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improving my penmanship - learning to handwrite legibly as an adult

 
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My handwriting sucks.

There, I said it.  The first step to becoming a better person is identifying the problem.

Dyslexia plus forced righthandedness = really crappy penmanship.

I've been looking at buying some books on penmanship.  I don't know if this is the right set for me, but maybe.

Here's a video about this set.



here is a glance inside an older copy of the book

Has anyone here tried improving their penmanship skills as an adult?  Is it possible?
 
r ranson
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Here is another overview of the set.



It s originally from the end of the 19th century, which has a writing style I like.  It might work for me, but there are many other resources I have yet to investigate.
 
r ranson
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Here is motivation to improve my penmanship
 
r ranson
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raven ranson wrote:My handwriting sucks.

There, I said it.  The first step to becoming a better person is identifying the problem.

Dyslexia plus forced righthandedness = really crappy penmanship.

Has anyone here tried improving their penmanship skills as an adult?  Is it possible?



I was forced right handed and also am dyslexic. I've always wondered if the forced righty caused the dyslexia. I've also wondered if we don't have crappy handwriting just because it was never supposed to be right handed and our brain blocks something.

On the bright side, I'm also a little ambidextrous.
 
r ranson
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While I wait for my books on improving penmanship, I'm looking around the internet for ideas on things I can practice.  It looks like the first step is holding the pen correctly.  

This is how I hold my pen now.  The weight of the pen rests in the crook of my hand and on the second segment of my middle finger.  The hand rests lightly on its edge.



It's very comfortable and I can write for about an hour with a fountain pen or pencil before my hand cramps.  I can write for about eight letters with a ballpoint pen before my hand cramps.  As much as I love this way of writing, my penmanship is not good.  So to improve my penmanship, I must first re-learn to hold a pen.  

I found this book online about Modern Business Penmanship (modern being what was modern in 1903).

This is the suggested way for holding a pen:



My first attempt is less than impressive.  It uses a different muscle group in my upper arm to keep my wrist parallel to the desk.  I can't see the nib and the weight of the pen feels all wrong.  Like it's both heavier and lighter at the same time.



Maybe I haven't got the technique right yet?  As I'm typing this, I notice that my hand is in almost the correct position while tickling the keyboard.  Maybe I can use this muscle memory to teach myself to hold the pen this new/old way?

However, my left hand has no problem with this technique.  Unlearning is going to be more difficult than learning from scratch.  I wonder I would get better results just teaching my left hand to write clearly?  I would have to set up a special pen for the task because almost all my nibs are worn for right-handed writing.

...

Then there's this video that suggests I've been holding the pen correctly the whole time.



sigh.
 
r ranson
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Working through some more practices today, I noticed that having my pen more upright like I talked about in the last post, makes a much thinner line which uses less ink and bleeds less on the page than my normal grip.  I still don't have very good control but it's interesting that changing the angle of the pen can make such a difference.  
 
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One thing I would suggest is to learn a new "font." My print stinks. I had abhorrent handwriting in elementary school. I relearned cursive in Jr High, and that's much better. Then, in college, I learned to write in D'Nealian(kind of like italics, but upright), because I was going to school to be an elementary school teacher, and it's pretty important to have good penmanship if you're teaching kids penmanship.



My pencil grip is MUCH worse than yours. But, I actually found that "bad" pencil grip is extremely common with hypermobile ("double-jointed") people because their joints are too floppy to hold a pencil the "right" way. Website about hypermobility and handwriting I'll try to take a picture of my pencil grip. But, basically mine looks like this (taken from the hypermobility page):



I worked with other teachers that were fanatical about kids having proper grip, and while it might be more ergonomical for some, I honestly don't think it's a must. I had one teacher going on about how a kid wouldn't be able to write or draw with their pencil grip. This teacher was always impressed by my calligraphy and drawing skills, so I showed her my VERY improper grip. She didn't know how to respond.

For me, learning calligraphy and making a new "font" did wonders for retraining my hands to make letters.
 
Nicole Alderman
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In your case, you might benefit from learning to write in a dyslexia-friendly font. It might retain your hands, while at the same time helping your brain perceive letters better.
 
r ranson
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Nicole Alderman wrote:In your case, you might benefit from learning to write in a dyslexia-friendly font. It might retain your hands, while at the same time helping your brain perceive letters better.



