Hen Scratchings

Jessie: In New Hampshire, surprised to see patches of dormant grass in the yard. 

You know those things about yourself that you wish were different? Some of them are easy enough to address, like hair color. Others, like a nail biting habit or or adding six inches in height are harder to change.

I don’t bite my nails and although I wouldn’t mind a few extra inches in height,  I have a nice collection of heels, so being short isn’t much of a problem either. Which leaves my handwriting.

In the third grade, like so many American children, I began to learn cursive. I had a teacher with achingly beautiful handwriting and I thought learning to write like her would be as easy as learning to read or to add and subtract. But as I began forming the letters on pulpy sheets of newsprint complete with dashed lines it soon became obvious that this was going to be a completely different experience.

Only a few weeks into the school year my family moved. My new school was in a different place with cursive lessons than the old one. Also, my teacher formed the letters a bit differently. I came to realise that handwritng was a far more subjective sort of thing than sounding out new words or memorizing multiplication tables. My own attempts to master the art were turing out poorly and as soon as students were encouraged to type work rather than to write by hand I did so.

Which brings me to the present. Despite the fact that I actually write on my computer, I always start my novels in a notebook. My ideas just seem to flow better at the early stages of a project that way. Over the years, I’ve come up with a sort of limping print that stutters and stumbles along the page, my thoughts running far ahead of my hand, leaving a trail of disaster in their wake. When I go back to consult my notes later I often have enormous difficulty reading them.

handwritinpracticesheetsSo, this year I’ve decided to change all that. I headed for YouTube and watched video after video of people sharing tips and techniques. I downloaded some practice sheets with lines that are set up with a right-leaning slant guides in addition to all the horizontal dashed lines. I bought a few decent pens with different sorts of inks and line widths. I assembled a variety of papers. Most importantly, I just started practicing. Every single day.

It’s only been a month but I’m starting to see results. I’m almost happy with my lowercase g and m. My b forms aren’t half bad and I am making peace with the letter f. I confess, I still wish c was not part of our alphabet. I haven’t even given thought to the uppercase. But, I find I am actually having fun with the process. It feels creative. It feels redemptive. It feels a bit like being a bright-eyed eight-year-old once again. It may be harder than changing my hair color but I think, in the end, it will be worth it.

Readers, do you like your handwriting? If so, do you have any tips for me? Is there something about yourself you’ve worked to change? Did you enjoy the process? 


39 Thoughts

  1. That’s so interesting, Jessie! I would never think to practice my handwriting. Mine evolved over the years into an upright cursive that I’m happy with, although when I write notes and letters these days, I find I need to slow down or it gets impossibly messy. I also write in a notebook when I’m plotting or stuck on a plot point. It’s true that different things come out that way.

    Graphoanalysis is the study of what handwriting tells us about a particular person’s personality and experiences, and I wonder what it means if you change the way you write. Fascinating stuff – and we had handwriting analyst and mystery author Sheila Lowe on the blog a while ago talking about just that: http://wickedcozyauthors.com/tag/sheila-lowe/.

    1. I remember Sheila’s post well and thought of the greater implications when I decided to give this a go. I’m willing to risk changes if it means I can read my notes!

      1. I think it may depend on whether you find a new “natural” style. My friend Kathy Fast who is a certified graphologist talks about “personna handwriting” which is what you get when a person has consciously adopted a particular style of handwriting.

  2. Loved this post! Unfortunately, my handwriting is dependent on how active my arthritis is on any given day, and there’s not much I can do about it. The big change I’ve made is my day-to-day food. It has taken years, but now I actually prefer salad to a burger and shake? I didn’t think that was possible!

  3. My handwriting varies according to my mood. Sometimes it is acceptable, sometimes a lovely chicken scratch. Your handwriting is so unique that it actually made a conversation happen between Jeff and I. We know how rare those are…. Loving you as you are, for who you are…
    Your fan and friend, Lauri

  4. I know what you mean about using your notebook–there are some parts of the planning process I simply have to do by hand, on a full-size lined pad. I too learned cursive, but my writing now is kind of a mangled mix of cursive and printing (and I find I’m getting more impatient with cursive, and end up leaving out parts of letters). But my “f” survives in pristine form, for no reason I can fathom. And having the right pen matters.

