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Photo by Beinecke Library. Rest of pics by author.

MY HANDWRITING is awful — so bad that it’s not so much illegible as unidentifiable. It never bothered me, but I recently attended a creative writing retreat where I wrote some notes by hand. Looking over them now, I can barely read them. It’s rather embarrassing, as well as frustrating, so I decided to look for ways to improve your handwriting. As this great article points out, seems I’ve been writing the wrong way my whole life!

Luckily, it is possible to reboot years of misaligned muscle memory and improve your handwriting – you just need time, determination, and the following common sense tips.

1. Decide why you want to improve your handwriting.

You need to know exactly what you hope to achieve, so you know what to focus on. Perhaps (like me) you want to write more legibly, so your notes don’t look like a spider has been dipped in poisonous ink and then violently convulsed itself to death across your page.

Maybe there are a few letters you’ve never really been sure of (that would be you, joined-up s); or you want to impress that sexy graphologist you’re seeing by projecting the wonders of your personality through your loops and whorls.

It might be you want to write more fluently and efficiently, so your hand doesn’t cramp up after five minutes of scribbling; or that you believe it’s easier to manifest the poetic geometry of the universe through an actual pen than a computer keyboard.

There are as many good reasons to improve your handwriting as there are ways to write “spelling” in Old English. Regardless of your reasons, here’s how to do it.

2. Choose your weapon carefully.

English writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton famously wrote that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Just as you wouldn’t go into battle armed with the rusty paper knife you found down the back of the armchair, you shouldn’t expect to produce beautiful handwriting using a half-chewed Biro encrusted in suspect fluff.

It’s not necessary to buy a gold fountain pen with jewel-studded nib and ink distilled from a virgin squid, unless you happen to be a particularly sophisticated Bond villain. But you should experiment until you find a type of pen (or even pencil) that works for you.

A purist might tell you fountain pens are superior — presumably because it’s so hard to catch enough swans to make quills — but there are plenty of good ballpoints, roller-balls, and even felt tips out there.

Hand position: The top of the pen should rest on or just in front of the base knuckle.

Writing by hand shouldn’t be like a game of Mercy with your pen, so look for one that’s comfortable to hold, and where the ink flows smoothly without your having to push too hard on the paper.

Also, try pens with different sized nibs or balls to find a line thickness that pleases you, and experiment with different colors. But take care — it doesn’t matter how beautiful your script, it will still look horrendous if rendered in a bilious green ink.

Finally, if you’re a leftie, you can buy specially designed left-hand pens.

3. Get a grip.

Although your pen does have a pointy bit, it’s not actually a mighty sword, so you needn’t hold it like one. Your grip should be light yet supportive, and there should be no undue tension in your hand position. Don’t squeeze — your pen is no more a tube of toothpaste than it is a weapon, and the ink will flow of its own accord.

It doesn’t really matter which fingers you use to hold the pen, as long as it feels comfortable and balanced. But it’s best for the top (the non-business end) to rest on or just in front of the base knuckle of your index finger, rather than in the gully formed between index finger and thumb. (See the photo above.)

4. Sort your posture.

You need to sit up straight yet relaxed, with your non-writing fingers gently curled under your hand, and your hand position resting lightly on the table. Some people recommend having your writing surface at a 45-degree angle, which could be tricky unless you have a high-tech bat-desk, or are trying to save time by writing directly onto your laptop screen.

Clear some space, because you need room to move your arm when writing properly. You can’t produce elegant, free-flowing script if you’re hunched up over the only corner of your desk not littered with empty coffee cups, half-eaten sandwiches, and rogue power cables. There was a reason people had writing desks back in the days of yore.

Finally, once you have a comfortable writing position, don’t screw it up by altering your alignment. When it becomes awkward to move your hand position down the page to write the next line, try moving the paper up instead of your hand down. Unleashing a typewriter bing is optional.

5. Put your shoulder into it.

This is how much my writing sucks.

Having the right pen, correct grip, and good posture is worth nothing if you’re drawing the letters with your fingers. Strange as it sounds, you should not be using your wrist and fingers to write — that leads to cramped, stilted writing, as well as fatigue.

Rather, your fingers should hold the pen in place and act as a guide, and all the movement should come from the shoulder girdle. This is one of the main muscle groups you use to raise your arm and rotate it in a big circle, like Popeye powering up for a thunder punch.

