Monday, July 04, 2011

Penmanship: an On-going Odyssey

Mom's Franciscan Liturgy of the Hours

My mother had beautiful handwriting.  Even her everyday hand was pretty nice, and when she took her time, she could write just like the examplars in the Zaner Bloser handwriting books we used as kids.  (By the way, does anyone else remember those funky shaped blue and red Zaner Bloser mechanical pencils?  Loved those!)  Sometimes, to give us extra practice, Mom would write additional sentences and exercises out on our practice paper, in penmanship so perfect that it could almost have been typeface.  And back when she was in college, if friends had to miss a class, they often asked her to take notes, because they knew her handwriting was wonderfully legible.  My father, on the other hand?  Let's just say no one in their right mind would ask him to take notes for them.

Guess whose writing I inherited?

I managed to write more or less decently in school, but as time went on, my penmanship sort of...went feral.  As in...became truly appalling.  I could have been in the running for worst handwriting of all time.  Don't believe me?  I have proof.  Here's a scrap of a story I wrote for my little sister back around '02 or '03.

Secret Princess

For years, I kept journals in this sort of chicken scratch.  I knew it was bad, but since I didn't do a whole lot of re-reading my journals, I just lived with it.

Then came my first NaNoWriMo, when I got back into fiction writing for almost the first time since high school.  I discovered that I liked writing by hand, and that I liked what I wrote by hand, and often found it easier to find the right words when writing by hand rather than on the computer.  Plus, I could write wherever and whenever.  Just one issue: interpreting my own handwriting later on was a painstaking, tedious chore, especially if I'd been trying to write fast.  Sometimes I had to paraphrase when transcribing, because I simply couldn't read my own writing.  Ludicrous.  That was also about the time I started getting into fountain pens in a big way, and it seemed shameful to write so horribly with nice pens.  I decided I had to mend my ways.

At first, I worked on writing more like I had in school: the Zaner Bloser style cursive I'd learned in grade school.  But then I came across mention of cursive italic writing, and--more specifically--a book called Write Now that provided instruction in this style of cursive.  It's less ornamental than some styles--pretty no-nonsense, really--and faster than printing.  Since my main goals were legibility and speed rather than anything fancy, it sounded like just the ticket to me.  I ordered the book, and began the process of completely revamping my penmanship.  I practiced whenever I could.  It was during a period when I was also moving across country, taking on many other new challenges.  I remember hotel rooms in Pennsylvania and Iowa, where I spread out Write Now and Clairefontaine paper (another new discovery) on unfamiliar tables to practice writing individual letters over and over again or copy out poetry.


It didn't exactly come easily.  I'm the sort of person who couldn't draw a perfect circle to save my life, and since I was fighting against years and years of muscle memory and bad habits, it was often frustrating.  And I admit, in the end, my day-to-day writing isn't even as good as the writing I did on those practice sheets.  I will never be one of those people with effortlessly beautiful penmanship.  But I did come out of it all with (in my opinion) a much more legible hand.  Here's a page from a current notebook, casually written at a good clip.

Journal entry

It isn't perfectly neat by any means, but I can read it!  Lately, though, I'm noticing some backsliding.  In particular I struggle (as I always have) with keeping the slope of my letters even.  Also I can get sloppy with the connectors between letters, which can make some words confusing.  With the new ink here to play with...I'm thinking it's time to return to handwriting boot camp for a bit.  My penmanship is still very much a work in progress.


Anonymous said...

The Tolkien poem is lovely but even the last example is perfectly legible.

I've found that the more I take my time the better the penmanship. Using good fountain pens and, now, dip pens reinforces that. I find myself writing more letters and notes just for the pleasure of practising nice penmanship. It's an art form (at least for me) that requires practise.

It doesn't apply anymore but when I started in the corporate world we still used typing pools. I got preferential treatment from the ladies because they could read my stuff without consulting an Oracle.

Jeff The Bear

notagain said...

ha - your "appalling" sample is far more legible than my normal PRINTING. when I write cursive I revert to 2nd grade Palmer method and stick out my tongue like Charlie Brown.

Little Flower Petals said...

Jeff: bonus points for recognizing Tolkien!

notagain: I actually thought about you as I wrote some parts of this. Your cursive is nice.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the bonus points but I had BETTER recognize it. I first read LOTR in 1964 in junior high school. I've read it every year since; sort of an autumn tradition. And every year I find something new in it which simply means I learned a little since the last reading.


Little Flower Petals said...

You know, I used to read the books almost every year, but thinking back, I don't think I've read them since I was in Colorado. That means it has been over five years. Must remedy this. I could read them over the summer...or maybe start September 22nd. ;)

KateGladstone said...

I, too, am a self-remediated italic handwriter ... The Getty-Dubay books were among those I worked through. Let me know if you want tips against backsliding:

Further — Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay would probably love to hear your story. (They're at — tell them that I referred you, and tell them I asked you to see if they can send you a current edition of WRITE NOW to use in "handwriting boot camp.")

Nan jay Barchowsky said...

From another italic advocate: It looks as though you might build more rhythm in your writing. I boldly suggest my "Fix It…Write." From feedback, it works quickly for many. Please see or check out the comments at Amazon.

Little Flower Petals said...

Kate, you know, I'd never thought of taking the time to thank Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay, and I really should! It wouldn't be overstating things to say they changed my life. Thank you for the thought.

And Nan, thank you for the recommendation. I'll take a look.