    1. The pen does matter, doesn’t it? I love gel pens and I really like a fountain pen I bought from Levenger. I also have a pen my beloved husband gifted to me at Christmas. He had it made for me by a custom pen craftsman in honor of my upcoming book series. It has an ornate, Victorian era feel with gold hardware and is colored in swirling deep violets and reddish tones. I love using it every day!

      1. Pens are so important. They have to flow across the page and leave a real mark, as far as I’m concerned. I, too, have to use paper at certain parts of the planning process. Also certain parts of the revision process. In either case, I find the small screen on my computer makes me “think” small, and spreading out on a big table with sheets of paper opens my mind.

  5. Fascinating! Maybe handwriting practice will be a new thing along with the adult coloring books (which I don’t dare buy because I’d never get anything else done!).

    I have nice handwriting if I concentrate on what I’m doing. Most of the time I’m in too much of a hurry. I went to Catholic school and we had to learn the “Palmer Method.” I’m not sure exactly what that is, but I remember the big sample that hung above the blackboard of how we were to write our letters. We practiced our handwriting along with our spelling words every week. I don’t think schools bother with that anymore.

    1. I think you might be right about the coloring books, Joyce. It seems similar to me too. If you google the Palmer Method and look at the images that come up I bet you will find one that looks just like the sample hung in your classroom.

  6. I love this, Jessie! We had formal cursive training complete with pens with bumps so your fingers would be in the proper position. I’ve never held a pen the way you were “supposed” to. I’ve noticed that during different periods of my life I wrote differently. In my high school diary my writing slants left — hard left for some reason and it had huge loops. Now when I write fast I skip dotting “i” and crossing my “t”.

    1. We never had those pens with bumps. Sometimes there were students that had the sort of rubbery sleeves that slipped over the pencil to use as positioning grips. Maybe I should splurge on one of those!

  7. My handwriting is pretty good, well, it’s legible. I’m a lefty, as was my dad, and my son is as well. It drove the nuns at my school crazy. They never could teach me to hold the pen correctly! I would turn my books sideways to write and always had a trail of ink along the side of my hand. In my teaching days I had a couple of parents complain that I was teaching their children to be left-handed. I wanted to tell them that was a good thing because only left-handed people were in their right mind! It worries me that schools are considering eliminating cursive writing from the curriculum. We shouldn’t let this art form vanish. It’s an expression of ourselves. Thank God for YouTube!

    1. Teaching is such a tough job! I had no idea amongst all the other things you had to worry about was tainting students with left-handedness! No wonder you have turned to writing crime!

  8. My handwriting used to be pretty decent. I emphasis “used to be.” As I got older – through college and into the professional world – it became more important to write quickly. And the fast I wrote, the messier my handwriting became. Now I have to remember to think “slow down” when I need to write something important – notes to school, checks, etc.

    And Joyce, maybe it’s a Catholic school thing, but my kids both learned and are graded on handwriting/penmanship. My girl won a prize in elementary school for her penmanship.

  9. Brava, Jessie, for making yourself do this. It can’t be easy for someone who is no longer eight years old.

    My handwriting used to be truly lovely, a product of Catholic schools, my uncle riding me to perfect it, plus teachers’ and my mother’s insistence on using my right hand. According to an art teacher I had in high school, I should write lefthanded, but that was stifled to the point where I can barely do anything with that hand except type. At one point I practiced calligraphy, too, and hired out to address envelopes, either with longhand cursive or calligraphic script.

    Not any more, though. I’ve developed essential tremors, and my voice, head and hands shake, sometimes violently enough to spill a drink in my hand. Some days my handwriting is good, and other days it looks like a psychopath got hold of the pen. Luckily, I don’t have to write many checks these days, or hand write letters.

    1. What a lot of skill you must have had if you were hired for your handwriting! Even with all the practice in the world I doubt that will be my path. Even if I could magically be eight again!

