Beautiful handwriting is a sign that you not only care to tailor your outfit but also your character. Strengthening your penmanship is a worthwhile goal because, as a human trait, it will always garner universal appreciation regardless of advancing technology.
Are you dissatisfied with your handwriting yet noble enough to want to strengthen it? Then this post is for you!
If you commit to applying the tips herein, then in time, you’ll see a drastic improvement in both your printed and cursive writing.
What Causes Bad Handwriting?
Some say poor handwritten letters in adults are due to higher intellect. This I believe, since I swear my doctor’s illegible prescriptions are only decipherable by the pharmacists I’m commanded to deliver them to. To me, those lifeforms are on a superior footing.
I’ve also read it could be due to ADD (Attention-deficit Disorder) or a condition called dysgraphia, which causes writing difficulties. If such is the case, there’s absolutely NO SHAME in having these conditions.
Most likely, though, poor handwriting is either due to simply being in a rush or a “meh” kind of mood, thereby causing you to make those uneven baselines, inconsistent spaces, and poorly formed letters.
How Do You Improve Bad Handwriting as an Adult?
To improve rough handwriting as an adult, you’ll need to “pop open the hood” to your subconscious and consciously recalibrate muscular memory that has been on autopilot since childhood.
Deeply ingrained muscle movements, specifically those governing how you manage the “three ‘S’s” of handwriting, as I’d like to call them, are key to your unique writing style.
Another thing you’ll likely have to tweak is the balance between your writing rapidity (speed), legibility, and ease. Without getting too technical, let’s discuss all of the above.
It’s All About Muscle Memory
Handwriting is largely based on muscle memory acquired from childhood. While we were grinding away at those daily practice drills as kids, we created a unique signature of micro-movements. Our brain then took these and “baked” them into our sensorimotor and nervous systems.
In other words, our brain was the rushed supervisor that made sure its bakers would churn out some kind of presentable product before the store opening. Yeah, sort of like that.
But, the wonderful thing about muscle memory is that it can be reprogrammed, although it’s admittedly tougher the older we get. Sadly, we don’t get a magic formula – a hack – for updating our motor control. It’s either deliberate, regular practice, or nothing.
The Three ‘S’s
The three ‘S’s stand for the spacing, slant, and size of your handwritten lettering. To achieve aesthetically-pleasing longhand, your three ‘S’s should be as uniform as possible.
To straighten out your letter spacing, slant, and size, you’ll need to identify where specifically the problem spots are. Then, you’ll have to correct any poor habits through handwriting drills – over, and over, and over again until it becomes second nature.
Rapidity, Legibility, and Ease
Similar to how the exposure triangle in photography determines the basic look of your picture, so, too, this trio of traits determines the basic look of your handwriting:
- Rapidity refers to how quickly you’re able to write (the average adult writes about 20 words per minute)
- Legibility refers to whether your handwriting is legible to those who are supposed to be familiar with its qualities (i.e. style, letterform, etc.)
- Ease refers to how much effort it takes you to write the lettering (e.g. print vs. cursive styles vs. calligraphy)
These operate like a ratio in that, to strengthen an aspect, you’ll have to compromise on the quality of another. For example, faster writing (higher rapidity and ease) results in less handwriting control (lower legibility). Conversely, the precision of sophisticated, legible writing requires you to really slow down.
13 Practical Tips to Improve Handwriting For Adults
Good handwriting technique has WAY more to do with nurture than nature. This means that, with conscientious effort, you CAN elevate every aesthetic aspect of your longhand no matter how dysgraphic you think you are.
1. Choose an Appropriate Writing Tool
Much motivation to undertake a tough task comes from knowing you have the best tools. For the sake of motivating yourself to consistently practice good penmanship, why not splurge on a shiny new stylus?
Here are some great pointers (sorry for the pun), for choosing your dedicated pen:
Get a fountain pen! It’s not just for sophistication. Chronic hand writers can attest to the effortless glide of the ink, the reduced strain on the wrist, and the ability to use a more relaxed grip a good fountain pen provides. You’ll find this writing tool superior on any piece of paper.
Of course, it’s totally fine to start with regular ballpoint pens. But don’t expect much handwriting endurance using them. Your hand will tire out sooner.
