It’s not too late for good handwriting
Since most of today’s written communication is typed on rickety keys or typed on a dirty screen, you probably don’t write on paper very often. But from time to time you still need to fill out your old paper form, and that’s exactly when you realize your handwriting isn’t looking good.
It’s never too late to improve. We don’t mean calligraphy-level that would make your doctor’s office check-in forms look like 16th-century royal decrees. We mean legible and consistent, whether you use print or cursive.
Like most aspects of life, handwriting can get better with practice. Repetition will help you gradually change your handwriting, and you will eventually reach a point where the letters flow naturally and beautifully from pen to paper. We can’t promise the words will make sense, but at least they look pretty.
Prepare your setup
If you’ve ever struggled to sign a paper or write a note without having a table or clipboard in sight, you know that convenience is key when it comes to jotting down legible words.
First, give yourself a chance and sit down at a stable, spacious table or desk where you can write in peace. When it comes to the actual paper, it’s a good idea to keep things as flat as possible, so a loose sheet of paper is better than a notebook. But if you hate the hassle of scraps of paper lying around, the right notebook will do the trick, too. Avoid thick or spiral notebooks and instead opt for one with a flexible binding that you can open flat. This keeps the heavier page of your book from trying to cinch the whole thing shut and eliminates any wrist discomfort that a thick spiral can cause as you near the end of each line. Thinner notebooks also prevent your hand from losing grip when you’re writing the last few lines of a page.
[Related: Eight great pens to match your writing style]
Speaking of lines, you should use some sort of guideline at this stage – it can be lines, a grid, or dots, whatever your handwriting heart desires. This will help you gauge the direction of your writing and the size and consistency of your letters. We therefore strongly recommend avoiding blank pages until you are more comfortable with your new and improved handwriting. If you’re using loose paper instead of a notebook, you can buy lined, grid, or dotted paper—or you can download and print your own from one of several free online resources.
Next, find an angle for the paper layout that suits your writing. Don’t be fooled by the idea that the only correct setting is vertical, as this can force your hand and wrist into an unnatural writing position, which can lead to pain and even injury. There is absolutely no shame in positioning your piece of paper or notebook at a 45 degree angle or even in a completely horizontal orientation. The best way to find out which angle works for you is to orient your paper vertically, and then rotate it left (if you’re right-handed) or right (if you’re left-handed) until you’re comfortable again. Because of this, you have a spacious surface to write on as you don’t want to knock over desk ornaments while fiddling with your paper.
Take as much time as you need to make sure your setup is what you want. You will find that this not only supports your handwriting but also helps you relax. You are welcome.
Now for the fun part: get a pen that you like. If you’re left-handed, stay away from wide-tipped fountain pens, which could shed a lot of ink with each stroke — you’ll likely end up with smeared words all over your page as your hand crosses your freshly printed letters. Gel pens and ballpoint pens usually dry quickly, so it’s a good idea to start there. Right-handers don’t have to think about anything – the world is built for you.
The best way to find out if a pen is right for you is to try it. If you can, go to a stationery store and take the time to try out the pens there – write a few words on the pads provided and see how each pen feels. Maybe buy two or three to test further at home. If you don’t know where to start, you can always give some fan favorites a test drive.
Many swear by the Pilot G-2, for example. It comes in multiple formats, but the proven version has an integrated handle, is retractable, uses quick-drying gel ink, and comes in a myriad of colors. If you want to go for a classic, try BIC’s Cristal or Round Stic pens. You’ve probably written with them a million times, and they’re a staple because they’re so convenient and reliable. Some other ideas: Signo from Uniball, RSVP from Pentel, Pigma Micron from Sakura or any gel pen at Muji. These are all inexpensive writing instruments 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 the beginner and – hopefully – compatible with disposable ink cartridges or even come with ink pre-filled. This saves you from buying an ink bottle and refillable cartridge unless you really want to. Pilot’s Kakuno or Schneider’s Ray fountain pens are solid, inexpensive choices – they’re lightweight and comfortable, and can prepare you to move on to more serious fountain pens in the future.
Check your handwriting
You have your tools and your setup – it’s time to write. Start by filling between half a page and a full 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, write at a normal pace (not too fast, not too slow) and make sure you hold the pen firmly. If your nails are white from the force you are applying, your grip is too strong – relax your hand and try again. This is important because an overly tight grip causes pain and discomfort that can lead to hand and wrist cramps and injury. Additionally, the pain will also affect the consistency of your handwriting and eventually prevent you from putting pen to paper at all, making this whole process useless.
Once you have a comfortable grip, check it every few minutes and adjust as necessary. 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 slip directly onto your pen or pencil for better control.
When you’re done writing your practice page, take a look at your handwriting and analyze it. Pay attention to the spacing, the slant of your letters, their height, their shape, and where they are in relation to the guides you use. The most important element you are looking for is consistency and readability. So go through your lines and mark which words and letters are most different from the rest and which could be misread.
These are the aspects of your writing that you want to change. Whether you’re using cursive, print, or a combination of both, you want handwriting that’s mostly the same across the page, that everyone can read clearly, and whose letters look more or less the same. That doesn’t mean your handwriting should be perfect or resemble words on a screen (let alone calligraphy) – your handwriting is unique to you and you should embrace it as such.
If there are any aesthetic elements you want to change, or if you want to change your writing altogether, take inspiration from others. A quick web search will uncover thousands of handwriting enthusiasts sharing their own pristine note-taking pages. Check them out, 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 key to learning, and only writing, writing, and more writing will accustom your body to the changes you want to make to your personal script.
A helpful way to practice is to make your practice a part of your daily routine. You can do this by taking up a hobby like journaling or meditative writing. This gives you a chance to sit down for a few minutes each day and put your growing skills to good use.
If you don’t keep a journal, you can just set aside some time each day to practice. Find books, poems and songs you like and transcribe them. You can also write down your own train of thought if you can keep up with it. Your writing doesn’t have to be good or even make sense – it’s about writing, and as long as you put words together you’ll get some practice.
Also, use every opportunity you have to write instead of typing. Keep notepads and pens on your desk and at home and have them handy to write reminders and lists. If time is not an issue, skip email and instead choose to write a letter or send a postcard. Not only is it an extra exercise, it’s a nice old-fashioned thing and people love it.
A reminder: take your time and be patient. Speed will come as your hand learns the movements you are teaching it. The more you write, the faster and more organic your lines will come out. Meanwhile, focus on shape and consistency. From time to time, take a moment to analyze your handwriting to see how far along you are and what you still need to improve. Also, don’t forget your grip and check it often to see if you need to loosen up.
to get help
If you’re having trouble analyzing your own handwriting or what exactly you need to change, there are people who can 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 the more independent learner, there is also plenty of practice material online, such as worksheets and guides, that you can download for a fee or even for free. Some of them have slanted lines that can help you keep your angles consistent, and some of them have full instructions on the best way to connect letters and use spacing.
[Related: Turn your handwritten documents into searchable digital notes]
It must be repeated: 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 it part of your process of embracing the chaos.
Also, you should enjoy this – keep it fun and relaxing. If at any point this is not the case, you can change it. Or you can try to find joy in filling out horribly formatted forms on your phone. Whatever works for you.