That's a good idea.  Are there any dyslexia-friendly handwritten fonts?

I noticed while doing these writing exercises that all the lines together are making me a bit queasy.  A bit like the strobe lite on a bicycle makes me queasy and dizzy while driving (why cyclists want to make drivers moving towards them feel dizzy is a great mystery to me).  I'm going to fish out my weaving glasses from the other room that are supposed to reduce eye fatigue while doing work at arm's length.  
 
r ranson
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I got a couple of dozen books out from the library about, what I hoped would be improving my handwriting.

I searched "handwriting" and found a couple of books about the history of handwriting and concern about the greater consequence of the digital age destroying this skill.

I searched "Calligraphy" and got a bunch of books on decorative writing.  Writing as art rather than writing for communication.  I learned a lot about pens, inks, and other tools.  The book Complete Calligraphy Skills by Vivien Lunniss was the most useful.  

The big problem with calligraphy is that I cannot read most of these decorative fonts.  But after thumbing through some of the books, I confirmed that I like Spencerian script (late 19th Century American handwriting style) and a slightly older, British writing style called Copperplate.  I have trouble reading many of the capital letters, but the lowercase makes sense to me.  

These two styles want a flexible nib so that we can change the thickness of the stroke by increasing or decreasing pressure on the pen.  I don't think my fountain pens can do this.  They are also written with a thin tip pen which I like.  I find a lot of the problem I have reading calligraphy is the way the lines go thick and thin make the individual letters look off balanced and start spinning.  But with these two styles, Spencerian and Copperplate, the thick and thin elements of the letters aren't so distracting.  

Although I like the look of copperplate fonts better, I am going to start with learning Spencerian because those are the books I ordered from Amazon and it is designed to be written quickly.


I searched "penmanship" and got a lot of books about boats because the library's search system anticipates what I want to say and thinks "hmmm, penmanship, penmanship, nope, nothing much here, I bet this human means seamanship, yes, that must be it, I'll give some results about boats"

What I would really like to find is a book about re-learning how to handwrite as an adult.  I might take my question to the librarian next time I'm in to see what kind of search phrases might give me books like this.  In the meantime, learning calligraphy will teach my eyes and hands some new skills which I assume will improve my every day writing skills.  
 
Nicole Alderman
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I'm glad you found some fonts that work better for you! I tried to find handwriting fonts for dyslexia, but I only found a few people talking about how learning cursive might help dyslexics because "When writing cursive, the word becomes a unit, rather than a series of separate strokes, and correct spelling is more likely to be retained. All lower case cursive letters can begin on the line, so fewer of them are likely to be reversed." (https://dyslexiaida.org/why-bother-with-cursive/). Maybe that's why Spencerian and Copperplate work for you?

If Spencerian and Copperplate don't work as well as you'd like, you could actually try writing in the dyslexia font. Write the letters the same way as they look in the font. There's a lot of handwriting styles I learned just by mimicking online fonts. It's a bit harder, but once you get the basics of calligraphy down and how to form letters for various effects, it's not as difficult...at least for me. But, I'm not dyslexic, so your mileage might vary, so to speak. The dyslexia font might not be as pretty as caligraphy, but maybe learn it as well as the Spencerian/Copperplate. You could write your notes in the dyslexia font so they're easier for you to read, and write things for other people in the prettier cursive fonts.

I'm wondering if there aren't many books about improving handwriting for adults because, back when people needed good penmanship, they were taught it as children. And, now, when people aren't taught good penmanship, it's not valued, so there aren't many people trying to learn and therefore not much demand for such a book.
 
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Absolutely an adult can improve their handwriting.  Mine was never terrible, but when I started teaching school (taught for five years, all grades, in a small Christian school) I had to make an effort to improve so what I put on the blackboard was legible.  Writing on a blackboard is NOT the same as writing on paper, LOL!

I also do italic writing and that has helped my handwriting quite a bit.  I'll never write as well as my Spencerian-trained grandfather did, though.

