Shades of Black Ink: The Five Styles of Handwriting
As we write less and less by hand, we begin to think more typographically. We think in terms of fonts and formatting, point size and print dimension, and this is the kind of perfection we can't get from our handwriting.
You can't, for example, properly italicize in handwriting. You can't really write bold text properly. You can't justify text, unless you're some kind of wizard.
For that matter, there are some things we often get wrong by hand; raise your hand if you've ever struggled to form an elegant ampersand or percent symbol. Raise your hand if your handwriting gets uglier as it gets bigger.
But there's something strangely gratifying about handwriting, both the process and the finished product. Handwriting is the un-font—unique to each person like a fingerprint, never quite the same as itself.
As we discovered for ourselves, it's not really possible to duplicate your handwriting digitally, despite the tools and toys available on the web.
Yet while each of us has different handwriting, there are certain styles of handwriting we all recognize and employ—
This is how you write things down for your grandmother—so there's no confusion about what anything says. This is the way you write a note asking for money or favors.
You bust this one out when you're willing to invest some time, when important people might see this handwriting (or when your work's evaluation depends upon how neatly you print).
There's a good chance that, as you write, you are mumbling the words slowly like a zombie to make sure you don't make any mistakes (which, let's face it, would force you to start over).
There's another reason you're likely mumbling when you write this way: this is the writing style we employ when we're copying the lofty words of others. And when we repeat words aloud and write them down, we're more likely to remember them.
This is everyone's bread-and-butter handwriting—and it's your truest handwriting, really. This is how you write when you're taking down info for yourself. This is how most notes in most notebooks are taken.
This is, in other words, the handwriting you employ under normal conditions.
Our normal handwriting changes over time, which is part of what makes it profoundly interesting. If you have them stored away anywhere, take a look at school assignments from different points in your education.
At a certain point, probably between middle and high school, your mature handwriting starts to emerge. Since school is a period where your handwriting gets lots of practice, you can practically watch your handwriting evolve from year to year.
Writing by hand is like riding a bike: you never really forget how to do it, but without practice your form won't be as good, and you won't be able to go as fast. After finishing your education, it's easy to lose some of your sharpness with a pen—fortunately, our notebooks gave us a good excuse to get back in practice.
You wake up in the middle of the night with an idea; half-dreaming and dizzy, you scribble down whatever words come to you on the nearest sheet of paper.
You're on the phone with someone and they ask you to write something down, so you lunge for the Post-Its. You're taking notes from someone interesting who's talking way too fast. In the best of cases—you're tripping over yourself to write down the idea of the century.
Thus is born chicken scratch. All of us, at some point, have struggled to read something we wrote ourselves, most likely because we were writing too fast. In these instances it's still visibly our handwriting; it's just been reduced to its most disheveled form.
The perverse irony is that chicken scratch sometimes contains the most important information, yet is hardest to read.
Of course, some people—let's face it—just don't have tidy handwriting. For some people, all of their handwriting is chicken scratch, and it's just a question of degree. But let's not be too rough on them; it's possible, for example, that they're left-handed people in a right-handed world.
Many of us grew up learning how to write in cursive. It was prettier handwriting, and our teachers told us it was better for reasons we couldn't understand (and therefore don't remember). Cursive was also unique in that it flowed perfectly from letter to letter, without interruptions—useful for experienced writers who could form whole words seemingly in a single stroke.
Cursive is a dying skill, but not everyone laments its passing. In the first place, cursive rarely turns out as pretty as its potential. In the second, it's not easier to read; if anything, it's often harder, since there are more loops and since letters run together.
To take a page from the typographic book, there are reasons that the web is full of clean sans-serif fonts: they're simpler and easier to read. In most cases, handwriting of a sans-serif spirit will likewise prove the most readable.
Special & Doodling
The same pen can showcase a dozen different talents. While some people have a high degree of precision or control, which allows them their tidy handwriting, others have a greater range of drawing and design skills. Therefore, they will have their own ways of expressing those skills beyond the mere writing described above.
Some people doodle. Some write bubble letters. Some draw arrows or diagrams. Whatever your talent, it's the cherry on top of your handwriting—so let it be there with your notes, or presiding over them. It makes them look like you.
Don't forget, too, that some notes are worth sharing. Maybe the ones you write and draw and doodle in your notebook are just for you—but send one to someone else now and again. Because it's a personal touch with your pen, it's a personal touch with your words, too.