Spencerian Penmanship
Spencerian Penmanship practice book

I have been training myself to handwrite over the past few years. It’s a lot harder than I ever would have thought.

My writing has always been bad. I remember an elementary school teacher comparing it to cuneiform. Over time, I took to printing block letters, and eventually, evolved that method into writing the letters without raising my pen or pencil off the paper, causing my writing to devolve into illegibility.

At this point in the technical world, there is little purpose in writing, let alone writing in cursive. But I’ve always been embarrassed of my poor writing, so I decided to try to learn what I probably should have learned so long ago.

And the thing is . . . it’s really hard to learn to write well. That is, it has taken an incredible amount of practice, and I’m still not as adept as I would think I should be for all of the effort I’ve put in.

I had no idea where to start. After researching, the Spencerian method seemed to be the standard, so I worked through the five-book Spencerian Penmanship series. It’s from the 19th century, and starts with the most obfuscating explanations you can imagine, directions which are, serious, nearly unintelligible, and delivered in a quasi-Socratic format. After that thoroughly unhelpful intro are five books of exercises, starting with an entire page of slanting lines. Which I failed miserably. Not to be able to draw a short slanting line consistently is quite humbling.

Spencerian sample
Yes, at first, it was even hard to make oblique lines consistent

In any case, it took me a couple of years to work through those, mostly because writing exercises are pretty boring. Nevertheless, I stuck to it. I thought I would have good penmanship when I as done, but not really. it was better. But I still found myself reverting to block letters as my default method.

So I picked up a recently-published book, “The Art of Cursive Penmanship,” and am working through that. I expect to be done in another month or so. For what it’s worth, I never use the old method of letterforms I used most of my life. If I need to print, I use capital and small letters, which is infinitely more legible than anything from my past.

But still . . . I don’t know that I’ll ever feel completely comfortable in my writing. Sitting down before a blank page with a pen in hand is a lot more intimidating than sitting in front of a blank computer screen. Maybe because a pen mark can’t be deleted. Maybe because typed letters carry your words, but not your skill, whereas in writing, every move of the pen conveys your state of mind. Every hesitation, uncertainty, insecurity shows up in the steadiness of every line or curve you draw. And it requires a lot of concentration, at least at my skill level, just keep it all from collapsing into slop.