Holding a pen correctly

An alarming number of literate people have no idea how to hold their favorite writing instrument. This is partly due to parents and teachers being more concerned with getting the script on paper vs. actually teaching proper holding technique. Sadly, a large number of teachers are also unaware of how to hold a pen.

How to hold your pen/pencil correctly

Your thumb, index finger and middle finger create a sort of open triangle. The index finger and thumb don’t need to be closed, however the middle finger does need to cross over toward the thumb a little bit to form a “shelf”. The pencil really rests on the tip of the middle finger while the index finger and thumb prevent the pen from sliding about on this “shelf”.

Note how little effort is needed to hold the pen.

Note how little effort is now needed to hold the pen.

The "open triangle". Note the index and middle finger really does the writing, while the middle finger just sort of rides along.

The “open triangle”. Note the index finger and thumb really do the writing, while the middle finger just sort of rides along below holding up the “shelf”.

While the middle finger creates the "shelf" to hold the pen, the ring finger, little finger and the base of the thumb create the "pad" the hand rests on.

While the middle finger creates the “shelf” to hold the pen, the ring finger, little finger and the base of the thumb create the “pad” the hand rests on.

It’s your thumb and index finger that actually do the writing by moving in unison while the middle finger sort of tags along under both of them holding the pen up towards them.

When the index finger has this slight curve, you’re not putting too much pressure on the pen. Remember you’ve got fingers; not a pair of vise-grips so don’t treat them as such.

Your ring finger, little finger and the lower part of your thumb create the pad that lets you glide about the paper.

What’s the big deal?

This arrangement gives the greatest amount of dexterity when it comes to writing while requiring the least amount of effort. Also, I’ve had juvenile arthritis since the age of 12 so you can bet I’ll look for the least awkward and least painful way to write as long as possible if I can help it.

The longer you write, the more tired and strained your fingers will feel if you don’t hold your pen correctly. If you’ve felt tired or your fingers hurt after writing what seems like a short period of time, chances are you’re holding your pen awkwardly.

No, but really, what’s the big deal?

Everyone types these days. It’s come to a point where handwriting, when it comes to communication, is at about the same level as walking when it comes to transport. People don’t do it because they need to; they do it unless other forms are not available, not applicable or inappropriate.

This is a shame, really.

Humans are not unique when it comes to complex speech. Plenty of other creatures in this world have far more complex speech patterns in a greater range of frequencies that humans can’t even perceive let alone articulate. We aren’t unique in our concept of culture either. Dolphins are routinely known to hunt with different characteristics depending on the area of their range, even though they may be the same species. Likewise, wolves also exhibit uniqueness from pack to pack. Same species, different behavior depending on community and location. We call that “culture”.

The only real difference between us and most other animals is a writing system that lets us pass knowledge from generation to generation. Whereas other creatures are pretty much reduced to chemical secretions when they want to leave a message. In fact, it’s our writing that has allowed us to advance this far and, of course, opposable thumbs helped. Our civilization really owes its existence to writing, not just speech.

Now that you have these wonderful tools at your disposal, wouldn’t you want to know how to use them correctly?

A little background

I’m left-handed, though I usually write with my right hand (unless I’m holding a cup of coffee with my right, or in this case, my phone to take the above pictures).

It became really obvious that I’m left-handed when a few years ago I suffered almost complete numbness in my left hand due to the side-effects of a heart medication I was taking at the time. A lot of things suddenly became far more awkward than I expected because… oh right, I used to use my left hand for that.

I also recently started learning the guitar and I fear my lack of progress with the right-handed instrument may also be due to me being left-handed in addition to the shortage of free time.

When I was in kindergarten, I had an awesome teacher; probably the best I’ve ever had. In many ways she’s the reason I am who I am today and was really responsible for cultivating my curiosity and a tenacity when it comes to satiating it. That aspect has stayed with me to this day, but unfortunately, she had a not so awesome assistant.

Despite me being left-handed, the assistant, in a not so delicate way, made sure I used the right hand when writing, although my repeated switch to the left should have been a hint. The mere concept of a left-handed writer seemed to have been alien to her and, since I was 2-3 at the time, I couldn’t really mount an effective protest. As a result, I now write mostly with my right hand. This is far more common than a lot of people realise.

But she did at least show me how to hold my pencil correctly so I guess I’m grateful for that.

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Site of the Week: Pencil talk

If I ever have a piculiar obsession, aside from soap, it has to be stationary. Whether it’s writing utensils or media, I can’t help but admire the effort and engineering that goes into old fasion “pen-to-paper” aides. Pencils in particular tend to catch my eye and I think it may be some terribly strong nostalgia to the good old ways of sharing ideas vs. the high-tech alternatives we’re forced to use these days.

Pencil talk

...a meditation on the basic tools used by writers, artists, students, and office workers, and how these tools influence us.

What’s really astonishing is the sheer breadth and debth exploring this often forgotten segment of modern civilization.

Whether you’re interested in industrial design, engineering, the tools of writing or are just a good old fashioned geek, this is a site worth exploring today.

Let’s reintroduce handwriting

Seems like a ridiculous idea in the digital age (especially considering my own dysmal efforts), but I’m starting to get very tired of seeing just Times New Roman, Helvetica, Arial and Lucida as selections when conveying something. There’s only so much formatting you can add to a message, unless it’s the most basic of notes, before the content gets out of hand. We’re trying to push the Amazon river, in terms of emotion and conviction, through a garden hose with typed text.

Of course, it’s easy to cop out and stick with video messages, but that feels cheap… And it is.

Handwriting should be an art form. Any monkey can poke at keys to produce a digital counterpart, but it takes the skill of advanced frontal cortex to reproduce thought in structured symbols. Drawn symbols with centuries of history or more.

Wax tablet or tablet PC?

Wax tablet or tablet PC?

Standards

I know the favorite method to reproduce handwriting is in JPEG or other image format, but I say throw all that out. Let’s use SVG output of all our handwriting as that will allow zooming to any level. You could sketch, skew your letters or do any manner of things with your message that would be all but lost in any other electronic message or be turned into a bulky blob with an image file.

It will also keep file sizes very small (still a bit larger than the standard email though). As an added benefit, you could embed the actual plain text of the message within the SVG file using handwriting recognition software so archivers will be able to find it later by searching the content.

I’ve written a very rudimentary version of a handwriting SVG output utility in JavaScript. Ideally this should be done in Java and/or Flash for a more finely tuned pickup, but I just wanted to show the basics of how such a system “might” work. Besides that, I’m extremely busy these days and JavaScript only takes a few minutes.

In the future, this type of system could also use the pressure input from a stylus to make the stroke bolder or lighter adding even more character to the content. An ideal version would make it difficult to tell the difference between a scanned written document and a SVG print.

You know your spelling is atrocious…

…When you can’t even spell atrocious. And I, apparently, have handwriting that is completely illegible to any human being on Earth including yours truly.

The following is an actual sample of my handwriting (complete with misspellings and incomprehensible grammar). 10 Points to whoever can rewrite it verbatim first.

LOL WUT?

LOL WUT?

I can’t even believe I actually learned the English language in class.

Milton must be turning over in his grave.