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I went to a Catholic grammar school and was taught by Ursuline nuns. I was taught the Palmer Method of penmanship and have good penmanship. Good penmanship was stressed when I was in grammar school back in the 60's, and to this day, people will ask if I was taught by nuns when they see my penmanship, and I can pick out others taught by nuns when I see their penmanship. I am an ex-teacher, and today's kids don't know how to write in script...everything is a mish-mash of printing. https://palmermethod.com/
 
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Nicole Alderman wrote:
I'm wondering if there aren't many books about improving handwriting for adults because, back when people needed good penmanship, they were taught it as children. And, now, when people aren't taught good penmanship, it's not valued, so there aren't many people trying to learn and therefore not much demand for such a book.



I'm wondering if now is the time to write such a book.

Looking around, I'm finding antiquated handwriting guides (which are good, but not really what we want in modern handwriting) and I'm finding guides for kids.  It's the learning/teaching style that failed to teach me how to write.  I'm also feeling that learning to write as an adult means unlearning how to write badly - a very different set of muscle memory practice.  

I'm finding several recent books on the decline of handwriting which seem to conclude that handwriting is just as important now as it always was.  

I think in the next four to five years, as the people who learned very little, if any, handwriting in school come of age, that there will be demand for books that help adults improve their handwriting.  It would be a combination of theory and practice in a highly legible font.  Maybe with extra practice books and spin-off books built specifically for fountain pens.  

I wouldn't mind publishing a book like this with my new publishing company. I can see how and where to market it.  I would just need to find someone to write it.  I'll put it out there in case there is someone out there who is obsessed with improving handwriting.  The test will be if you can make my writing legible, then you're the person to write this book.  

 
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Now that I've moved beyond the basic exercises in the Modern Business Penmanship book, I'm rediscovering my biggest problem with cursive writing: reading.

this is some of the practice for the letter R



And this is some of the practice for the letter S



If we don't already know what the words are, or how to spell them, it's difficult to figure out which letters are where.  Look at the middle line of the S section.  I thought that said 'sum', probably because the line above it is 'some'.  Some, sun... see?  Oh wait, there's a 'see' right after the word 'sum'... but that's a bit sloppy, the 'u' in sum looks like 'ee' in see... hmmm.  Maybe that's not 'sum'.  Now I'm off to google what word spells like 'seem'.  Oh, so apparently sometimes 'seam' is spelt 'seem'.

All this is frustrating and now I'm grasping my pen with intense frustration.

How can I stop getting frustrated?  

what was my goal?  To have tidy and legible handwriting.

So I'm exposing some of the core problems with my handwriting. Maybe this is part of the core problem with teaching handwriting to people who aren't good with reading?  Maybe there's a solution hidden here?  I don't know what it is.

 
Nicole Alderman
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You're making the letters right. All the Rs look Rs, and the Ss look like Ss. You could make the R's more distinct by making the tops of the Rs parallel with the line you're writing on.  If you make the Es have bigger "loops," they'll be easier to distinguish between Us and undotted Is. But still, anyone who knows cursive would know what letter you're writing.

You're handwriting looks nice. I can read it really well. Maybe it's because you have a hard time perceiving the letters, that you have a hard time seeing what you've written?

Perhaps the problem with teaching handwriting is that you have a hard time telling IF you did it right, because it's hard for you to read. Meanwhile, other's can read it fine, but you don't have their feedback, so you're kind of lost...and being able to have someone else read your writing is nice, but it would also be nice to be able to read your OWN writing.

What qualities about the letter E help you distinguish it from other letters? Maybe focus on exaggerating them? If you focus on what distinguishes them, maybe you can make them more legible to yourself?
 
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Oh dear.  Sorry for the confusion.  The pictures above are from the practice book modern business penmanship.  The further I get into this book, the harder it is to read the writing.  Part of the problem is there's a lot of variation in the examples.  It would also be useful if there was a printed key to what the examples are trying to spell.

Here's my practice from this morning.  