In other words, your shoulder and forearm move as you write, but your wrist and fingers don’t. This helps you write in a more fluid, efficient style. It takes practice, and feels weird at first, but these muscle groups don’t get tired as quickly as your wrist and fingers.

6. Swap your air guitar for an air pen.

To practice using your shoulder muscles to write, hold your arm in front of you, elbow bent, and write big letters in the air. Concentrate on moving from the shoulder and holding your forearm, wrist, and fingers steady. Muscles from your shoulder, arm, chest, and back should be working. These are the muscle groups you want to use when writing with pen and paper.

Once you are comfortable doing this — which mostly means coming to terms with how ridiculous you look — try making smaller and smaller air letters. You can also try tracing the shapes of letters onto a wall with your finger, or writing on a blackboard or whiteboard.

Writing on a vertical surface means you automatically use the correct muscle groups. Resist the temptation to get close and rest your hand on the wall, because this means you are writing with your fingers again.

7. Bust out some shapes.

Once you’re confident with the muscle groups needed to write in thin air, it’s time to fire it up to 11 and break out the pen and paper. This article suggests you start out writing large X’s, /’s, O’s, swirls, and loops. Really concentrate on moving from the shoulder, holding your wrist steady, and using your fingers just as a guide. Focus on producing nice, smooth shapes, and use lined paper to help with consistent size and spacing.

Probably best not to hold your pen with this hand position.

As you get better, make your shapes smaller and smaller. Begin introducing letters — again, start out big and bold, and gradually get smaller. When you’re ready to go crazy, bust out some words, sentences, and even whole paragraphs.

Asking an adult to practice writing big letters might seem as pointless as Mr. Miyagi telling Daniel-san to paint his fence. But you aren’t just learning new muscle memory, you’re trying to unlearn bad habits.

8. Practice whenever you can.

Take every opportunity to write longhand instead of on a keyboard. If you’re a writer, or need to write a report or proposal, consider doing your first draft using pen and paper. You can polish and edit as you type it up. Write out old-skool to-do lists rather than using a computer program. Start maintaining a journal. If you’re stuck in a boring meeting, presentation, or lecture, practice your handwriting strokes instead of doodling whirlwinds and boxes.

Practice your handwriting for a few minutes each day, and you should start to see improvements quite quickly. Try making up motivational sentences that use letters in different ways, like:

“This handwriting malarkey is spiffing good fun, and I quite fancy I’m becoming rather good at it, don’t you think?”

Or,

“I was exceedingly happy to read that practice does indeed make perfect, and by Jove I’m going to see whether this really is the case.”

* This post was originally published on January 4, 2011.

Health + LifestyleWriting

 

About The Author

Nick Rowlands

Nick lived in Egypt for six years, working as a tour leader, EFL teacher, city guide editor, and online guidebook writer. He's currently in San Francisco searching for his centre. He (kinda sporadically) blogs at Delicious Chaos, and you can follow him on twitter.

  • http://helpingoneworld.wordpress.com Jared Krauss

    I just posted this on my dad’s facebook page.

    He’s 60 and I had to talk him through setting up Facebook over the phone. He’s a retired Physician’s Assistant and has the worst handwriting in the world.

    He attempts to make it look good by making it curvy and long, but to no avail.

    Never to late to learn?

    Cheers,
    Jared

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/nickrowlands Nick Rowlands

      Ha – thanks Jared! I hope he finds it helpful!

  • Megan Wood

    I am often humiliated by my boy handwriting, specifically when I have to write a thank-you note or give a stranger my phone number. I’ve been meaning to do something about it for awhile; your article has inspired me to shape up. Thanks for the advice!

  • Pete

    Thanks for this – I’ve been needing to do something about my writing for quite a wile.

  • Asim

    I’ve been going through a lot of guides for this very purpose and http://www.paperpenalia.com/handwriting.html was the first thing that came up on google. I’m eager to try it out since I too have been using my “fingers to write”, but I’m more interested in knowing if simply practicing the shoulder usage method worked for you or not? Did you notice a difference?

    • Gangadhar naik

      u r mad

    • Aasrarul

      Ms. Rebecca. u r very true I also noticed handwriting depends on moods. 

    • Heaven

      THANKS ASIM FOR YOUR WEBSITE IT HELPED ME ALOT

  • http://www.Savvy-Writer.com Rebecca

    Excellent! I practice my handwriting by writing in my journal. I noticed that my handwriting changes with my moods. If I’m feeling frustrated, my handwriting looks scattered. If I’m calm, my handwriting is readable. I usually take a deep breath and re-center myself. After all, I’d like to be able to read what I wrote.

