It seems appropriate that, after working over the problem of illegible handwriting in my last ‘blog’, I now turn to ways designed to improve technique and point us in the direction of cursive writing that is pleasant to read, as opposed to being a chore to decipher. There’s likely ‘unlearning’ involved here, never easy, but if you can stick with the exercise(s), you will ‘relearn’ and be rewarded. Book Smart Tutors is happy to help and encourage!
A. Our hands are all DIFFERENT!
My hands are broad, my fingers kind of stubby. Your hands could be thin, with long fingers. We tend to hold writing instruments differently because of that, yet there are one or two right ways, and plenty of wrong ways. The better positions are sourced in comfort and flow (versus TENSION, STRAIN and FATIGUE). See ‘classic’ position.
I see too many students with writing postures for printing (short, interrupted, intense strokes), with physical tension in the fingers that leads to writer’s cramp and a rapid descent into illegibility. Your hand should enjoy a balance between being relaxed and in control. This is what ‘curves’ and ‘flow’ are all about. But … your hand can’t do it alone.
B. Choice of writing instrument is IMPORTANT!
The easiest example that I can think of is the difference in ‘leads’ in pencils. ‘Leads’ are a mixture of graphite and clay. Try a pencil with an ‘H’ designation, then one with an ‘HB’ label (higher graphite content). A high ‘H’ sharpens more finely and has more precision, yet there’s lots of friction as it writes. A softer ‘HB’ essentially ‘flows’ more freely. You’re about to write a 1,000 word essay. Which pencil would you choose?
Cutting to the quick, leave your pencil in science or art class, and for the crosswords. And don’t buy cheap, utility ballpoint pens. Too much friction/resistance awaits. Take your time, instead, investigating the dedicated aisle in the ‘office supply’ department of a store. Modern technology has given us the ‘gel’ pen, meant to replicate to a significant degree the classic ‘fountain pen’ (I have owned several lovely examples of the latter). In some product lines, there are even several pen shaft thicknesses offered, which you should pay attention to. The goal remains always one of ease of functionality for your hand and fingers.
C. ( [‘A’ + ‘B’] + Technique) x PRACTICE = Success!
The Internet is full of all sorts of self-help guides to better handwriting. Don’t forget ‘YouTube’. Many videos and worksheets are downloadable without charge. Don’t become confused with those focused upon, or meant as early training for, ‘calligraphy’. The better approaches are those that begin with shapes (eg. circles, ovals, figure-8’s), then single ‘letters’, then connecting letters to form words. Dismissing old habits in favour of what ought to be easier technique initially takes concentration and practice, but you’ll get there.
Robert MacFarlane is a graduate of Princeton University. He has tutored English and related subjects for Book Smart Tutors for several years, and is a regular contributor to its ‘blog spot’.