Under construction…

if you want to improve

A lot of old-timey handwriting advice says to start by drawing a million ovals. A lot of aesthetic YouTube advice says to print out a font you like and carefully copy the characters.

Everyone is wrong and you should instead listen to me. My advice applies to both print and cursive.

step 1: x-height and baseline

x-height - Wikipedia

Remember when you were a child and the lined paper you used had a dotted line in the middle? And you were supposed to make, for example, your “a”s the height of that line?

Yeah, going back to that is the first step. Uneven x-height and wavering baseline are the easiest thing to fix that will immediately tidy your handwriting. Start with whatever seems to be the average x-height that feels natural to you, and later compare that of handwriting you admire. Try making yourself lined paper to use for this, or wait, because you may also want guidelines for…

step 2: slant

Evening out your slant will immediately make your handwriting look more respectable. There are three things you need to fix to do this.

The first two are easy: ascenders and descenders should obviously have the same angle.

Slant is also necessary to consider for letters that don’t have ascenders and descenders. The round shape common to, say, “o” and “a” (and incompletely present in “c” and “e”) is typically written as an oval rather than a perfect circle, right? This oval, then, needs to be tilted to match the angle of the ascenders and descenders. Don’t worry about correcting the shape yet – just get the slant right.

This is much, much easier with guidelines. Séyès rule is an easy way to move toward the French style, but I’d only recommend it if you’re intending to write with a perfectly vertical slant.

If you’re down for a deeper slant, copperplate guidelines are quite practical–even if you’re not looking to get that fancy with flourishes!

Here is the template I use. I print it out and cut pieces that fit behind notebook pages, so it shows through pretty faintly.

These first two steps will make your handwriting look much better if you’ve not considered them before – and I’d encourage you to write with the right kind of guidelines to practice them for a while before venturing onwards. For handwriting to be practical, you can’t be tightly clutching your pen trying to scribe out a curve precisely – you need it to be natural, and if you’re thinking about too many things at one time, it won’t be.

step 3: match matching shapes

Look at typefaces or handwriting you like. Does the hump of the “h” have the same shape as the hump of the “n”? The hump of the “n” the same as the humps of the “m”? Is the “w” done to match the “v” or the “u”? If you’re using a crossed “f”, does it cross at the same height as does the “t”?

When it writes the same letter multiple times, how much does it vary? In what ways?

Consistency within and across letterforms is something you might rarely think about, but is maybe more important than the letterforms themselves being very conventionally formed. You can get away with a lot of weirdness as long as you’re consistent enough that people can fall into a rhythm of distinguishing your letters from each other.

step 4: letter spacing