Words by c.z.robertson

How I gave myself beautiful handwriting

2007-12-30 18:04:03 GMT/BST

A few weeks ago, I received three independent and spontaneous compliments on my handwriting. Receiving compliments shouldn't be hard. The basic principle is that a simple "thank you" is the best response. That can be difficult, though, when you don't believe that the good opinion is justified, and after the first compliment I felt compelled to make a self-deprecating remark. As soon as I'd said it I realised that it wasn't a good response. Furthermore, I realised that I still had more work to do on a project I had started work on almost two years ago.

"Become happy with my handwriting" was the goal of the project. By my rules I could do that through any combination of either changing my handwriting or changing the way I thought about my handwriting. At that point my handwriting wasn't joined up, and for a lot of my life the letterforms that I'd used weren't capable of being joined. I started my 'o's from the bottom, for example, and I used to dot 'i's and cross 't's before starting the next letter.

Perfectionism was another part of the problem. Even now, when I go to write, say, a birthday card for a friend, I get nervous about it. I'm terrified of making any mistakes. I'm a perfectionist about most things in life, but I've usually been able to keep it under control with a bit of effort. I need to keep applying that effort to my handwriting.

The poor letterforms started at school. When I was at primary school I distinctly remember being told to put little tails on the ends of the letters. Those tails would be used when we started joining the letters, but we would do that later and in the meantime we should leave the letters separate. But the instruction to actually join the letters never came. I assure you that I would have done so if someone had told me to. I always did my best to follow instructions. So for many years my letters had little tails on. Eventually they went the way of tails on humans when I gave up drawing them. My letters remained separate.

It was only later, towards the end of my time in primary school, that anyone picked up on the problems that I was obviously having. I knew by then that my writing was wrong and it upset me a great deal, but I didn't know how to fix it. So, instead, I tried to make it go away. My writing became smaller and smaller. So small that my teachers couldn't read it. This didn't really bother me. Ideally, I wanted it to disappear. But my teachers and my parents wanted to read what I wrote, so they got me to do an exercise of copying out one joke a day from a joke book as practice, and to work on making my writing bigger. I did this, and my writing did get bigger, but I wasn't happy. In my eyes, making it bigger only made its flaws more prominent.

When I got to secondary school, the teachers there saw that I needed some guidance on how to improve my handwriting, but by then I found the whole thing too upsetting to think about and the large pile of photocopied instructions that they gave me was too daunting to look at, so I put it in a cupboard and did my best to forget about it. I remained unhappy with my handwriting for the next fifteen years.

In early 2006, a couple of years after discovering Getting Things Done and learning how to focus on the next action in order to get a project done, and several months after discovering David DeAngelo and learning that I could change the way I thought about myself, I found that I was in possession of the tools and optimism I needed to tackle my handwriting. So I googled for resources on handwriting. One of the first pages that came up was Gunnlauger SE Briem's guide to italic handwriting. I looked at a few other resources, but that was far and away the best I found. I'm enormously grateful to him for putting that guide online.

For a little while my handwriting was messier than it had been before, while I learnt this new way of writing, but it was joined up. And it wasn't long before it started to look better than it ever had. I continued to do a bit more experimentation occasionally with the way I held my pen or the way I moved my hand. These had the initial effect of setting my handwriting back again for short periods, but I learnt useful things from some of those experiments and now my writing has settled down to something quite stable. I think I'll always have to be conscious of it and make tweaks here and there, but I don't foresee any major changes now.

Clearly, though, given my reactions recently, I haven't quite achieved my goal. I still have difficulty believing that my writing is good. I know that logically there's nothing wrong with it. It's now purely an issue of the way I think about it. So I have to change that. I've been working on changing and controlling my thoughts for a while now, so I know I can do it. I just needed these events to realise that it was still an issue.