Size matters. The length, weight, and girth of your pen should be appropriate for your hand. For larger grips, opt for a bigger, heavier, thicker pen; and vice versa for more petite paws.
Nibs matter. Pick a pen that has a nib no thinner than 0.38mm. Scratch that, how about not going below 0.5mm for regular handwriting. You might think that thinner nibs are easier to handle. But in reality, their strokes are so thin that mistakes become quite apparent, such as uneven spacing or lines made by a shaky hand.
2. Warm Up Your Muscles
I get that handwriting isn’t on the same athletic level as hockey. But you’d do well to warm up your hand, wrist, and even shoulder. Warming up calms you down, paving the way for a more relaxed handwriting experience. It also strengthens and loosens the over 30 muscles in your hand.
A few effective warmups include
- interlocking your fingers and stretching them by pushing your palms outward,
- alternating between a tight fist and extended fingers,
- moving your wrist in circular motions,
- touching each finger to your thumb several times,
- and gently rolling your shoulder forward and back.
3. Practice Basic Strokes Through Doodling & Writing Drills
Go back to the basics by practicing the basic shapes and individual strokes of letterforms. These school-aged drills retrain your fine motor skills along with spatial awareness for small details. They require humility on your part, yet are a super-effective way to undo laziness that has crept into your handwriting habit.
Here’s one of my scrap practice sheets where I doodled several fundamental components: asdf doodle shapes
I know, I know. Naked lines, waves, curves, and zigzags aren’t thrilling regardless of their direction. Doing these repeatedly will eventually torture you.
Here’s a novel idea, though! Why not kill two birds with one stone by incorporating this otherwise bland exercise into designing patterned backgrounds for another project? As an example, check this bullet journal spread out: asdf bullet journal background
Do it right! Make sure your supposed straight lines are all straight and your curves are all rounded smoothly. More important, though, are that the shapes are PARALLEL and EVENLY SPACED to each other. You’ll know you’re doing these drills correctly if you’re feeling fatigued after just a few minutes. They’re harder to pull off than you think!
4. Choose a Handwriting Style or Font to Copy
Find a style of font that appears to consist of handwritten letters on the web. Try to hand-copy it. At the least, this is an excellent way to draw inspiration and have fun. But through this process, you may develop an improved personal style of writing.
Have you ever been to dafont.com? As of right now, there are 58,510 fonts – a staggering amount – from various families and styles! The great thing about this site is that fonts come with easy-to-use exemplars, making it no trouble to design drills around them.
A quick tip. A beautiful typeface doesn’t necessarily mean it will write well. I wonder what my life would be like if my longhand resembled Nino Script. I mean, I’d have to live a lot longer for that to make sense!
Be modest and start by picking a font family, style, and subsequent type that you’re confident replicating without getting too frustrated.
5. Prepare Hand-lettering Worksheets For the Font
You’ll have no choice but to transform into a grade school student to learn your chosen font. That’s because elementary handwriting worksheets are the best way to practice new letterforms.
How can you prepare the worksheets for your model font? Simply follow the following two steps:
- Find and download a (preferably free) naked hand-lettering template. What I mean by “naked” is, the template should ONLY have the essential lines: cap-height, baseline, and cross-height (that dotted middle line).
- Use a method you’re familiar with to layer the individual letterforms of your model font onto the blank worksheets. This is quite easy to do in apps like Photoshop, GIMP, and Procreate. If your font is from dafont.com, this will be even simpler.
A quick tip #1. An effective series of practice worksheets should include
- a “perfect” example letterform at the beginning of each row;
- a few faint, traceable letters afterward;
- if the font is in an unfamiliar style, some directional arrows to serve as guides for sequencing and basic stroke direction;
- a few pangrams (e.g. “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” or “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs”).
A quick tip #2. Practice freehand on lined paper once you’ve gotten the hang of using guided templates.
6. Maintain a Proper & Relaxed Grip
How you grip your pen certainly involves that Goldilocks touch. It has to be just right for you.
That said, don’t choke the pen with an overly tight hand grip. And yet, avoid letting it loosely wobble between your fingers. Also, hold it where you’re able to fully stabilize the distribution of weight, meaning, not too close to the nib and not too far up the shaft.
