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With most of today’s written communication typed out on clackity keys or tapped out on a smudgy screen, you may not see much of a reason to improve your handwriting. But from time to time, you still need to fill out ye olde paper form, which is exactly the moment you realize your script looks, well, not great.
It’s never too late to get better handwriting. We don’t mean calligraphy level, which would make your doctor’s office check-in forms look like royal decrees from the 1500s. We mean legible and consistent, regardless of whether you use print or cursive.
Just like most aspects of life, you can improve your handwriting with practice. Repetition will help you gradually change your style, and you’ll eventually reach a point where letters flow naturally and beautifully from pen to paper. We can’t promise the words will make sense, but at least they’ll look pretty.
1. Find a space and comfort
If you’ve ever struggled to sign a paper or write a note with no table or clipboard in sight, you know that comfort is of the essence when you want to jot down legible words. Start by giving yourself a fighting chance and sit down at a stable, spacious table or desk where you can write at your leisure.
[Related: Eight great pens to match your writing style]
Keep lamps, mugs, and any decorations far from you: You want to be able to move freely without fear of knocking something down.
2. Keep things flat
When it comes to the actual paper, it’s a good idea to keep things as flat as possible, so a loose sheet is better than a notebook. But if you hate the hassle of having random pieces of paper all over the place, the right notebook will work too.
Avoid thick or spiral notebooks and instead opt for one with a flexible binding that you can open flat. This will prevent the heavier side of your book from trying to pull the whole thing closed, and eliminate any wrist discomfort a thick spiral may create as you approach the end of each line. Thinner notebooks will also keep your hand from losing support as you write the final lines on a page.
3. Make the paper adapt to you
Speaking of lines, you should use some kind of guideline at this stage—it could be lines, a grid, or dots, whatever your handwriting-focused heart desires. This will help you gauge the direction of your script and the size and consistency of your letters, so we strongly recommend forgoing blank pages until you’re more comfortable with your new and improved penmanship. If you’re using loose paper instead of a notebook, you can buy lined, gridded, or dotted paper—or you can download and print your own from one of several free online resources.
Next, find a paper layout angle that suits your writing. Don’t fall for the notion that the only correct setup is vertical, as that can force your hand and wrist to adopt an unnatural writing position, which could lead to pain and even injury. There’s absolutely no shame in positioning your sheet of paper or notebook at a 45-degree angle or even a totally horizontal alignment. The best way to find out what angle works for you is to start with your paper laid vertically and then rotate it to the left (if you’re right-handed) or the right (if you’re left-handed) until you’re comfortable. This is why having a spacious surface to write on matters, as you won’t want to knock down any desk trinkets while you play around with your paper.
Take as much time as you need to ensure your setup is to your liking. You’ll find this will not only help you improve your handwriting but it will also be relaxing. You’re welcome.
4. Find the right tool
Now, to the fun part: get a pen you like. If you’re a leftie, stay away from broad-nibbed fountain pens that might dispense a lot of ink with each stroke—you’ll likely end up with smudged words all over your page as your hand crosses your freshly printed letters. Gel pens and ballpoint pens are usually quick-drying, so starting there is a good idea. Righties don’t have to think about anything—the world is built for you.
The best way to know if a pen is right for you is to try it. If you can, go to a stationery store and take your time sampling the pens there—write a couple words on the provided pads and see how each pen feels. Maybe buy two or three to keep testing at home. If you have no idea where to start, you can always give some fan favorites a test drive.
Many people swear by the Pilot G-2, for example. It comes in several formats, but the tried-and-tested version has a built-in grip, is retractable, uses quick-drying gel ink, and comes in myriad colors. If you want to go with a classic, try BIC’s Cristal or Round Stic pens. You’ve probably written with these a million times before, and they’re a staple because of how comfortable and reliable they are. Some more ideas: Uniball’s Signo, Pentel’s RSVP, Sakura’s Pigma Micron, or any gel pen at Muji. These are all inexpensive writing tools with their own fan bases, so you should be able to find something that works among them.