The R takes a lot of time and skill to write but even still, it looks a lot like an S.  Thinking about how I normally write, I tend to make the lower case S and R printed so I can read what they are.  
practicing-penmanship-s-and-r-confusion.jpg
[Thumbnail for practicing-penmanship-s-and-r-confusion.jpg]
I used a fine nib Jinhao pen for the sample, but the pen in the picture is the Brush Fountain Pen by Ferris Wheel Press
lazy-dog-and-the-jummpy-fox.jpg
[Thumbnail for lazy-dog-and-the-jummpy-fox.jpg]
The quick brown fox in all his glory
 
Nicole Alderman
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Oooooooh. I was wondering why they looked so much like the Business Penmanship book. I don't like how that book leaves so little spaces between the words. It's a bit hard for me to read due to that, which is rather surprising since it's a text for showing people how to write well. The letters aren't nearly as distinct as they could be.

I honestly think your writing is a whole lot easier to read than there's. I like how you exaggerated the curve at the top of the R. It makes it easier to distinguish from the S. To make it even more clear for you, try making that curve at the top parallel to the line. The loop at the bottom of your S also helps distinguish it. I like how they both look.

For the Es, they are hard to form without them looking like Is or a set of them looking like a U. I can see you're working on getting the angle just right on the E. I try to do that,too, but even still, my Es still look a bit too much like upright loops.
 
r ranson
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Here's a book about improving your handwriting as an adult



I had a look at the sample on amazon and I'm not sure this is the book for me.  It seems to me that it's very important that a book like this avoid telling people that it's their own fault they have bad handwriting.  It may be or it may not be.  It doesn't matter who's fault it is, we're ready now to improve.  

edit: I bought the kindle version and now that I'm reading it from the start, I'm impressed.  There's a lot of good stuff here, especially self-diagnostics for handwriting problems.
 
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raven ranson wrote:If we don't already know what the words are, or how to spell them, it's difficult to figure out which letters are where.



I saw this on facebook. It's supposed to be a card "For a Special Aunt." But since the A in "aunt" isn't a closed circle, it ends up looking like a C, and therefore reads entirely differently.

Without context, even those who don't have dyslexia can have problems reading cursive..
special-aunt.jpg
[Thumbnail for special-aunt.jpg]
 
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Wow, that is 'special'
 
r ranson
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I've been writing to my penpals to practice my handwriting more.  I'm a terrible penpal as it can be 5 to 10 months between letters.  But I do reply eventually.  

My first penpal was my Cousin-Aunt (grandmothers cousin - not sure what you call this in normal circles) and I used to write to her at least once a week, even if there wasn't anything interesting to write about, we lived on opposite sides of the world, so daily life of a 90-year-old Brit and a 20 year old Canadian were different enough that it was always interesting to hear from her.  I hope she found my letters interesting too.  But alas, she died many years ago and I fell out of the habit of writing to my other penpals, mostly because I worried they couldn't read my writing.  I'm hoping to take this up again.

So here I am, paper and pen ready to write a letter and I thought to myself, "self, isn't there a proper way to make a letter?  Date and who it's from goes somewhere, the info about who it's to goes somewhere else.  Old letters always looked so formal.  How come I never learned the right way to write a litter?  Is there even a right way?  Would just changing the way and order I put things on the page make the letter look better?  What kind of words would google eat to give me information about this?"

So those are my thoughts about handwriting today.  Page lay-out and does it change the way a) my letter looks and b) how I feel when writing it?  Would I feel more confident and therefore write neater?  


In other news, I'm working through the Spencerian Penmanship handbooks and I love it.  I haven't got to the part where I make letters yet, so that might change things.  But this is the kind of drill I need to get me thinking about the parts of letters and how they interact.
 
r ranson
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I love that we live in a world where this exists.



I'm also a bit sad that we live in a world where this needs to exist.
 
r ranson
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This is my writing in a hurry.

I'm not seeing any improvement yet.  sigh.  This is going to be a long-term project.  
IMG_6164-(2).JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_6164-(2).JPG]
 
r ranson
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I'm still practising every day.  Sometimes it's two minutes, the other day it was over two hours (divided into three sessions).  I expected this practice to be stressful and was fully prepared to buy some chocolate or other bribes to keep working on it.

