While computers are possibly the best thing to happen to a writer’s productivity since the invention of coffee, handwriting still has its uses.
It can make us more creative, unlocking ideas and creating connections we wouldn’t have considered otherwise. It can help us remember key points of research. And it can loosen up our mental muscles and let us dig into our writing faster and easier than ever.
Writing by hand in a bullet journal can help organize task lists, plot points, submissions, and more.
Plus, if you’re ready and able to write by hand, you can crank out progress on your manuscript anytime, anywhere. Imagine writing in line at the store, or while waiting for a movie to start, or anywhere you can grab a notebook and pen!
Master penman Jake Weidemann goes into detail about how writing can improve our lives in his awesome TED Talk.
But a lot of us aren’t very happy with our handwriting. In fact, that’s one of the most popular reasons people give for why they won’t try bullet journaling: “My handwriting sucks.”
It doesn’t have to be that way!
Even in the age of word processors, and well after your first-grade penmanship lessons, you can develop great handwriting.
Think of it as an art project that can affect your creative flow, improve your productivity, and boost your mental well-being.
Let’s get started!
Cursive vs. Printing
First things first: What are we talking about when we talk handwriting?
Most people think of the kind of swoopy, swirling calligraphy you see on wedding invitations, or at least of beautiful cursive handwriting.
Cursive is the joined-up writing you might have learned in grade school, typically following a defined school or style. So you might have learned Spencerian script, Palmer script, Zaner-Bloser script, or D’nealian script as a kid.
Or you might not have learned cursive writing at all—many schools have stopped teaching penmanship in favor of teaching kids to type at an early age, figuring that typing is more important to success in our modern world.
While typing is important, being able to write clearly is also important to help develop fine motor skills, retain information, and otherwise improve your general chances of success in life.
But cursive isn’t the only kind of handwriting that can offer these benefits. Printing or block lettering is a perfectly valid type of handwriting—in fact, “manuscript” or block lettering styles have been around for thousands of years, used when people wanted to make sure that their words were easy to read.
So which is better if you want to reap the benefits of handwriting, either for your daily pages, in your freewriting, or for your bullet journal?
Answer: whichever feels best to you!
It can be a lot of fun to learn cursive technique and create beautiful, curling letter forms. But for basic to-do lists, planning, and outlining chapters? You might find that block-style writing works better for you.
Play around and see what feels most comfortable. The handwriting technique that makes you happiest is the best!
How to Improve Your Handwriting
Tuning up your handwriting isn’t as hard as you might think. Like so many things, it’s a matter of practice. Once you get the right form, you just practice the technique and it’ll start to come more and more easily.
There are a few simple steps that will improve your handwriting from the get-go, and a few techniques that will help boost your skills from there, allowing you to comfortably and confidently write by hand whenever the urge strikes you.
1. Find Some Samples
The best way to improve your handwriting is to find samples of handwriting that you love and break them down. What do the letters look like? How are they joined? What attracts you to that style?
Then you can start applying those details to your own writing, little by little.
Keep the sample page and all the letters in front of you and practice writing out both individual letters and whole words.
Need help finding samples? While there are tons and tons of places online that highlight amazing handwriting, many of these are just showing someone’s gorgeous letters or notes. You don’t get the individual letters or words that help the most for practicing.
That’s where handwriting fonts come in!
Seems counterintuitive, but examining a well-made handwriting font can make a huge difference in your own handwriting. You can print out reference sheets of all the letters, capital and lowercase, and also make references of the words you use most to practice and copy.
You can find dozens of different handwriting fonts for free at DaFont.com.
If you haven’t written by hand to do more than jot a quick grocery list in years, you may be tensing up at the mere thought of picking up a pen to write.
Writing by hand doesn’t mean doing wedding-invitation flourishes. You’re just trying to make quick, clear, legible strokes that help you convert the thoughts in your head to words on a page.
What we’re doing doesn’t need to be a jaw-dropping work of art; it just needs to be legible and consistent.
Shake your hands out and stretch your fingers. Then move the stretch up your arms and roll your shoulders a few times before rolling your neck.
Drop your shoulders down and back, like you’re squeezing a ball between your shoulder blades.
Release the tension in your wrists and hands, and you’re ready to begin!
3. Use the Right Equipment
Twenty-packs of ballpoint pens might be cheap, but they’re also not doing your writing any favors.
Cheap, skinny stick pens often have very dry ink and firm rollers; they take a lot of pressure to make marks on the page and you have to clench your fingers down tight on that small barrel. So your hands and arms get tired faster.
