37

I really like writing encouraging letters to my friends every so often. Writing them by hand makes them feel a lot more personal, but I am always hesitant to do so because my handwriting has always been terrible.

I know the only way to get better is to practice, but my problem is that even when I take my time, it's still pretty ugly. As such, it doesn't seem to help because I'm just repeating the same, ugly characters.

How can I improve my handwriting ability? Are there any tools or methods that could help me learn good handwriting better or faster?

Note that I'm referring specifically to body text, not any fancy headlines or characters.

  • 8
    start writing with a fountain pen :) – Vincent Apr 30 '15 at 13:09
  • @DevelopersPedia I would worry that I'd end up like Charlie Brown writing to his pen pal: covered in smeary blobs of black ink. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Apr 30 '15 at 15:33
  • 5
    A tip from someone else with horrible handwriting: try writing in block capitals. I find other people can read my writing much better when I do so. This doesn't make your writing better though, it's more of a temporary fix. – Kik Apr 30 '15 at 18:40
  • Write slowly in large print. Initially you want to build good habits, which means not rushing, trying to exactly copy an example of what you consider good, and not writing too small. That's why in Kindergarten they start on those pieces of paper with like 5 lines on them, each an inch high. :) – neuronet May 2 '15 at 17:36
  • @Kik I know a number of people who have some architectural training whose handwriting was enormously influenced by the way they teach architects to write, including using all caps. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum May 14 '15 at 18:07

13 Answers 13

33

Just some extra pointers to try to break from bad habits, since I think the previous answers are pretty thorough.

Position the Paper Comfortably

  • Pay attention to the position of the paper and modify it until you find the most comfortable position for you. Keeping the paper straight in front of you will force your wrist to strain and contort in order to be able to draw the characters. If you are right handed, for example, you might find that if you turn the paper 20 to 30 degrees counter clockwise it feels easier to write. Try to find your own sweet spot, which usually is the one in which the wrist is not bent nor compressed.

Release the Pressure!

  • Do not grab the writing utensil as if your life would depend on it. If you grab it to strongly your hand muscles will be locked and they will not be able to do graceful relaxed curves. If you write for a while and you notice that your fingertips hurt or your hand cramps, then you are exerting too much pressure. Like when you are driving, singing, skating or biking, you have to be in control of your muscles, but they should not be locked. They should feel relaxed, loose and have freedom of movement.

Lighten Your Touch

  • Play also with the position of your hand on your writing utensil. The tendency is to place the fingers very close to the tip, in order to have more control. This causes every single micro-movement to be registered in the paper, sort of like in an ECG. It also doesn't allow you to look at what you are writing. Try moving the finger tips a little further away from the tip of the writing utensil so you can see what you are doing. The shapes you draw will be also more relaxed and even.
  • Don't try to draw the shapes too slowly either, since you will also end up registering a lot of micro-movements. Be more assertive and, like when driving, look at where you want your writing utensil to go as opposed to looking at its tip and tracking its path.

Consider Your Body Posture

  • Pay attention to the joints of the hand, wrist and arm. Pay attention to which ones you use to write. If you are writing in a small piece of paper they will be most likely the finger joints, and perhaps a bit of the wrist, but if you are writing on a board they will be the joints of the whole arm. They are your writing instruments. They work almost like a set of compasses. Curves are easier to draw with them because of their anatomy. Use them to your advance to create graceful curves. Straight lines are harder. Something needs to be locked in place in order to draw straight lines. Try to think which muscles and joints you need to lock in order to get straight lines.
  • Pay attention to the rhythm of your hand progressing down the line. Notice that it has to skip down the line, sort of like a toad, every few characters because they start getting out of reach. See if you are not doing this often enough causing your wrist and fingers to contort in order to be able to draw the characters.

Plant Your Forearm

  • Do rest your hand on the paper. This gives your hand support. A floating hand is a shaky one. This is writing we are talking about, not heart surgery.

