You’ve determined you want to improve your handwriting and you’re most likely hoping a fountain pen will do the trick — maybe a friend told you it would. Maybe you’re just adventurous and you want to attempt your forearm at calligraphy (or you might, once your handwriting improves). Good for you!
A fountain pen may make your writing look a bit better, but if your writing looks as if frantic chickens got liberate on the page, chances are this won’t be enough. Most likely, you’ll need to retrain your arm and forearm.
After coaching handwriting and instructing calligraphy over the years, I’ve learned to see the characteristics of those who’ll be able to pick up the necessary motions quickly from those who’ll have to work a bit stiffer.
Crampy, uneven letters are often the result of drawing the letters with the fingers rather than using the entire arm to write.
People who inevitably have trouble with handwriting and calligraphy write with their fingers. They “draw” the letters. A finger-writer puts the total weight of his/her arm on the paper, his fingers form the letters, and he picks his forearm up repeatedly to stir it across the paper as he writes.
If you use the right muscle groups, your writing will have a slick, effortless flow and not look tormented.
People for whom writing comes more lightly may rest their palms fairly strenuously on the paper, but their forearms and shoulders stir as they write. Their writing has a cadence that shows they’re using at least some of the right muscle groups. They don’t draw the letters with their fingers; the fingers serve more as guides.
This exercise may help you determine which category is yours: Sit down and write a paragraph. Doesn’t matter what. Pay attention to the muscles you use to form your letters. Do you draw each letter with your fingers? Pick your forearm up repeatedly to stir it? Have an unrecognizable scrawl? Does your forearm budge? Chances are, if you learned to write after 1955-60 (depending on where you went to grade school), you write with your fingers.
My aim isn’t to make you into a model Palmer-method writer or a 14th Century scribe. If you can compromise inbetween the “right” methods and the way you write now and improve your handwriting so you’re more satisfied with it, then I’m blessed, too.
A few people hold the pen inbetween very first and middle fingers, which feels truly awkward to me, but I’ve seen it work.
It will take time to re-train muscles and learn fresh habits. Finger-writing isn’t fatal, but it is slow and often painful (if you have to write much). The very first thing you must have (beg, buy, borrow or steal it) is patience and mildness with yourself. The 2nd requirement is determination.
If you finger-write, that is the very first, most significant thing you must un-learn: Do not draw your letters! Do not write with your fingers! Put up signs everywhere to remind you. Write it in the butter, on the pruning mirror, stick notes in the cereal boxes. But learn it!
I hesitate to include this, because it sounds much more difficult than it is. but. let’s look at the most basic things: holding the pen and positioning the palm.
Fig. 1. This is the most common pen-holding position, with pen inbetween very first and middle fingers, held in place by the thumb.
Most of us hold the pen inbetween the thumb and index finger, resting the barrel on the middle finger (fig. 1). This works better than holding it inbetween the thumb and the index and middle fingers, with the entire assembly resting on the ring finger (fig. Two). If you do it the very first way, you’re off to a good begin. If the 2nd, you’ll be okay. In both, the remaining fingers are curled under the arm.
Fig. Two. The two-fingers-on-top method for holding the pen while writing.
Pick up your pen and look at your palm. You’ll have better control and a better writing angle if your pen rests over or just forward of the bottom knuckle on your index finger, not inbetween thumb and index finger (see fig. Trio). (I hold my fountain pens in the latter position, but when I pick up a calligraphy pen, it drops humbly right over that big knuckle–go figure!)
Fig. Three. Note that with this position, usually used for calligraphy (or among indeed disciplined writers), causes the pen to rest atop the knuckle of the forefinger.
For handwriting, the pen position is less significant than for calligraphy. I recommend working in your familiar position unless it’s indeed bad. What’s essential is that you be convenient, the pen feel balanced and you have no pressure in your mitt. Rest the heel of your mitt and the angle of your curled-up little finger on the paper.
Hold the pen lightly; don’t squeeze it. Pretend the barrel is soft rubber and squeezing will get you a big, fat blot. (If you were using a quill, you’d hold it so lightly that the actual act of drawing the quill along the paper would create the decent contact.)
Many books recommend you write with your table at a 45-degree angle, but that’s impractical for most of us. If you can prop up a board or write with one on your lap, that’s a good place to begin, but a vapid surface is fine. Once you attempt an angled surface, you’re likely not to want to abandon, so be careful– here goes a entire fresh budget’s worth of art supplies!
Sit up straight, but not stiffly; don’t sit hunched over or slumped. Don’t worry too much about this position stuff; the significant thing is what makes you feel relaxed and convenient. Your writing arm needs to be free to stir, so squished into the La-Z-Boy most likely won’t be productive.
Hold your fingers fairly straight and write slightly above and just inbetween your thumb and index finger, right where you’re holding the pen. Don’t curl your palm over and write to the left of your palm; that’s a crampy, pathetic position. More lefties do this than righties.
Commonly called the “hook” position, this is often seen in left-handers. It makes it stiffer, but not unlikely, for them to use a fountain pen, because their palms tend to haul over the humid ink.
When you’re practising and you reach the level on the paper at which it becomes awkward to proceed to budge your arm down the paper to write, stir the paper up. Once you recognize your “writing level,” the paper should budge up at that spot rather than your arm moving down the paper. (This isn’t critical. If you notice it and it bothers you, that’s what you do about it. If it doesn’t bother you, skip it.)
