My Instagram bio says that I am a graphic designer with nice handwriting. It says this because I think it’s a fun way of telling the internet I do calligraphy. But also technically it’s a lie because I don’t actually think I have good handwriting. And that’s okay because I don’t always need to have good handwriting. There is a pretty good chance you feel the same way about your handwriting. So today I want to share some of the reasons behind why we think this way and also some small tips which could help you improve your handwriting.
I should probably add that I am not an expert when it comes to anything related to handwriting (though if you need a calligrapher I am available). However, I did write my dissertation on handwriting and as such have done quite a lot of research into the subject. Though please note, I am in the UK and so my research focused specifically on how handwriting was developed and taught in the UK.
Why Have Good Handwriting?
Possibly the first and most important question you need to ask yourself is if you *need* to have good handwriting. Handwriting is an interesting skill because, for the most part, people will only notice your handwriting if it is especially good or bad.
Taking steps to improve your handwriting simply because you want to is perfectly acceptable. However, you should remember while there are occasions to show off your penmanship. There are also plenty of situations where having less than perfect handwriting is also acceptable and sometimes even preferable.
Some countries may choose to teach a cursive style of writing, but chances are if you’re reading this you learned print. Print writing has an interesting history that goes back to Edward Johnston, a graphic designer and calligrapher. But you probably know him better as that guy who designed the London Underground typeface. Edward Johnston developed a style of calligraphy to be written with a flat edge nib called foundational, based on an 11th century illuminated manuscript.
In 1913 it was decided that a simplified version of this script would be used as a handwriting model in schools. The book I find this information from suggests that the simplified letterforms were inspired by Johnston’s London Underground typeface, which also shares similarities with Foundational. Suffice to say, Johnston’s Foundational style was modified so that it could be taught to children, though Johnson later went on to regret this move stating that “they [book hands*] were not built for speed and would never lead to rapid handwriting”.
In summary, print writing comes from a style of calligraphy that was not designed to be written with a pencil. Not intended as an everyday writing script and most importantly was not a style of writing which could be done quickly. Despite all of this, it proved to be a very simple script to learn and as such, is now the preferred writing script taught to children all over the world.
How To Improve Your Handwriting
Handwriting is such a personal thing. We all start out learning the same scripts and add our own little personal touches to them as we grow. For varied and complicated reasons the script itself can lend to messiness. However, there are also a number of small changes you can make to help you improve your handwriting.
1. Write slower.
Handwriting is a skill that you are taught to do automatically. In the sense that you’re taught to not think about what you’re doing. You may think about what you’re going to write but you won’t think about how you move your hand to make marks on the paper. One of the easiest ways to improve your handwriting is to slow down and be intentional about the act. Think about the marks you’re making and how the movement of your hand affect those marks.
Most early 20th-century handwriting manuals stressed the importance of writing quickly, this is a by-product of its time. Before computers and typewriters the speed you could write dictated the speed you could work. Now that we’re living in the digital age and can choose between digital or paper-based writing methods. You can also be indulgent and find a slower writing speed that feels comfortable for you and does not sacrifice the legibility of your letterforms.
2. Set up your workspace
When you write you use a combination of finger and arm movement. The exact combination depends on the style of writing scripts you are using. Some scripts favour arm movement. In previous years children, would have a pencil tied to their hand so they were forced to write using arm movement. Fortunately, we have moved on from this. Print tends to be written with finger movements, however, this can lead to hand strain as the muscles in your fingers begin to tire. This can be helped by using the larger muscles in your arm. When you sit down to write you should ensure you have enough space for your arm to move freely.
Having good posture with both feet flat on the floor will prevent pain in your shoulders and neck as you write. Depending on if you’re left or right-handed, you want to angle your paper to the left or right. There is no exact science on the specific way to angle your paper, suffice to say, it should sit in a way that is comfortable for you to write.
3. Adjust your pen grip.
It is easier to create the correct letterform shapes if your hand is free to move in the correct way. This comes from holding the pen in the correct position with the pen held in a loose grip between the thumb and index finger. This will allow you free range of movement.
While writing you may be aware of strain building in your hands. This can cause your letters to lose legibility as the muscles in your hands become tired. Having the correct pen grip is important, but if you suffer from hand strain changing how you hold your pen has been proven to help. Buying a grip for your pen can also help with strain because it makes the pen easier to hold. Though these are simple changes to make, hand strain can somethings be a sign of other issues. So if you’re having major problems it is always best to consult a professional.
4. Find time to practice
Good handwriting takes practice, it won’t happen overnight. Further down this post, I recommend a book that sets out a series of lessons that can help you improve your letterforms. One of the best things you can do during the day is find a time where you can intentionally practise your writing.
Think back to school, you didn’t just practice your handwriting when you were learning how to write. You were also practising your writing skills during your other classes. As an adult, you need to do something similar. If you use a planner or bullet journal you could also use this time to practise your handwriting skills. Even a small amount of practice can help if you are consistent and practise every day. Don’t get down on yourself if you write something which does not look as good as what you would like. As you continue to write you’ll start seeing small improvements. It can help to look back on your writing from previous months to see how much progress you’ve made.
There are numerous books about how to improve your handwriting. However, very few of them are written by what I’d call reputable sources. In my opinion, The Art of Cursive Penmanship by Michael R Sull is one of the best books you could buy if you’re serious about improving your handwriting. The Art of Cursive Penmanship is a manual on American Cursive, a style of penmanship developed by Austin Norman Palmer at the end of the 19th century. You can think of it as an everyday version of Spencerian which is an American style of calligraphy.
This cursive style has several advantages over print. As adults, we tend to favour a faster writing style, because we write from left to right. This results in our handwriting leaning ever so slightly to the right (though this is not always the case). Cursive is designed to be written with that right slant. It also came from a style of calligraphy intended to be written quickly and legibly. This means the letters flow better compared to print writing. Admittedly, this is an American style of writing and as such teaches the American versions of some letters (r and z). However, I think overall the book has the potential to benefit anyone wishing to improve.
I think this is probably one of the most complicated blog posts I’ve ever written. Which is strange because I wrote my dissertation on the same subject. Handwriting is such a tricky subject to talk about because it’s so different all over the world. I’m making assumptions that if you’re reading this post you write using the Latin alphabet.
I hope you got something useful from this post, no matter where you are and the style of writing script you use. If you follow any of the advice I’d love to see how your handwriting improves. You can send me pictures on Twitter (@thepaperkindco).
* This post was originally shared on my portfolio.
Book hand – a formal style of handwriting as used by professional copiers of books before the invention of printing