Wrist/hand position, technique

Hi, new student, etc. Personal story for next two paragraphs! I’ve always despised longhand writing–in grade school (not that long ago!) we had these horrible “handwriting books” put out by Houghton-Mifflin, I believe, that you had to copy out and turn in each semester. I’d always do them the last week or something, thirty pages of copying inane typeset “cursive”–it was terrible. I never really recovered from that, and my longhand writing has always been atrocious: I dislike doing it, I find my own writing unattractive, and it’s physically uncomfortable. I type everything.

I’d been thinking of relearning to write–getting a book of Italic script or something and learning attractive and fluent letter-forms and so forth. But after coming across the online Gregg community, and reading the introductory material to the Anniversary book on Andrew Owen’s site, I said “This is for me.” I almost never have any need to write longhand for other people; except for little personal notes, everything I write is either for myself or will eventually be typed up. So if I’m going to learn to write again… hell, why not use a more practical system? So I printed out the Anniversary book, got out my fountain pen, and have started the presumably long, interesting process of learning. (As an aside: as a sop to my latent ADD, I’ve been walking back and forth between my piano and writing desk: read through a hymn, work on my consonants, practice a difficult passage, do some reading; it works great!)

But enough about me. As I sad, my longhand ‘technique’ is atrocious, and I really have no idea how one ‘ought’ to physically write in either shorthand or longhand. In both systems, I rest the edge of my writing hand on the paper, form the word/outline, and pick up my hand and move it to make the next unit. This just feels wrong! But how else to do it? Should the hand be somehow suspended, to allow the arm to control more of the action (as with the piano)?

Also, does anyone have suggestions for a practice method to develop good shorthand penmanship? I don’t have wonderful fine-motor control to begin with, and I’ve been struggling to make all the various curves consistently and smoothly. (And proportionally!)

(Is it really the case that one cannot search MSN groups? I feel like an idiot, I must be missing something.)

Been having a wonderful time reading through this group and the Gregg websites, looking forward to hopefully learning a neat and useful “life skill”,

-Christian Conkle

(by christian_conkle for everyone)

24 comments Add yours
  1. Christian, I am quite pleased to hear positive feedback regarding my site. 🙂

    There are so many small controls to develop as one makes writing more facile. There are first many bad habits that must be eliminated. One of these is pinching the pen. This means that the index finger becomes concave onto the pen. Doing this is dangerous, and can be repaired by simply wrapping the finger in a firm bandage or something.

    In order for writing to be facile and for its results to be pleasing, make sure to write at a consistent slant. Position the paper so that the writing you produce is all reasonably slanted to the right.

    A great exercise for developing a healthy movement in writing is by writing an oval in a swirling, right-moving motion, like writing a bunch of fat, cursive e's. Cursive writing is based on the oval's shape and the lines that bisect it both ways. Each part of a y, for instance is part of this figure. First is the upper half of the oval, then the lower, then the vertical line that moves into the left side of the oval. The same is basically true for shorthand. Every symbol in Gregg Shorthand is based on that oval. U, k, g, o, r, and l are based on the horizontally flat oval, while s, p, b, s, f, and v are based on the tall oval. T, d, n, m, sh, ch, and j are all based on the lines; et cetera.

    Sit erect, but relaxed. Make sure that the cubit arm—from the elbow to the pen—is supported by the table on which you are writing. There are lots of smaller suggestions as to movement that are similar to the singer's Alexander Position, like keeping both feet flat on the floor.

    Move quickly between words (in either writing forms). I find that it can be bad to anchor the hand to the table only because of writing long words make the end a little funny. For instance, I have been writing in my thank-you notes the word "encouragement." It is sad to say that the "ment" is pretty out of character to the first part of the word, simply because my wrist is still back on "encourage."

    Move fluidly. Make sure that your writing is not rigid where it should curve, etc.

    I read that you dislike the cursive writing style that is taught in early elementary schools. If you doubt its beauty, read and take careful note of the pre-twentieth-century court documents at your local courthouse. They are always so carefully prepared and visually stimulating. 🙂 There are some great tutorials on that old style at http://www.zanerian.com/OrnScript.html.

    Look forward to learning the skill of shorthand!


  2. Hey Christian, glad to have you. From my limited experience, I would say you are right on about letting the arm do most of the work. Remember, Gregg was developed based on that old Victorian cursive Andrew linked to. For convenience and comfort, it was designed to feel the same when written. So, most of us young'uns need to drastically decrease finger movement, and let mostly the shoulder push the pen across the paper in a light sweeping movement, as if you were writing with your finger in the air (Letha). We have a tendency to squeeze the pen, and to bear down way too hard.

    As far as suspending the hand, the ideal seems to be to rest your forearm muscle on the writing surface, and then let your pinkie and ring finger/fingernail lightly drag along with the pen. Also, it took me forever to figure out that, when writing with my right hand (read: shoulder), I should lean my body weight against my left arm, leaving my writing arm free to skate along freely.