Calm Your Thoughts and Focus

  • Slow down your mind. The mind dictates what the hand writes. In the modern times we are used to the speed of typing. When one types, words make it to the paper or screen in a very fast pace. When one writes, they make it to the paper at a slower pace. You have to dictate (think) more slowly, otherwise your hand will try to catch up with your rushing mind and make lots of mistakes trying to go too fast.

Strive for Perfectionism

  • If you have bad habits you want to get rid off, don't be flexible with yourself. You know what they are and they bug you. They might be ugly characters, or slanted lines or uneven line ends. Don't allow yourself to make these mistakes sometimes justifying them with circumstances. If you want to get rid of them, then banish them forever. I have the bad habit of drawing a capital M that looks more like an envelope, for example. I dislike it very much. I draw it properly whenever I have the time, but I allow myself to draw the ugly M when I am in a rush. This means that I will never get rid of it because it is the default shape my brain uses if I am not paying close attention. It has spoiled many a Christmas card ("ENVELOPEerry Christmas!") and it will continue doing so until I stop being flexible with myself.

Find Your Own Styles & Preferences

  • Create your own character shapes. It is your own handwriting. You don't have to follow the way other people write. Create your own, so you feel identified with your characters. As long as you are happy with them and they are recognizable, you are fine. My mother turns the dots over the lower case i into little circles, for example. I would never do this, but I have always found it interesting. I connect the bars of double lower Ts, for example, so they look like a single bar. A good example of a character that almost everybody writes in a different way is the "&" character. Have fun with your shapes and you are more bound to stick to them than if you learn them from stern angry teacher calligraphy courses.

Look for Inspiration

  • You can also appropriate character shapes from other people's handwriting and mix them up with yours. They will work almost like tiny quotations or mementos intermingled with your daily affairs. I appropriated some characters from the handwriting of my favourite aunt, for example. Every time I use them, it brings her to my memory, which is nice. This might encourage you to draw the characters the way you want them to look.

Consider the Shapes Instead of What They Represent

  • If you are stuck with a shape you cannot draw properly, turn the page upside down and try to draw it slowly, several times. This will force your brain to pay attention exclusively to the shape of the character, taking it out of context. It will not be a character anymore, but a shape. You will be surprised of how many interesting attributes of the character you discover (angles, proportion, rhythm) when you do this. This is just to "analyze" the character, though. You will have to practice it in its regular position until drawing it becomes second nature.
9

Here are a few things that have worked for me.

  1. Be comfortable

    Pick a pen you're comfortable with. A tool you enjoy. Ballpoint pen, pencil, fountain pen, whatever. This is important. Having fun boosts learning.

  2. Imitate

    Look at other people's handwriting, and pick a style you like. Try to copy that style a bit, but don't worry too much about not being identical. You can't achieve that exact same style even if you wanted. This is just for taking inspiration. You'll eventually develop your own style that will be influenced by the styles you imitate.

  3. Experiment

    Experiment with different styles. This is crucial. Try different letters forms, different pens, different hand positions, etc. Especially in the beginning, experiment as much as possible, to find your zone. You'll automatically settle on something that you enjoy.

  4. Write a lot

    This one is obvious. In order to take the advantage of the previous points, you need to practice a lot. There's no shortcut for developing your handwriting style. As you write, concentrate on one letter at a time first. Try to make them perfect but don't worry if you don't succeed at first. Just continue to the next one. As you get more fluent with your style, you can start writing faster.

9

It's a lot like drawing......Muscle memory.

Consciously and deliberately write the way you want to write .... then do it some more, then more, and even more. If you still feel it's ugly, keep practicing. Slow down and be even more deliberate. If it helps, use vellum or tracing paper and retrace the parts of your writing you do like. The important thing is to get the hand/fingers to repeat the desired motions over and over and over again.

You have to train your muscles to write the way you want to write. The only way to change your natural handwriting is through repetitive practice. You need to get the muscles in your hand and fingers accustomed to making the lines and curves you want rather than the lines and curves they are accustomed to making.

