (consistency in direction of horizontals and verticals is the most important thing here), words (correct letter spacing), or even single letters. Don't stress about it and think about it as work, think about it as a fun game of trying new things and developing a style.

In general I think that motor things (i.e., muscle memory activities) are easier to learn than perceptual things. Learning music, or tonal languges later in life is *very* difficult. Learning how to shoot free-throws, or how to write in really nice print, is easy. Er, easier.
posted by zpousman at 11:43 AM on July 27, 2004

If you happen to click through to that NY Times article, and then feel like reading the Handwriting Repair website linked therein, turn your sound off first.

For a group obsessed with excellence in the art of calligraphy and handwriting, they certainly have very little respect for web design!

But some of the samples are remarkable. I'm going to start emulating this one first.
posted by bcwinters at 11:47 AM on July 27, 2004

teach myself to print more neatly
Take a drafting course.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:59 AM on July 27, 2004

…something like the font Comic Sans.

Please don't.
posted by Robot Johnny at 12:28 PM on July 27, 2004

I'm only in my twenties, but I have four different styles of writing, for various occasions and uses. I haven't had to practice, or really do anything, I just think what way I want to write, and bam.. I do it. It's like painting or something.. you don't have to paint in the same style each time, so you don't need to write the same way each time either. So, I guess, I have no single or engrained style of handwriting.
posted by wackybrit at 12:29 PM on July 27, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for the excellent advice and the links to the nyt piece. I will seek out a book on lettering and avoid the dreaded comic sans. I have found your answers uplifting.
posted by mecran01 at 12:55 PM on July 27, 2004

I once saw a sample of a teacher's handwriting on some television program and I liked the style so much that I completely modified my printing, formerly a blocky and somewhat draftsmanlike hand, to reflect a similar approach. While I am by no means a calligrapher, I have received occasional compliments.

Designing a new hand and drilling myself in it was the work of about an hour. I was an adult at the time, though a relatively young one, and my results may be atypical: I use two other, quite different, printing styles very comfortably.
posted by majick at 1:05 PM on July 27, 2004

i changed my writing when i was about 20 - maybe that's not old enough? i just decided i wanted a different style (not necessarily one people would think better or easier to understand, but one that seemed more natural to me - writing always felt like i was trying to follow the instructions i was given when i was taught, so i gave that up and found a simpler set of shapes that seemed to feel right).
posted by andrew cooke at 1:13 PM on July 27, 2004

If you're looking to have a different style of handwriting, as opposed to just learning to write legibly, pick up a handwriting analysis book from a used bookstore or library somewhere. It doesn't matter how nutty the book is - it'll point out variations in penmanship you probably won't notice messing around with letterforms by yourself. Helped me at least.
posted by furiousthought at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2004

I started taking piano lessons in my 40s. I'll never get up to the skill I would have gotten if I'd started when I was a kid, but that's not the point. From my perspective, the point is simply to keep growing by trying new things that you like to do.

If you're looking for inspiration books about undertaking new ventures at midlife (and later), check out Barbara Sher's book "It's only too late if you don't start now"
posted by jasper411 at 2:29 PM on July 27, 2004

If it's impossible for adults to learn new skills, then a lot of people in Continuing Education programs are wasting their time. Frankly, I think if you aren't learning and growing you might as well be dead and I usually don't bother forming relationships with such people as they are just too stagnant.

I found myself regretting that I had never taken any real art courses as a child or teenager, and so I did a Visual Arts program at a community college. I went from not being able to draw at all to being able to giving my brother and his wife a Christmas 2003 gift of some near professional calibre pencil portraits of my nieces and nephew, working from their school photos. And I no longer have that particular regret.

If you want to improve your writing, the last chapter of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards provides a way to do that.
posted by orange swan at 3:18 PM on July 27, 2004

Oh, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is a classic and will be available at your local library.
posted by orange swan at 3:19 PM on July 27, 2004

In the 8th grade I decided I wanted to make "a"s like in printed matter, and while I was at it decided to revamp a number of other numbers and letters. I also abandoned cursive capitals, instead using printed capitals even when I was writing in cursive. Took me about a week to switch over and was fun. It wasn't much an improvement in legibilty, but it seemed to fit better.

Of course, now I write about four words a month by hand (the name of my apartment complex and the amount of my rent in words) -- about fifty a year. I have been meaning to get rid of those last few handwritten words for some time. Perhaps it would be easier for you to do this than to revamp your handwriting.
posted by kindall at 4:03 PM on July 27, 2004

Gunnlaugur SE Briem has wonderful lessons for learning italic handwriting. This is handwriting for everyday use, not a formal script. It's basically a complete book in html on the subject – I've never seen anything better. The introduction starts out with before and after examples from an adult who improved their handwriting using Briem's exercises.
posted by D.C. at 5:18 PM on July 27, 2004 [1 favorite]

When I was in school, I was taught block and traditional cursive. Today, most handwriting teachers use the D'Nealian system, a simplified semi-cursive. It's probably just as good for rehabilitated scribblers as it is for pre-schoolers.
posted by dhartung at 11:47 PM on July 27, 2004

"I suppose the broader question I'm asking is if its possible to acquire any number of skills (playing piano, drawing) later in life."

Yes! Absolutely! I'm pretty passionate about this because I think the contrary belief is a major impediment to realizing a full life.

It's true that kids have certain advantages in brain plasticity. However, as an adult you should have advantages in self-discipline and mental focus. With the exception of foreign languages, I can't think of anything that I can't learn quicker and better now than I could have as a kid. (The brain is hardwired so languages are much easier if learned in early childhood.) Not only do I have much more self-discipline than I had when I was younger, but I understand much more about the learning process, and so can tackle new projects in a more effective way.

It's true that you won't get to be "world-class" in most motor skills if you don't start as a kid ... and have a lot of natural talent ... and have the inherent drive and discipline as a kid to keep working obsessively hard at that skill for years. Guess what? 99.995% of the population will never reach that "world-class" status in anything. Who cares? On a practical basis, your only real limitations are the level of consistent time and focus you bring to the project of learning.

I'll stop learning new skills when I'm dead. Not before.
posted by tdismukes at 8:04 AM on July 28, 2004

Response by poster: This is such an excellent thread. Thanks to everyone for some inspiring and useful stories.
posted by mecran01 at 7:58 PM on August 17, 2004

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