A good grip delays fatigue and provides better motor control. It’s one of those seemingly unimportant, mindless techniques that end up making a big difference.
7. Pay Attention to Your Body Posture
How you sit is important, too, especially if you’re doing repetitive practice drills. Like a ball on an uneven surface, your posture tends to drift to an ugly form. Keep it in check!
Provided you’ve got a comfy desk-and-chair combo, these body-positioning tips are cardinal for improving your handwriting:
- Plant both feet firmly on the ground
- Don’t hunch over and don’t lean too far back into the chair
- Rather than bend your whole neck towards the desk, try tilting only your chin instead; this keeps your back relatively straight
- Keep your writing arm at a comfortable distance from your torso, not tucked in, and not flared out
Easier said than done! After successfully dealing with your grip and posture, give attention to the environment.
For example, is the lighting the way you like it? Is your favorite playlist playing? Are you free of potential distractions? Have you given yourself plenty of free time?
Finally, give attention to your mindset. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Yes, this is a form of self-improvement, which requires some disciplined training sessions. But, no, the results don’t matter THAT much! Handwriting is a personalized art that’s constantly growing with you.
9. Engage the Correct Muscle Groups
Here’s a technical one especially for calligraphers. Engage the larger muscle groups involved in handwriting. How so?
When writing, keep your fingers – the smaller muscles – relatively rigid. Instead, rely on your wrist, forearm, and even shoulder to direct the strokes.
It’s the larger muscle groups that provide the stabilization to your finer movements, much like how a big, solid rig stabilizes a handheld video camera.
10. Be Patient and Write Slower
Fight the urge to prematurely speed up your practice. This is particularly important for us adults who yearn for nice handwriting. Why?
Unlike kids, we’re not largely developing new muscle memories as we revamp our longhand. We’re mostly tweaking existing ones. This means ingrained habits will resurface unless we consciously suppress them – until their nuances are all replaced.
Remember, with accuracy in the new basic shapes and strokes, speed will invariably follow.
11. Shorten the Sessions and Space Them Out
Just as your body absorbs smaller portions of food over regular intervals more effectively than a binge-fest, so it is with your brain. That’s why I don’t remember any of the material I crammed for tests.
Why not do a handwriting exercise for 10 to 15 minutes a day over the next several weeks? I guarantee you’ll see measurable improvement, albeit not drastically.
12. Fix One Problem at a Time
How do you fix “one problem at a time” when it comes to penmanship? First, familiarize yourself with the common issues of handwriting. Then, try spotting them in your work and tackle them one at a time through focused handwriting drills.
The three ‘S’s. Remember these from reading the above? If not, that’s OK. I wouldn’t have read it either. The three ‘S’s stand for spacing, slant, and size, which are a composite aspect of handwriting that makes it look good. You can isolate each of these traits to solve their inconsistencies separately. Just remember that they work in harmony.
An identical style throughout. Good handwriting should have letters that are all formed the same. For example, either stick to printed OR cursive handwriting. Don’t mix both.
Another nitpick. Now we’re getting into OCD territory. Make sure letters with closed counters (i.e. A, B, D, O, P, Q, R, a, b, d, e, g, o, p, and q) are properly “closed”. In my opinion, unless you’re entering a handwriting competition or authoring a penmanship book, don’t worry too much about this.
13. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
Finally, I want to reinforce that there’s no wizardry to handwriting improvement for adults. It’s drilling in the correct muscle movements and basic shapes – over, and over, and over again. No pain, no gain, right?
BUT! Do you know that whole “practice makes perfect” thing? *Ehhh* FALSE! It should instead be “practice makes permanent”.
Practice alone isn’t necessarily enough. It’s the repetition of the correct form that matters. So, to tangibly improve, you’ll have to concentrate on maintaining the new forms, movements, strokes, and positioning throughout every handwriting session – until you’re doing everything properly on cruise mode.
Handwriting vs Typing: Is the Pen Still Mightier Than the Keyboard? – theguardian.com
Better Handwriting For Adults From NALA (PDF) – nala.ie
“My Life With ADHD and Bad Handwriting” – additudemag.com
Why Cursive Handwriting Is Good for Your Brain – psychologytoday.com