Hand of Write

Not everyone likes to write. I have a friend with large hands who says he feels clumsy with a pen or pencil and avoids writing whenever he can – which is most of the time. A pen collector of my acquaintance, with hundreds of vintage fountain pens, never uses any of them. When he has occasion to write he uses a ballpoint.

I love to write. I love the process of applying pen to paper and forming letters. That’s not to say I’m a calligrapher or even that I write especially well. I’m a very ordinary writer at best and when I am drafting it’s a dreadful scrawl which even puzzles me sometimes.

Writing is a very personal thing. I began, like most of my age, by forming capital and lower case letters. Then came cursive, or joined-up writing as we called it then, carefully copying the letters and connections the teacher made on the board. At that point all twenty-odd of us should have been writing the same but of course even then skill and ability varied. I remember one girl whose writing was outstanding. The rest of us varied between pretty good and awful. I fell somewhere in the middle.

We were all – or at least most of us – then equipped to communicate on paper, even though perhaps slowly and with difficulty. Practice makes perfect but it also leads to change. First to go were the light upstrokes and heavy downstrokes. Quite soon all the pressures were the same. None of our teachers seemed to mind. So long as they got a legible, reasonably tidy piece of work there were no complaints.

Change was imperceptible at first. With greater speed and confidence in writing the letters were less carefully formed but that was all then. It was later, when I was ten or eleven, that I decided to make my writing more personal and individual. Certain ascenders disappeared. The form of some letters began to change too, so that my handwriting became a mixture between cursive and italic which I thought really cool and smart at the time. Later, when I felt the necessity to improve my writing those were the first things I had to correct. It was a painful process after years of writing that way. I had to retrain muscle memory.

Now my writing is mostly legible when I’m not drafting. I write best with a stub or relief but I’m quite happy with fines and mediums. Broad nibs are not for me. Handwriting, though, is always a work in progress. I have no interest in calligraphy but I feel that my own, natural handwriting will always be capable of improvement

6 thoughts on “Hand of Write

  1. Couldn’t have put it any better, Deb. Like you, I enjoy the very act of using a fountain pen and making letter forms. Despite my best efforts the ideal form never appears on the paper; that’s what intrigues me and that’s what leads me on.
    BTW, your own hand is nothing to be ashamed of.
    Cheers to Tuppence.

  2. Great description and explanation on the aesthetics of putting pen to paper. It is simple therapy. I actually do not care how anyone’s writing looks. Unless it is of importance and not legible. When nursing I had to read from patients’ notes re: other health professionals’ considerations. Some inclusions? There were times when not one of person in our team could read and decipher certain entries. But when writing for simple pleasure? It is so satisfying using dip nib or fountain pens. Broad nibs? Nope! They look ugly in my writing style. Style? Just go with the flow. Capital letters in the middle of lower case written words? Great. Quirky and welcome. Nibs? Fine, oblique and smaller italic choices every time. Thanks for the post. Great read as ever.

  3. Handwriting is a technique, which I like to compare to playing a musical instrument. If you apply the prescribed technique/rules, that will result in a predefined outcome. We tend to be stricter in “enforcing” the technique to be used with musical instruments because “derogations” are believed to result in noise rather than music. (Is jazz an exception from that rule? Don’t know.) Not everyone wants or is expected to play a musical instrument. But (until recently anyway) everyone is/was expected to be able to write by hand. Perhaps by way of compromise, the rules were not strictly enforced: legibility, not perfect execution, was the minimum ask. Quite a number of us appear to be unhappy with their handwriting. I can only speak for myself, but my dissatisfaction arise from the realisation that my “personal style”, in derogating from the rules, had become somewhat equivalent to a musical cacophony. The rather discouraging truth that I discovered is that, in order to “improve” my handwriting, I needed to unlearn many letters and strokes that after several decades had become strongly ingrained. The silver lining is that learning the correct technique from scratch is not difficult. It just takes time. Well, lots of time. Just like learning to play a musical instrument. >

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