It turns out I like it.  If I focus on the shapes of the letters that is.  Quite often, I forget halfway through the letter what letter I was writing (not uncommon for me anyway - it's also why I have trouble copying words accurately by hand).  When I think about "w" I find I've got three or four bottomed "w"s but when I think about the shape and the spacing of each stroke, it looks good.  I'm still trying to figure out how to turn this into nice writing.

Another side effect is that I find I'm writing many of my notes in cursive instead of printing them.  Not fully ledgeable yet, but possibly things are improving.  

In the end, I don't think I'll write 'proper' Spencerian script.  I doubt I'll be able to master that much precision.  It's also not the most readable script to the modern day eye - well, not mine anyway.  Too many flourishes.  I suspect with a flex-pen to make the letters have thick and thin lines will help with this.

I can see myself adapting a variation of this style to match my style.  This was the goal I started with, after all, to find my style of writing.

In other news, I started a bullet journal (boju) to help me keep track of how often I practice (as well as other important daily tasks).  A BoJu that is telling me I have a lot of pressing tasks to accomplish today.
 
r ranson
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I've been working at my penmanship daily for a while now.  Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for only a few minutes.  The focus is on quality practice, not quantity. If my mind wanders or I'm tired, I get sloppy.

I'm at the point now where I'm experimenting using these letters in my daily writing... sometimes.  I'm quite worried that if I use cursive writing for work, the people around me won't be able to know what I'm writing.  But I've also noticed that learning more about the shapes of the individual letters has made it easier for me to read other people's writing.  It's like discovering some essential training I missed when learning to read.  So this is how other people see handwritten words.

The Spencerian Penmanship copybooks don't teach the letters in alphabetical order, but instead, groups the letter by shape and rhythm of writing.  I got to 's' last night but skipped over 'c' because I can't understand how it looks like a 'c'.  I'm also having trouble with 'x'.  But the other letters are slowly starting to look like the letters I'm copying.  
 
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I think I've found a big source of my problem with this task.  I can't reproduce what I see.  I think I'm making what I see, and I am making what I see, but what I make isn't what I'm copying.  

Hard to explain.  Here's a picture.  

The acorn on the left is the original.  The one on the right is my attempt to draw it.  

Same problem with shaping letters.
IMG_6378-(2).JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_6378-(2).JPG]
 
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This might be the or one of the underlying problems (but honestly I don't think the difference in the acorns is that big). Same can happen with correct pronunciation and the unability to reproduce sounds correctly in a foreign language.

Regarding penmanship in general, I am currently (re-)learning German shorthand. I learned it 30 years ago during my studies as an interpreter. Now I want to take it up again as I am doing genealogy studies and trying to decipher the notes of my late great aunt (in shorthand).
But apart from the usefulness I find it suprisingly satisfying. To me the strokes, lines and curves are very aesthetical. I have always felt the aesthetical side of the printed word, e.g. in the format and print form of a poem, the length and letters of the single words. I find the same appeal in shorthand words. Some are just so beautiful that I am tempted to fill entire lines with them.
Which is a good reminder to get back to my studies...
 
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i also don't think the difference is that big- you get the main point, which is which strokes are thick in the right place, which i assume is the whole point of the exercise.
I used to be a remedial literacy teacher, teaching adults to read. I also taught high school students to read and write in Japanese. The lesson from both of these experiences is the same: you need to physically write with your hand regularly, thousands and thousands of times over and over again (just as kids do) so you're on the right track. The more you do it, the better, and the easier it will get (but it will definitly hurt in the beginning! been there done that).
When dealing with adults with learning disabilities (I was certified in Wilson method), cursive was considered optional-- printing was considered important since survival materials (signage, newspapers, documents) are printed, not cursive. Cursive is the icing, not the cake-- and we NEVER taught it, it simply wasn't the priority. I don't think that means you should just disregard it, though, since it is something you want to do, but i don't think you should be too irked by it.
Some books are just weird, and in my teaching career there were plenty of times when I took my red pen and crossed something out in the textbook, because it ALWAYS was a place where students would trip. That "seem" is something to cross out, or just ignore and move on. Sometimes books get it wrong. Your writing is great, just keep on scratching with that pretty pen!!
Two years ago I had a four-hour translation certification exam. Up to that point these tests were hand-written, and I hadn't written a text by hand for nearly 20 years (college). I was TERRIFIED, because my writing is so bad people often think I write in shorthand or Arabic, and I have been typing everything since high school. I sat down and tried to write every day for half an hour just to prepare. As it turns out I was one of the first people to test the computer-based exam, so i was saved by the bell, but practicing really does make perfect. Keep up that hard work!
 
