Given that most of today’s written messages are typed on clicking keys or tapped on a dirty screen, you probably don’t write on paper very often. But every now and then you still have to fill out an old paper form and that’s when you realize your handwriting doesn’t look very good.
It’s never too late to improve it. We don’t mean the level of calligraphy that will make your doctor’s registration forms look like royal decrees from the 1500s. We mean legibility and consistency, whether you use print or italics.
Like most aspects of life, handwriting can improve with practice. Repetition will help you gradually change your handwriting, and eventually you will reach a point where the letters flow naturally and beautifully from pen to paper. We can’t promise that the words will make sense, but at least they’ll look good.
Prepare the settings
If you’ve ever struggled to sign papers or write a note without a table or clipboard, you know that comfort is paramount when you want to jot down legible words.
Start by giving yourself a fighting chance and sit down at a sturdy, spacious table or desk where you can write at your leisure. As for the actual paper, it’s a good idea to keep everything as flat as possible, so a loose sheet is better than a notebook. But if you hate the hassle of having random sheets of paper everywhere, a proper notebook will do just as well. Avoid thick or spiral notebooks and instead choose notebooks with flexible covers that can be opened. This will prevent the heavier side of your book from trying to close the entire book, and will eliminate any wrist discomfort that a thick spiral can create as you near the end of each line. Thinner notebooks also keep your hand from losing support as you write the last lines on the page.
[Related: Eight great pens to match your writing style]
Speaking of lines, at this point you should use some sort of reference point — it could be lines, a grid, or dots, whatever your heart desires, all centered around the handwriting. This will help you gauge the direction of your script as well as the size and sequence of your letters, so we strongly recommend forgoing blank pages until you feel more comfortable with your new and improved handwriting. If you’re using loose paper instead of a notebook, you can purchase lined, grid, or dotted paper or download and print your own from one of several free online resources.
Next, find the paper layout angle that works for your writing. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the only correct position is upright, as this can force your hand and wrist into an unnatural writing position, which can lead to pain and even injury. There is no shame in placing a sheet of paper or notebook at a 45-degree angle or even completely horizontally. The best way to find out which angle is right for you is to start with the paper upright, then turn it to the left (if you’re right-handed) or to the right (if you’re left-handed) until you’re comfortable. That’s why having a large surface to write things on, as you won’t want to knock trinkets off the table while you’re fiddling with the paper.
Take as much time as you need to make sure the settings are to your liking. You’ll find that this will not only help your handwriting, but also help you relax. Welcome.
And now the most interesting thing: buy a pen that you like. If you’re left-handed, stay away from fountain pens with a wide nib, which can remove a lot of ink with each stroke—you’ll likely end up with smeared words all over the page as your hand crosses the newly typed letters. Gel pens and ballpoint pens tend to dry quickly, so it’s a good idea to start with them. The right people don’t need to think about anything – the world is made for you.
The best way to know if a pen is right for you is to try it on. If you can, go to a stationery store and take your time trying out the pens there – write a few words on the notebooks provided and see how each pen feels. Maybe buy two or three to continue testing at home. If you don’t know where to start, you can always give your fan favorites a test drive.
Many people swear by the Pilot G-2, for example. It’s available in several formats, but the tested version has a built-in handle, is retractable, uses quick-drying gel ink, and comes in a variety of colors. If you want to go classic, try BIC’s Cristal or Round Stick pens. You’ve probably written about them a million times before, and they’re staples because of how convenient and reliable they are. Some more ideas: Signo from Uniball, RSVP from Pentel, Pigma Micron from Sakura, or any gel pen at Muji. These are all inexpensive writing tools with their own fan bases, so you should be able to find something that works among them.
If you want to try your hand at fountain pens, start with something designed for beginners, hopefully compatible with disposable ink cartridges or even coming with pre-loaded ink. This saves you from having to buy a bottle of ink and a refillable cartridge if you don’t really want to. Pilot’s Kakuno or Schneider’s Ray fountain pens are reliable and inexpensive choices that are light and comfortable and can prepare you for the transition to more serious fountain pens in the future.
Check your handwriting
You’ve got the tools and setup — time to write. Start by filling half to an entire page with fresh handwriting. It can be anything: a story, your train of thought, or a transcription of a song you like.
When you write, do it at a normal pace (not too fast and not too slow) and don’t hold the pen. If your nails turn white from the force you apply, it means you are too strong, relax your hand and try again. This is important because an excessively strong grip will cause pain and discomfort, which can lead to hand and wrist cramps and injury. Additionally, the pain will also affect the consistency of your handwriting and ultimately prevent you from putting pen to paper at all, making the whole process pointless.
Once you have a comfortable grip, check it every few minutes and adjust as needed. If you’re having trouble controlling your pen, you can always switch tools or try a pen grip—one of those little rubber tubes that slide right onto a pen or pencil for better control.
When you finish writing your practice page, look at your handwriting and analyze it. Pay attention to the spacing, slant of the letters, their height, shape and placement in relation to the guides you used. The most important element you’re looking for is consistency and legibility, so go through your lines and highlight which words and letters stand out the most and which might be misread.
These are aspects of your writing that you want to change. Whether you use italics, print, or a combination of both, you want handwriting that is mostly consistent across the page so that everyone can read it clearly and the letters look more or less the same. This doesn’t mean your handwriting has to be perfect or resemble the words on the screen (let alone calligraphy) – your handwriting is unique to you and you should treat it as such.
If there are aesthetic elements you want to change, or if you want to completely change the way you write, look to others for inspiration. A quick internet search will turn up thousands of handwriting enthusiasts sharing their pristine pages of notes. Look at them, find what you like (loose elements or whole styles), imitate it and make it your own.
Practice, practice, practice
You knew it would come to this. Repetition is the key to learning, and only writing, writing, and writing will get your body used to the changes you want to make in your personal script.
A good way to exercise is to make exercise a part of your daily life. You can do this by taking up a hobby like journaling or meditative writing. This will give you a chance to sit down for a few minutes each day and put your developing skills to good use.
If you don’t like keeping a diary, you can simply set aside time for daily exercise. Find books, poems and songs that you like and copy them. You can also record your own train of thought if you can keep up with it. Your writing doesn’t have to be pretty or even make sense—the point is to write, and while you’re putting words together, you’re getting some practice.
Also, use every opportunity to write instead of typing. Keep notebooks and pens on your desk and at home and take them to write reminders and lists. If time isn’t an issue, skip the emails and write a letter or send a card instead. It’s not just extra practice, it’s a good, old-fashioned thing to do, and people love it.
Reminder: take your time and be patient. Speed will come as your hand learns the movements you teach it. The more you write, the faster and more organic your lines will be. In the meantime, focus on form and consistency. Take a moment to analyze your handwriting every now and then to see how far you’ve come and what you still need to improve. Also, don’t forget about your grip and check it often to see if you need to loosen it.
If you have trouble analyzing your own handwriting or what exactly you need to change, there are people who will do it for you. There are many courses (online and otherwise) that can teach you how to improve your handwriting and where to start.
For more independent learners, there are also plenty of practical resources online, such as worksheets and guides, which can be downloaded for a fee or even for free. Some have slanted lines that can help you keep the angles consistent, and some have full instructions on the best ways to connect letters and use spacing.
[Related: Turn your handwritten documents into searchable digital notes]
It bears repeating: handwriting is not calligraphy, and it is as unique to you as your fingerprints. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to look like someone else’s, so make embracing the chaos part of your process.
Also, you have to enjoy it—make it fun and relaxing. If at any time this is not the case, you can change it. Or you can try to find fun in filling out horribly formatted forms on your phone. Whatever works for you.