  10. My son had absolutely no success with cursive to start. I was doing calligraphy at the time, though, and he loved the way it looked. I gave him that special practice paper that has the lines and angles as guides, and some calligraphy markers as well as calligraphy points for a catridge liquid in fountain pen. It does take a lot of concentration but the results are so lovely it provides incentive…did for him anyway. Might be fun to try.

  11. My handwriting has devolved form barely legible to almost impossible to read, even for me. We type so much, and the more I type the worse my handwriting gets. Of course, speed also kills, and it seems I’m trying to be faster every time I go to write something as well.

    1. I completely understand the speed problem, Mark. But I have been enjoying slowing down and deliberately forming letters. I find it to be meditative and centering.

  12. Both my teacher and my mother had amazing penmanship. Neither could understand why I didn’t care what mine looked like. Why even would I want to spend time practicing something I was obviously not good at and didn’t care about. It was a really long, long year. In high school I morphed into taking notes in a combination of cursive and printing which continued into college. If someone else needs to read what I write, I need to concentrate on what I am doing to make it legible. I am the only one who can read the grocery list.

    1. I think amazing penmanship is a lot like great fiction writing. People put on display the finsihed product that is ready for for public view, not the first draft or the ugly, tentative steps. The gap between what the beginner sees on their page and what the expert holds out as the standard is dauntign n the extreme. Getting to see the steps in the process, to draw back the curtain is so encouraging in either art form. YouTube was really helpful for that for me.

      Maybe you need one of those pre-printed shopping lists that you just check off the boxes so you aren’t the one who always has to go to the grocer!

  13. Jessie! You have to get this book by Vimala Rodgers – Transform Your Life Through Handwriting. I’ve been working on it for years, but unfortunately I learned all the wrong ways to write and am trying to change it. This would be so awesome to do from scratch!


  14. I love this post. I had problems with cursive writing too. I’m left-handed so my hand always drug across the paper, leaving smears on the paper and the side of my hand. At the end of the fourth grade, my teacher gave my mother the workbook we used for cursive writing and told her to make me practice writing over the summer. That was the best thing she could have done. My handwriting now is a combination of cursive and printing but it’s good. The pen is very important–I can only write with a medium point pen and the barrel of the pen has to be fairly thick. 🙂

    1. I love hearing stories of success despite the odds! I think the pen is one of the most important things. And everyone seems to be different about what they like best and what produces the best experience for them.

  15. I have nice handwriting. Although, like everybody else, when I’m rushing it doesn’t look so byooteeful, but in general I’ve always gotten compliments on it. In fact, I just used it filling out a huge stack of forms for my son’s robotics team 🙂 Good luck, Jessie! And I would love to see a photo of that pen!

  16. Jessie, how wonderful that you are taking the time and effort — and some office-supply indulgence — to pick up a skill you felt you’d missed. That’s such a great example for us all!

    As a teenager, I worked with a woman whose handwriting I admired — I totally admired HER, and we’re still good friends, decades later — and consciously modeled mine after hers. Sheila Lowe warns against that, but it worked for me, giving me a feeling that I could share in those traits of hers that I so admired. Now my handwriting isn’t much like hers, but it is mostly pretty good — although I’m a journaler, and often write so quickly and in poor light that I can’t read it later!

    When my brother and I moved my mother last spring, I found a stack of a distinctive type of yellow pad my father always used. (He died in 1990.) I brought them home, and when I pulled one out the other day, found my handwriting becoming more formal and elegant, like his was.

    And yes, yes to all the comments about getting off the screen and on to the page at certain stages of a book.

    I too would love to see a shot of that custom pen! Thanks for such a fun piece!

    1. Surroundings and accouterments do make such a difference don’t they? I do a more careful job with materials I perceive to be worthy of such care too. It is one of the reasons we always sat in the dining room for dinner with our small children. I wanted them to learn the sort of manners such an enviroment deserved.Nice dishes and a chandelier helped bring out the best in the kids. Nice pens and good paper do the same!

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