    • tom

      that sounds like dislexya or at lest a kind of dislexya i have something like it however in my case i mix up letters or put them down with the wrong oriantason i bear a lot of hate for whoever thought d, b and p were ok as diffrent letters anywho when ever i take a test or a  Particularly stressful writing task I often take a very mild
      sedative no one which would make me drowsy but just calm my nerves might be
      worth looking in to =)    

    • muhammedali

      I also noticed that my handwriting changes with my moods.

  • Yes

    thank you so much, i needed this

  • Kayli Guidry

    love your humor. oh, and good advise too. thanks!

    • Kayli Guidry

      lol oops i meant *advice :)

  • Helltank

    I personally practice my handwriting by forcing myself to write slanting my letters to the right and curling the ends of my “g”s and “y”s(the main problem is that words like energy can look weird) into loops. Eventually it becomes a habit, and I flinch whenever I try to write an uncurled y. I’m still practising the “tall, slanted to the right letters” technique.

  • Smrtgrl180

    your handwriting looks EXACTLY like mine!

  • Gurudayalsahu

    Very good article really it motivates .Thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.whitelam Ben Whitelam

    I just tried to start writing with my shoulder, and now my normal finger writing is ruined! Looks like I’ll have to learn to write properly then.

  • yes

    this has helped me a fair bit, ive just realised how i write, i find it easier to write clearly by holding the pen properly, i had the pen in the joint between the thumb and index finger, no more pain there now when i have to write notes for college :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001559262450 Pico De Gallo

    Why post a two page article when you are just going to copy and paste everything from the link in the first paragraph? That seems a bit plagiarism-y

  • neat writer

    ThAT IS SO INTERESTING (sARCASTIC)
    I ALREADY KNOW HOW TO WRITE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH

  • neat writer

    Srsly, how can u not write? DONT READ THIS!

  • Clara Goodloe

    I am often complimented on my handwriting.  Your article has made me aware that when I want to impress I draw.

  • Fendter

    UGLy UGSLY UGLY UGLY you UGLY I SAY

  • Safsgasc

    But how do i write in a better handwriting because i tryed it and it didnt work. :(

  • eaze2009

    Thank you sir , much greatful.

  • Bryan

    I can vouch for Paperpenalia’s “shoulder writing” idea; where I work we, record a lot of our process data on blackboards mounted on the walls which forces me to write with my shoulder muscles and my writing is much neater than when I write on paper [horizontally].  Still not as good as I would like but a lot better…  I haven’t successfully adapted this skill to writing with a biro yet but it is probably just a matter of practicing some more.

  • Tingtongtong

    I feel terrible to admit that my handwriting is worse than yours. I think it is time to throw away the dying spider style and work on writing nicely.

  • KUSHANK MALVIY

    I HAD READ AND I WILL TRY THAT THIS TIPS ARE HELPFUL FOR ME OR NOT I THINK IT WILL. 

  • Alskdjfhg

    sooooooooooooo sad

    • Gangadhar naik n

      thats me only simply i wrote my name like that

  • Asifafida

    its nice to write now thanks for help

  • Smiley Face :)

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! This is going to help me so much!

  • Miles

    This is basically a re-write of http://www.paperpenalia.com/handwriting.html, but still pretty good as humor is worked into it. Only thing I can’t seem to find is how to support the forearm and elbow. When writing like this, are you supposed to levitate the forearm above the table or rest it on the table? Also, what of the problems that result from moving your hand across the page? Your hands are eventually going to change angle in relation to the lines of the page (also changing the shape of the writing). How can this be fixed? 

    • http://euphonick.com/ Nick Rowlands

      You should rest your forearm lightly on the table. Shouldn’t have a problem moving hands across page because your whole arm should be moving, not just your hand, so no change in angle.

      • Miles

        Thanks a lot. One more question though, is it best to have the paper in front of you turned to a 45 degree angle? and how far from you should it be? I’ve been practicing for weeks and this is one thing I’m still unsure about.

        • http://euphonick.com/ Nick Rowlands

          You should experiment to find what works best for you. I don’t have the paper turned at an angle, and think I’d find it tough to write properly like that, but it might help you. I find it easiest to have the sheet of paper quite a long way from me so I have space to move, but again, depends what works for you.

