Ask The Desk: Better Handwriting

A reader asked:

I was wondering, since your interest and expertise, you would not happen to know how I can become a better writer?
I am talking about the real live writing, the physical act, not as in my style, … I have horrible handwriting and would like to improve that … But I can’t figure out where I would start looking …

Thanks for the letter and thinking I have an expertise! Handwriting is a big issue with me especially as there are more and more reports in the news about the death of handwriting education and how more people don’t handwrite anything anymore. We all spend more and more time in front of a keyboard and less and less time handling paper and pen but it doesn’t make the ability to write legibly and comfortably any less important.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, many feel that penmanship and handwriting are a dying practice. In an effort to keep it alive in my corner of the world, I have been reading and (when I have time) practicing to make my handwriting neater and more efficient.

I’ve pulled together a few books that are currently available that specifically address improving handwriting for adults.

Write Now: The Complete Program For Better Handwriting by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay is probably my favorite of this list so far. Write Now focuses on teaching a handwriting method referred to as Italic rather than the Palmer or Zaner-Bloser method you may have been taught in primary school. This method takes a slightly angled printing style and teaches you how to “join it up” to be faster, efficient and legible. The book is set up in a workbook fashion making it easy to follow along with the lessons. There are some before and after samples which are pretty inspiring. Towards the back of the book there are lessons in decorative calligraphy as well as the history of letterforms which I think for most writers might not be beneficial and the only downside I see to this book.

If you are a left-handed writer, this is the only book I’ve found so far that does not insist that lefties must not “hook” when they write. As someone who has written for more than 20 years with a hooked writing position, retraining my muscles and my habits AND improving my handwriting at the same time is beyond frustrating. So, Write Now gets high marks from me.

Teach Yourself Better Handwriting by Rosemary Sassoon was the first book I purchased about improving my handwriting as an adult. The techniques are similar to Write Now in that the book teaches a joined-up italic method. The book is smaller (about the size of a trade paperback) so it is a bit more discreet if you are self-conscious about your handwriting lessons but it will require that you either photocopy samples from the book or eyeball the samples and practice on separate paper.

Notes for left-handers: Teach Yourself Better Handwriting is one of the methods that does insist that you learn to angle your paper to the right and not “hook” when you write. If you don’t hook, then you should be fine with this book.

Overall, I don’t think this book is as thorough as Write Now.

Fix It Write Nan Jay Barchowsky is designed to teach older students and adults to write better. This book is actually loose-leaf pages 3-hole punched so that you can add your own practice pages to it and put the whole mess into a 3-ring binder. The book is divided into two sections, the first being an italic, joined-up style and the second being a more traditional cursive style. This book may be a good option for someone who is not sure which method will work best for them. Barchowsky also has another book called BFH, A Manual For Fluent Handwriting that comes with a CD to print out worksheets if you find that helpful.

Samples of the handwriting styles can be found here including the classic Zaner-Bloser and Palmer as well as samples of the techniques taught in Write Now (Portland method) to help clarify.

Hopefully these books will be first steps for those who want to improve their penmanship. I plan to focus on handwriting all week this week with other information and inspiration. Happy writing!