Start slow and deliberate and repeat. The more deliberate you are with writing, the faster you'll get with it. Eventually you won't need to be deliberate because you've trained your hand to create what you see in your mind.

In college we were taught to use a straightedge and write above it. Basically the straight edge became a "stop" when needed. Similar to this YouTube video. I don't use a straight edge today, but the lessons I learned using it stuck with me a great deal.

This is very similar to the value of doodling for artists. The more you doodle, the easier it becomes to actually draw something you want to draw.

8

Take a calligraphy course.

Calligraphy literally means beautiful writing (from the Greek kalos "beauty" + graphein "to write"). When learning calligraphy, you will learn about the shapes of letters, different "hands" (italic, gothic, blackletter), how the nib (point) of the calligraphic pen produces different effects, and how to produce those effects depending on how you hold and move your hand.

Obviously you can't recreate the thick-thin effects of a wide slanted nib with a ballpoint, but being aware of how to draw a letter makes you pay much more attention to how you write one.

A friend of mine who took such a course while studying graphic design was even asked to design his own calligraphic alphabet as an assignment. I can't imagine how that would not have an effect on cleaning up your handwriting.

  • Thanks for the answer! If I had more time I definitely would (maybe sometime in the future I can). I know you can't include the information from a whole course, but are there any main points that a course would teach that I can learn myself or practice that you could mention? – Zach Saucier Apr 30 '15 at 13:30
  • Pretty much what I mentioned above: lettershapes, thick/thin lines, nib angle. Also, there are many "teach yourself calligraphy" books — I see at least three on Amazon with that exact title. If you pick up one of those, that should get you started. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Apr 30 '15 at 15:33
  • Minor niggle: ‘beautiful’ in the (masculine) lookup form is καλός kalos in Greek, with a single L; only the feminine (καλλή kallē) and the compounding stem (καλλι- kalli-) have the double L. :-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 21 '15 at 23:06
7

What follows presumes that you want to do italic writing, the kind championed by the late Alfred Fairbank CBE.

Use a pencil, HB or B according to taste, and a toothy lined pad, the kind you can buy in bulk at Staples for example. The pencil can be a wooden grade-school kind, or a mechanical one. I use a 0.5mm mechanical.

Angle the pad comfortably (you'll probably alter that angle several times, so don't try to be religious about it. Design is an iterative process).

Start out writing lines full of connected lower-case 'a's. Don't pay too much attention to any one of them -- none of them are meant to be perfect because humans aren't perfect. Stay loose. Try, but not too hard, to make the second one similar in size and angle to the first one, and the third similar to the second, the fourth to the third and so on. Don't waste time trying to make the third similar to the first. If it's similar to the second that's good enough.

Once you have a good angle on the paper, and you can produce lines of similar 'a's pretty smoothly and without too much work --which could take you weeks or even months, so don't get discouraged: it's like zen or gongfu -it's foundational behavior, you're training your hand and eye-- shift to writing lines of aoaoaoaoaaooaaoo and so forth -a and o intermixed. Decide what kind of joins, if any, you want to use, which might be something else that takes a fair bit of experimenting. Make the bowls of the 'o's look similar to bowls of the 'a's. Then mix in 'c's the same way.

From aoac etc shift to ananan and then anonaononaoca and so forth (the mixing I show in this text is just meant to be exemplary, not the exact mix you should use), making the n as similar to the o, c, and a as the natural differences between the letters, and your natural human limitations, allow. Then add m to the mix. The m should look like the n, just one more hump. When you've got that down and can write any number of lines of mixed a n o m as you like, add w in the same way. The w is just an upside-down m, except for how it joins other letters, if you choose to join them consistently (you don't have to --experiment til you get a sense of what looks good and seems right).

Add g, which is an a whose stem dips down and can either come back up to join the next letter, or just be left cut off and the next letter started by itself. ggggggggagagagagaogomgna and so forth.

Add d, which is an a whose stem's starting point is higher than the a's - you don't change direction so soon, but it should look similar to the a apart from that. dddddddgdgdgdadadodmdn and so forth. Always mix in these new letters with the existing ones, trying gently to make them all look similar.