I’ve found only one reference to using the right muscle groups to write, and this is critical. I can’t be the only person who knows this; I’m neither that brainy nor that good. Calligraphy instruction books address palm position, desk position, lighting, paper, you name it–but for some reason, not using the right muscles.
As you’ve most likely surmised, the “right muscles” are not those in the fingers. You must use the shoulder-girdle and forearm muscles. This muscle group is capable of much more intricate act than you think and tires much less lightly than fingers, besides providing a sleek, clean, sweeping look to the finished writing. Tho’ it seems paradoxical, since we’re acquainted to thinking of petite muscles having better control, the shoulder-girdle group, once trained, does the job better.
To get a feel for the decent muscles (and begin training them correctly), hold your arm out in front of you, elbow arched, and write in the air. Write big. Use your arm and shoulder to form letters; hold your forearm, wrist and fingers stationary and in writing position. You’ll feel your shoulder, arm, chest and some back muscles doing most of the work. That’s good. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Attempt to duplicate it each time you practice.
People always look puzzled when I mention the shoulder girdle. If you raise your mitt in the air and make large circles, note the muscles you use in doing so (here, shown in darker pink). That’s the shoulder girdle.
Write in the air until it becomes as natural as breathing. It’ll be awkward and feel foolish at very first. If you have a little kid around, get him/her to do it with you. You’ll both have joy, you won’t feel so alone, and it’ll be good for the child’s handwriting, too. If you don’t have a kid, tell your co-workers you’re improving your financial karma or hexing your boss.
As you become convenient, reduce the size of the air-letters you make. If you have access to a chalkboard or a stick and a fence (or even a finger and a wall), write on them. They’ll give you a feel for the muscles you need to use and writing on a vertical surface makes it virtually unlikely to finger-write. (If you’re one of the people who can’t write on a blackboard because you keep wanting to shrink the writing down so your fingers can do it, this is indeed significant for you.) If you keep wanting to hunch up close and put your mitt on the chalkboard or wall to write, stand against the urge! You’ll be indulging those dratted fingers.
Recall: Your fingers should budge very little and your wrist even less. Your forearm does most of the guiding, while your shoulder provides the power.
At some point, you’ll want to attempt this with a pen. Hold it gently. Place it on the paper in an ordinary lined spiral notebook (the lines act as ready-made guidelines for size and spacing). If you can get hold of a first-grader’s Big Chief tablet, which offers big lines with a dotted line inbetween two bold lines, use it. There’s a reason children embark out writing big and the letters get smaller as they get older and more skilled—-that’s the easiest way to learn.
Begin making Xs and ///s and \\\s and OOOOs and overlapped OOOs and spirals and |||||s. Do not draw these strokes and figures! Use the same shoulder-forearm muscles you’ve been practising with. Make your lines, loops, circles and spirals loosely. Work into a rhythm and make it a habit.
When you embark making slashes and circles, they’ll be uneven. With practice, they’ll become more uniform, and uniformity is your objective.
Your aim is sleek, uniform, evenly spaced lines, loops, circles and spirals, without drawing them.
This is where you’re most likely to get discouraged. If you use a spiral notebook for practice, you can leaf back and see your progress. At very first, your strokes and lines will be bad—over-running and under-running the lines, too puny, too big, crooked, uneven, just ugly. Check your position; check your muscle groups; and attempt again. And again.
Concentrate on keeping wrist-hand-fingers largely stationary and in decent alignment. Let the big muscles do the work. It will be more tiring at very first, because you’re using muscles that aren’t acquainted to that kind of work. It’ll be hard and frustrating, ’cause your bod will want to do it the way it’s done it since very first grade… even however that way is wrong. It may help to concentrate less on the accuracy of the shapes you’re making than on the muscles making them. Retraining your arm is the aim, not making pretty little circles and lines very first time out.
Uniformity and consistency are your aim in all the exercises, whether loopy or slashy. Tho’ it seems awkward, these exercises will make a large difference in your control and smoothness.
When you commence putting the strokes and lines on paper, commence out big. Three, four, even more lines in your notebook. (Big Chiefs are handy for this.) This helps ensure that you proceed to use the shoulder girdle. Don’t attempt to make pretty letters at this stage. Do the exercises as much as you can—-shoot for every day. Ten or fifteen minutes a day should display results in a few weeks for most people. And note that both air-writing and paper exercises can be doodledduring meetings and while on holdwaiting for somebody!
Concentrate on that shoulder girdle. Let it do the work. Write big. Write words and sentences at the same time you’re doing strokes and exercises. You need both working together to succeed.
Little by little, as your control increases, make your strokes and letters smaller until they’re the size you normally write. You’ll know when you get there. By this time, you very likely won’t have to make extra effort to incorporate this stuff into your writing; it’ll be automatic. And your writing should look much better (and be lighter and feel better, to boot).
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Tips for improving your handwriting
You’ve determined you want to improve your handwriting and you’re most likely hoping a fountain pen will do the trick — maybe a friend told you it would. Maybe you’re just adventurous and you want to attempt your arm at calligraphy (or you might, once your handwriting improves). Good for you!