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Thank you both.

It looks terrible to me, but I'm keeping at it.  I've been enjoying these calligraphy drills from The Postman's Knock because it doesn't have the pressure of words.

Tereza Okava wrote:
When dealing with adults with learning disabilities (I was certified in Wilson method), cursive was considered optional-- printing was considered important since survival materials (signage, newspapers, documents) are printed, not cursive. Cursive is the icing, not the cake-- and we NEVER taught it, it simply wasn't the priority. I don't think that means you should just disregard it, though, since it is something you want to do, but i don't think you should be too irked by it.



I was wondering this too.

I noticed that a lot of Dyslexia resources now suggest we learn cursive and skip printing because cursive teaches us the picture of the word.  Also, it's pretty.  
 
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Kudos to the OP for the self discipline to pursue this goal more than casually. I share the need and the sentiment, but have not yet applied myself like you have.

A couple observations from my experiences and learning that might be helpful:

Creating muscle memory is now believed to be fiction, but the term still gets the general idea across well enough. Current scientific best guess (as I understand it) is that what you are looking to do is actually create new neural pathways associated with patterns of good penmanship. Endless, mind-numbing repetition is the only way to achieve this, but it needs to be the right kind of repetition. Perfection, not inspired approximation. But that is why there is hope for folks like you and not much for folks like me who are too casual about it. You willingness to carve out the time to put in the reps virtually guarantees you will end up where you want, as long as you do the reps right. Early childhood is the effortless prime time for hardwiring these neural pathways, but your goals are still realistic as an adult since you are willing to put in effort.

I always regretted my awful penmanship as a young adult. Did well with languages through college, but my penmanship sucked in the other languages too. I just assumed I was hopelessly sloppy. Then I was provided with a free epiphany by a Chinese friend who formalized some of the differences between Eastern culture and Western culture for me, especially in the context of how those cultures approach education. Short version is that the Asian approach tends to stress learning by rote, where Western systems tend to stress understanding the process rather than just regurgitating a right answer. In the context of learning to cook, the Asians would say you find a successful chef and enslave yourself to follow them without a peep until you can copy everything they do quickly, just the way they do it. The Westerners say you should instead find a cuisine you like, do a lot of experimenting and taste testing from scratch. Eventually you learn what produces results you like and what doesn't. You learn to understand why there are different techniques and what their respective strengths and weaknesses are.

Being a good little Westerner, I had always intuitively chafed at rote learning. I pursued the fantasy of subject mastery to such an absurd extreme that my education actually suffered from it. Learning foreign languages was what finally broke me. One of the fruits of that experience was learning to apply the "Asian" way of learning to penmanship. The epiphany came while starting to learn Russian. Despite a latent dyslexia that hadn't shown up in any other languages but manifested itself fully in Russian, my Russian penmanship was so good the whole class would "Oooo!" and the professor would beam whenever I was called up to write on the board.

If my experience is not an anomaly, I expect you will see rapid progress if instead of using the practice sheets that provide a printed letter on the left and then leave you blank lines/lanes to copy your attempts to the right, you find a font you like and learn proper penmanship by tracing it. Make all your exercises just printing out lines of letters, then words, then texts. And do nothing but trace them. The former is the Western way; the later is the Eastern way. And particularly for creating new nerves/neural pathways, you want endless repetitions of perfect form, not creative attempts at being inspired by the idea of it. The Asian way will rewire your hand/arm/brain; the Western way will reinforce your old pathways as much as it encourages new ones.
 
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good luck in this endeavor. i remember being taught the palmer style in catholic school back in the 70s and today i think legible penmanship is over rated because of all those drills we had to do everyday 10 minutes before class was dismissed.

being a 'goth' (i hate that term) back in highschool, i came up with my own 'creepy' handwriting style and i still use it today for all non-electronic personal correspondence.
 
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