From there, add h, which is an n with a tall stem the same way a d is an a with a tall stem, an l which is an h without the n part. The b an p come next, which are sort of backwards d and g.

From there keep going, filling in the remaining letters to look similar to the ones you're already writing. Don't force the similarity -they should "agree" with the other letters, look related in other words.

When you've got them all in hand, start assembling words. When you can write lines of words, go buy a copy of Fairbank's A Handwriting Manual to pick up the capitals. Fairbank's book, because it gives examples from different people, should reassure you that what you're doing is completely within the tradition. You could also visit, and might even want to join, the Society for Italic Handwriting. Their website has nice examples.

Finally decide whether you really want to use a chisel pen to make your writing look more posh. Osmiroid of sainted memory were still making chisel-nib fountain pens when Fairbank wrote, but they went under some years ago because too few people were still interested any more. I don't know of another good maker (Pentalic wasn't, last time I checked).

So now that Osmiroid is gone, people like me have to go back to cutting our own goose and turkey quills, and grubbing around trying to find useful reeds for larger work. It's hard. It's also unnecessary for anything that's not going to be hung on a wall or bound into a book -- I get amazed comments from people even though I'm only using a pencil or a Sakura Micron pen. The key is the regularity. Unskilled writing with a fine chisel pen is still going to look like unskilled writing, while skilled writing will look fine even if the tool is a stick and you're writing in the mud.

Above all - have fun! Because if it feels like work, it won't look good.

APROPOS REED PENS: I found to my surprise this summer (2015) that garden/home-improvement shops (e.g. Home Depot in the US) have thin bamboo canes for tying up beanstalks and similar and those canes, after being soaked to make them pliable enough to cut, make very fine cane pens! Because of the diameter of the canes, they're best suited to monumental work, posters and similar.

Cut them in lengths to suit your hand, push out the pith in the middle (a bit of coat-hanger wire works well), and then cut them with the sharpest knife you have. I actually use a half-inch-wide wood chisel because my chisels can be ground sharper than any of my knives.

Once cut, split the tip a little bit with a fresh single-edge razor blade. Do it carefully, trying to center it as much as possible and long enough that it will channel the ink from your reservoir. The reservoir can be made out of a bit of a watch spring, if you have one, or half a bobby pin (watch spring is better). Or even stick a bit of cotton wool from a q-tip into the pith channel (that works less well than a bit of bobby pin or watch-spring). The basic idea is use something that will allow you to put in enough ink (use an eyedropper) to be useful and that won't instantly blob it back out!

If you don't have anything for a reservoir, dip the cane into the ink carefully.

In all cases, don't try to do finished work until you've figured out your individual pen's idiosyncrasies. They all have them and will take revenge on you if you don't stay within their limits.

6

All of the answers (which are excellent) assume that you are correct, that your handwriting is "terrible". Perhaps not. Perhaps the secret for you is to stop being critical and just love the handwriting you have.

Over time it will change, each of your idiosyncrasies may grow into extravagant flourishes or fade away. Who knows. That is part of the fun of handwriting, it is not calligraphy: it is less deliberate than that.

In any case I think the question would be greatly improved with a scan of your handwriting. Perhaps you could write out the question by hand and append the scan to the question. I think you'll be surprised by how much positive stuff others (without your self-critical eye) find to like.

5

You don't really need a calligraphy course. I've been doing calligraphy since I was a kid, learning from books. Many calligraphy books teach extremely well.

Calligraphy, however, is not necessarily practical, because it requires the use of a calligraphy pen. You don't have the kind of tips calligraphy pens have with regular pens and pencils.

I suggest doing it the way most kids learnt (at least back in my days in the 80s/90s prior ipad), with lined paper templates. Make sure the lowercase stay within the lower line, and the Uppercase the higher line.