If you want to try your hand at fountain pens, start with something designed for beginners that—hopefully—is compatible with disposable ink cartridges, or even comes pre-loaded with ink. This will prevent you from having to buy a bottle of ink and a refillable cartridge, unless you’d really like to. Pilot’s Kakuno or Schneider’s Ray fountain pens are solid, inexpensive choices—they’re light and comfortable, and can prepare you to move on to more serious fountain pens in the future.
5. Calibrate your pace and grip
You’ve got your tools and your setup—it’s time to write. Start by filling between a half and a whole page with fresh handwriting. It can be anything: a story, your train of thought, or the transcription of a song you like.
When you write, do it at a normal pace (not too fast, not too slow) and mind your hold on the pen. If your nails are white from the force you’re exerting, your grip is too strong—relax your hand and try again. This is important because an excessively strong grip will lead to pain and discomfort, which can result in hand and wrist cramping, as well as injury. On top of that, pain will also affect the consistency of your handwriting and eventually deter you from putting pen to paper at all, rendering this whole process useless.
Once you have a comfortable grip, check it every few minutes and correct it if you need to. If you’re having trouble controlling your pen, you can always change your tool or try a pen grip—one of those small rubber tubes that slip right onto your pen or pencil for better control.
6. Analyze your writing
When you’re done writing your practice page, take a look at your handwriting and analyze it. Pay attention to spacing, the slant of your letters, their height, their form, and where they are in relation to the guidelines you used. The most important element you’re looking for is consistency and legibility, so go through your lines and highlight which words and letters differ most from the rest, and which could be misread.
These are the elements you’ll need to focus on to improve your handwriting. No matter if you do cursive, print, or a combination of the two, you want a style that anybody can read clearly, is mostly the same across the page, and has letters that look more or less consistent. This doesn’t mean your handwriting should be perfect or resemble words on a screen (let alone calligraphy)—your handwriting is unique to you and you should embrace it as such.
If there are aesthetic elements you want to change, or if you want to alter the way you write altogether, draw inspiration from others. A quick web search will turn up thousands of handwriting enthusiasts sharing their own pristine note pages. Take a look at them, find what you like (loose elements or entire styles), mimic it, and make it yours.
7. Practice, practice, practice
You knew it would come to this. Repetition is key to learning, and only writing, writing, and more writing will get your body used to the changes you want to make to your personal script.
A helpful way to practice is by making your exercises a part of your everyday life. You can do this by taking up a hobby like journaling or meditative writing. This will give you the opportunity to sit down for a couple of minutes each day and put your growing skills to good use.
If you’re not into journaling, you can just set aside some time to practice every day. Find books, poems, and songs you like, and transcribe them. You can also write down your own train of thought if you can keep up with it. Your writing doesn’t have to be good, or even make sense—the point is to write, and as long as you’re putting words together, you’re getting some practice.
On top of that, take every opportunity you have to write instead of typing. Keep notepads and pens around your desk and home, and pick them up to write reminders, and lists. If time is not an issue, forgo emails and opt for writing a letter or sending a postcard instead. It’s not only extra practice, but it’s a nice, old-fashioned thing to do and people love it.
A reminder: take your time and be patient. Speed will come once your hand learns the movements you’re teaching it. The more you write, the faster and more organically your lines will come. In the meantime, focus on form and consistency. From time to time, take a moment to analyze your handwriting to see how much you’ve progressed and what you still need to improve. Don’t forget about your grip, either, and check on it often to see if you need to loosen up.
8. Get some help
If you’re having trouble analyzing your own handwriting or what exactly you need to change, there are people who will do that for you. There are many courses (online and otherwise) that can teach you how to improve your handwriting and where to start.
For the more independent learners, there’s also a lot of practicing material online, like worksheets and guides, that you can download at a cost or even for free. Some of them have slanted lines that can help you keep your angles consistent, and some of them have full instructions on the best ways to join letters and use spacing.
It bears repeating: handwriting is not calligraphy, and it’s as unique to you as your fingerprints. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to look like someone else’s, so make embracing the chaos part of your process.
Also, you should enjoy this—keep it fun and relaxing. If at any point it’s not, you can change it. Or you can try to find pleasure in filling out terribly formatted forms on your phone. Whatever works for you.
This post has been updated. It was originally published on August 13, 2022.