Ask LH: How Can I Learn To Write More Neatly?

Hi Lifehacker, Do you have any suggestions for learning how to write more neatly? As an adult it seems difficult to find tutors or classes that specialise in neatness for handwriting — there are plenty for children though. Is it just a matter of getting a blank exercise book and writing every day? Thanks, Mr Scribble

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Dear Mr Scribble,

I’m probably the last person you should be asking about this — my penmanship has always been rubbish. In high school, I was actually granted extra time to complete the H.S.C examinations due to my glacially slow handwriting. I now do the majority of my written communication via computer, which has probably made things even worse.

The first question you need to ask yourself is: does the legibility of my handwriting really matter? The move to email and text messaging has rendered handwriting far less important than it used to be. Unless your job involves lots of note sharing, there are arguably better skills you could be honing in your spare time.

With that said, studies have shown that practicing your handwriting can improve cognitive abilities. Physically writing out letters requires a little more work from your brain than typing, and that extra work is supposed to keep your mind sharp:

Some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age. There’s real value in learning and maintaining this ancient skill, even as we increasingly communicate electronically via keyboards big and small.

If you’re determined to improve the neatness of your writing, one option is to look into calligraphy classes. This is a text-based form of art relating to expressive, harmonious, and skillful writing. As such, it’s better suited to formal letters than general note-taking but it will give your writing a boost in elegance (and legibility) when required.

A quick Google search should pull up some courses in your area and there are also several online tutorials available. A good place to start is the Australian Society of Calligraphers website which includes a workshop calendar.

For improvements to everyday handwriting, have you tried writing with your shoulders? According to PaperPenalia founder Dyas A. Lawson, the key to better penmanship has nothing to do with finger control but is instead related to the placement of your shoulders:

People who inevitably have trouble with handwriting and calligraphy write with their fingers. They “draw” the letters. A finger-writer puts the full weight of his/her hand on the paper, his fingers form the letters, and he picks his hand up repeatedly to move it across the paper as he writes.
People for whom writing comes more easily may rest their hands fairly heavily on the paper, but their forearms and shoulders move as they write. Their writing has a cadence that shows they’re using at least some of the right muscle groups. They don’t draw the letters with their fingers; the fingers serve more as guides.

You can find additional handwriting tips in PaperPenalia’s in-depth guide. Another site worth checking out is Lifehacker favourite Udemy, which provides a selection of handwriting courses among its many offerings. For example, the Improve your Handwriting – Improve your Life course includes 54 online lectures suitable for students at the business and academic level.


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