  • 29kuttu

    thanks fur this great information

  • Angel

    For the better part of the past 24 years I have been manhandling my pen. I have always been ashamed of writing for the reason that I hate how it looked. Thanks to your post I realized, after all this time my problem was on where my pen was resting. None of my teachers actually corrected this from the beginning. My third grade teacher actually embarrassed me in front of my whole class by handing me a penmanship notebook and making me practice my writing the whole of that year. I had an Aha! moment after reading that and went straight to try it. How glad I was when I saw that finally the letters that I so beautiful wanted to see were actually appearing on paper. None of my teachers actually corrected this from the beginning. My third grade teacher actually embarrassed me in front of my whole class by handing me a penmanship notebook and making me practice my writing the whole of that year. I still need to practice and learn how to handle the pen in this matter but my penmanship has improved exponentially already. I know that from now on I will actually enjoy writing with my own hand. Thank you very much. 

  • Mazher Mj

    am nt prfct evn prctce

  • Matthewj White1234

    Funny, my handwriting looks a lot like yours
    I’ll be sure to fix that…

  • http://pelicandigital.com/ Matt

    Thank you!

  • Mohit Kumar Nigam

    will help all my students.

  • Prabhu Thiru

    Add a comment…

    • Rahid Cv

      a good hand writing create a good persanality

  • Samora Goodwin

    going to give it all a try.. I’m going to be a doctor next year.. but I want to get away from the “doctor’s handwriting” stereotype.. bad penmanship kills patients.. ive seen it almost happen.

  • Sukhpal Singh Dhani

    a good handwriting symbolizes good education and presentations.

    • Piyush Srivastava

      symbolises good education???
      Sir, Gandhiji’s handwriting was not good.

  • Emily Roses Smith

    This was no help what so ever.

    • Marvelous Micah

      To each their own.

  • Hyeon Sarah Sung

    I do this for few day and I forget when I’m at school, when we have to copy down everything the teacher writes down.

  • Jennifer L. Scott

    Hi Nick I really loved this article. I did a blog post and video about it on my channel The Daily Connoisseur. Thanks for the inspiration! http://dailyconnoisseur.blogspot.com/2012/07/on-penmanship.html

  • Sastika Ghimire

    this steps really help.
    try it once.

  • Sachin Lodiwal

    I shall be trying this because my hand writing looking no good , I want , my hand writing is so beautiful today follow this eight tip.

  • Morris Akarui

    Wtf! Only an idiot would hold a pen like that!

  • Nan Jay Barchowsky

    So well written and as a handwriting specialist I agree with almost all but the pen hold. The shoulder/arm movement was the way for A. N. Palmer who in the 19th century designed the hand most know as cursive. With the hand riding along on the tips of the ring and little fingers one can join every letter in a word no matter how long the word. There is another cursive! It’s called italic. It is more legible because there are no loops to clutter up letters, and it’s fast, and you can write for hours without tiring. Really! You use fingers and a bit of hand too, keep the palm open, let the pen rest in the web between thumb and index finger, and away you’ll go. Come see at http://www.fixitwrite.com.

  • Nan Jay Barchowsky

    Nan Jay Barchowsky.

  • Kadimi Saikumar

    it is easy to understand and I like this article because of this iam knowing how to write thank u so much…………………….

  • Anonymous

    wow!
    thank you!
    well, I look like a fool while practicing, but as long as it helps who cares?

  • Oliver Mcstill

    My biggest problem seems to be the wrist -shoulder thing. I have been writing by finger for ages through high school and though my hand writing was below average, I seemed to get away with until this new year I had to send a hand written message new year message… Oops… I had to throw away the card… Hope this helps, planning on getting a white board.

  • Bis Später

    Nice article and humour.

  • Sharan Gowda

    Thax I hope it work

  • Navneet Dubey

    It is not suffucient

  • Grateful

    This is GREAT!!! My handwriting just improved 100x simply by following the advice in Step 3 – Get a Grip. Who would have guessed by moving my pen out of the gully formed between index finger and thumb would make such a huge difference.

  • http://www.famesbond.com/ aditya menon

    That was a fun article! Especially loved the Victorian era lines at the end :) Shoulder movement instead of wrist and finger movement is a revelation, can’t wait to practice and impress that sexy graphologist down the street now!

  • ehssan66

    that was the worst advise, I ever read…

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