Instead, try using a gel pen or rollerball instead. One with a larger barrel diameter will be more comfortable to hold. You can also get one with a built-in rubber grip for even more squishy comfort.
The Pilot G2 rollerball, Uniball Signo gel pen, and Zebra F-301 ballpoint are all inexpensive options that are popular with the bullet-journaling crowd. Personally, I love my Papermate Profile pens, which come in a huge variety of colors for color-coding everything.
Check out more of our top recommendations for the best pens to find the perfect tool for you.
If you’re a lefty, you’ll probably want to stick with ballpoint pens, which dry quickly, or go for a rapid-dry gel pen like the Zebra Sarasa to minimize smudging.
4. Hold It
Once you’ve got the right pen, you need to hold it right.
Ever try writing an essay for class or a long note to someone and had your hand cramp up?
That’s because you’re clenching the pen.
Squeezing the pen too tightly can cause your hand muscles and even your whole arm to cramp up, making it hard to write for more than a few minutes.
It also affects your handwriting, making it harder to make the smooth, flowing letters we’re aiming for.
Lots of experts recommend the tripod grip, where you balance the pen between your thumb, first finger, and middle finger—but there’s no evidence that this is the only way that works.
The most common grips are the dynamic tripod and the quadrupod grip:
Hold the pen gently between the tip of your thumb and the tip of your index (first) finger. Balance the side of the pen against your middle finger, down near the end of the nail.
Hold the pen gently against the tip of your thumb using the tips of your index and middle finger to brace. Lean the side of the pen against your ring (fourth) finger.
No matter what grip you use, hold the pen gently—almost lightly. And don’t hold it too far up or down the barrel…it’ll be harder to control. Instead, hold it about an inch away from the tip of the pen.
The end of the pen should line up roughly with the last knuckle of your index finger where it joins your hand, not with the line of your thumb.
5. Turn the Page
Don’t be afraid to move your paper around! If you’re having trouble getting your writing to slant the way you want it to, move the paper you’re writing on.
Some people actually write at a major angle—the paper is practically 45 degrees from the “straight” line of their writing. This helps them get their writing to line up on the page the way they want without having to hold their arm at an awkward angle.
Many right-handed people like to slant their paper slightly to the left; lefties tend to like to tilt the paper a little to the right.
Whatever is most comfortable for you is the correct way!
6. Move It
Writing is actually a full-body exercise. If you move only your fingers or your hand, you’re going to get tired quickly.
Instead, practice moving from the shoulder, using your whole arm to form the shapes. Keep your shoulders and arm loose and your wrist and hand relaxed, then let the letters flow from your shoulder on down your arm and out through your pen.
Think about pulling the pen, rather than pushing it across the page. The motion is more relaxed and uses less pressure, so you can write comfortably for much longer.
7. Aim for Consistency
The biggest difference between awesome handwriting and sloppy handwriting is consistency.
Keep an eye on the slant of your writing, the size of your letters, the size and shape of any loops you make, and the way you form your letters. The more consistent you can be with how your letters and words take shape, the clearer and more legible your writing will be.
Spacing between words, letter height, and letter width all matter here. Take the time to go slowly with your first practice pages. Note how each letter is formed, and then see how you can speed up a little to keep the same forms when you’re just jotting a quick note in a meeting.
The more conscious you are of the motions of writing and the shapes of your letters, the nicer your writing will become!
Practice Makes Perfect
Once you’ve found a comfortable grip and you have some samples to copy, just keep practicing! You can use plain printer paper, lined paper, or even those old-school handwriting workbooks from when you were a kid—whatever makes you feel comfortable.
You can even practice on an iPad or Android tablet!
Write whatever comes to mind—this is a great way to get started with both freewriting and handwriting practice.
Try copying out your favorite song lyrics, or write down quotes that inspire you.
The more you practice, the more you’ll start training the muscle memory you need to make your writing fast, fluid, and easy no matter what situation you’re in.
You’ll start getting compliments on how nice your grocery list looks, or on how lovely your writing is when all you did was add a tip and sign at a restaurant.
And when it’s time to keep yourself organized in your bullet journal, make notes for your next book, or just send a thank-you to your grandma?
You’ll be glad you put all that practice in!
Improving your handwriting can unleash your creativity and productivity, enabling you to write anytime, anywhere.
To discover more ways to improve your writing and productivity, keep reading:
- How to Create a Writer’s Nook that Will Help You Stress Less and Write More
- What to Do When You Get Writer’s Block, Feel Stuck or Just Don’t Know What to Write
- 11 Writing Tips for Improving Readability and Communicating Better
- The Best Pens of 2019: From Fountain to Ballpoint
Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.
In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!