Here's an example I took from google.

enter image description here

  • 1
    These are the only assignments in school, regardless of subject, that I failed every time, hahaha – Zach Saucier Apr 30 '15 at 22:38
  • Practice practice practice. But be very cautious and make sure the letters don't go under or over the lines. If you observe the sample above, you'll notice that the upper case touches the upper line (but not go over) and the lowercase touches the lower line (but not go over)... If you follow the guidelines, there are very little room for errors between the lines... – CleverNode May 1 '15 at 14:38
5

I have dysgraphia and I have much difficulty in writing legible characters at all. What has helped me the most was to use a different pen.

To me the bulk of the pens are too thick and have a slide that I can't control, but I have found a type which has a much smaller tip and a scratching feeling when you pull it on the paper. This has helped me write much more legibly. It might be different for you, but you should try different pens too.

The second thing that helped me much was that when I tried to make big characters, so they would take up more place on a paper, they looked nicer, so I started writing wider characters and it helped too.

The third thing that helped me a bit, was recommended by a psychiatrist for my dysgraphia and I had to draw a spiral from in to out using huge movements on a A0 paper on the wall. This has also helped me a bit. (I had filled up about 10 papers one paper a day.)

I am by no means a graphic designer, but as a student, these things helped me write more legible and nicer characters.

  • Thanks for your input! It seems like the first two things in particular will be helpful. How does the spiral help your handwriting? – Zach Saucier Apr 30 '15 at 23:00
  • @MarkMussler I don't know exactly, it was suggested by a professional. I guess it improves your fine motoric movements, I particularly had hard time when drawing curved shapes, so it helped me keep a proper angle, for example when writing an O the top part would line up. Also I remember I had to draw as many spirals without colliding as you could.(for me as a 10 year old that was about 10) – akaltar May 1 '15 at 19:29
  • Ive seen the spiral thing recommended for artiats before drawing the idea seems that it makes your right brain side boored letting you do more left side thinking – joojaa Nov 2 '15 at 16:17
4

Practice makes your handwriting better. This is different from what most consider calligraphy. But in fact handwriting is where it starts. My normal hand is pretty horrible but there is one universally useful thing:

Write Slowly

We all know what the letters should look like. By slowing the pace, you give yourself time to do it the way you are supposed to do it. Take your time. When I do, my handwriting improves so drastically that people don't believe it's my handwriting. At first you will struggle with the speed but eventually the speed will pick up. Learn to relax, don't do things under pressure because it does not help.

It takes considerable effort to change your shorthand though, so I didn't bother. But I did design my signature. I practiced about a year until I got it right every time.

Now the same applies to calligraphy. Take your time to do each stroke with care and purpose. Another thing that helps me is using ruled paper or my letters tend to change in size.

You do not need a special pen for calligraphy, any pen will do. Of course you don't get the thinning and thickening with a pencil. Personally I like to use an ink brush designed for writing Kanji because I feel it gives me more options. But you need to choose what works for you.

1

Assuming that you want lower case letters that are about 5 mm (almost 1/4") high try running a set of lower case letter "o"s across a page from your computer around this size and then attempt to write a message in your own handwriting over these o's. If these seems cramped, create another line of o's that are maybe 9 mm high and try writing over them again using the "o" shape to shape the relevant part of each letter. Some letters have no relationship to "o". As you practise you will find the rounded form becomes a habit and you can forget the print line of 'O's .

1

There's a chance that the handwriting style you learned is not one that suits your current purposes. I've found the books by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay to be helpful, particularly Write Now. Their suggested italic style is easy to learn.

Try a variety of different writing implements and papers until you find ones you feel comfortable with. For me, that turns out to be a relatively fine fountain pen on European paper, but you may have a different experience.

1

You could buy a hand writing practice book which can be found in the 'primary/elementary school area of a good stationery store. Use that to practice and you will find that it presents the opportunity of following correct letter formation and 'basic rules of handwriting' like writing within lines for example.

Practice, practice, practice. You'll get there!

0

Slowing down helps. If I carefully and exactly draw each letter and go about one to two words per minute, it is clear enough that other people can read it. It is still painful to look at but it can be read.

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