    Also, you are right that MSN Groups are unsearchable (as far as I know), which is very sad. Still, I personally find it way more user friendly than Yahoo Groups, and like it better than that new free light blue forum thingy everyone is using these days because I feel like more people will find us on MSN–for now anyway. Welcome again.
    Go, Speedwriter, go!

  3. Thanks for your responses. I read Andrew's post this morning and kept it, and the instructions in the cursive site linked to (which is wonderful, by the way, thanks so much) in mind in my practice today. The 'new' hand position will take a little getting used to, but does feel somewhat more natural and 'free'. I've also been drawing various ovals to loosen up and get control of my curves–my drawing teacher was big on that sort of exercise as well. I think I'll pick up a center-lined steno pad and practice in that–I've been working in a regular old lined spiral binder and find I have to move my arm halfway across the line. (And the ruling is confusing me.)

    One thing that I really noted was the cursive book's emphasis on good visualization of letters/outlines, something that has been mentioned here before. I realized when I read that that I have pretty poor visualization in general, in my longhand (and in my drawing) as well. So I've tried doing what the book suggested and tracing outlines in the textbook, and also spending a little time thinking about what the outlines look like. I've been letting my hand do the writing more than my eyes–it's really just like playing the piano. (What isn't?) Just pushing the keys won't produce music, nor will playing those silly Hannon exercises: good fluent playing mechanics originate in the mental conception of music, which governs the body automatically.

    Still in Unit 2 learning some brief forms, but getting into study rhythm and still excited and motivated. Concerned that when I go back to college I won't find the time, though–we'll see. Maybe by that time I'll be able to take rudimentary class notes in shorthand? Probably not. (I absolutely never take notes in longhand–never never. Classmates hate it, but teachers frequently don't mind because I'm looking at them and paying lots of attention instead of burying myself in a notebook! That reminds me: does everybody watch the paper while they're writing, or have people taught themselves to be looking generally at the speaker while taking dictation?)

  4. There is a lot to be said about Hanon exercises. 🙂 Mr. Charles Hanon's exercises were meant to condition the fingers to playing more independently, but they obviously are not meant for performing. The same could be said for those oval exercises, which are not meant for a product, but just for conditioning your hand to writing in smooth, even way.

    I believe the general consensus among shorthand writers is that looking at the paper is beneficial to keeping on the line. 🙂 The only real advantage to watching the dictator is seeing the words mouthed out, which is very helpful if he or she is speaking indistinctly. All the Gregg reporters I have seen keep their eyes on their steno pads.

    —Andw. Owen

  5. Thanks for the edition advice. I considered starting off with a later edition, but decided to go with Anniversary for a few reasons. First was the availability issue: it seemed like it would be a chore to figure out and hunt down print versions of newer manuals, when I had this cool PDF right here. I also had some interest in trying to find and read printed Gregg literature, and it seemed like that would be more difficult without some familiarity with the older rules. At any rate, being habitually impatient and wanting to, at the very least, do something productive with a new interest, I printed out the PDF and sat down with it.

    I've since innagurated my collection of actual Gregg books with the purchase of an Anniversary dictionary (in beautiful condition!) and might end up getting and switching to another edition if I get unhappy with the 1929 text. My mother learned DJS, but I'll be off to college too soon to really take much advantage of that. (She's just fine, by the way, with secretaries not learning shorthand any more: she says uses it to take confidential notes at work!)

    I certainly have high hopes for practical uses of shorthand: I've always wanted to be able to draft school papers, for instance, away from the computer. I'll need to be sure to drill carefully on my musical terms! Oh, since we've started speaking of music, have any other close-writing people looked into keyboard tablature or other musical shorthand systems?

    Since I'm writing too much anyway… the first week of learning has been very interesting. I've been concentrating on my letter-forms, and on reading comprehension. I'm just finishing Chapter 1, and except for ocasinal stumbles on R and the S/TH business, I've gotten a little bit comfortable with figuring out outlines. I recognize a few at sight–most of the single-letter brief forms (although I confuse a couple: "they" for "there" and things like that), "gr", and some words commonly used in the textbook reading exercises. Thank God for the online transcriptions–I was terribly confused to be taught the diacritic marks and then presented with text without them. (And what's the deal with her/here? I guess "er" is a brief form, making "h er" unambiguous.) I'm still enjoying myself, at any rate. The outlines are beginning to have meaning! It's terribly exciting.


  6. To return a little to the initial topic: I have a question about freedom of movement. I have adopted the admonitions about writing from the arm and torso, and have followed the instruction in all the instructinal materials I have found to "lay the arm on the desk, with the main fulcrum being the muscle just forward of the elbow." This gives good control and is comfortable, however, with the arm fixed at that location (and with skin oils sticking to the varnished wood!), I can only control the pen–indeed, only place it–within a circle of about three inches diameter, covering maybe a third of the writing line. If I radically turn the paper and place my elbow almost directly "south" of the writing coordinate-system, I can write across the whole sheet, but the slant and control go completely sideways, literally, by the end; and anyway, it feels unnatural. What's the solution here? (Incidentally, am I going too far afield of this group's mission statement?)

    (I'm studying my forms and reading too, promise!)

  7. Chuck, I'm using a normal 8.5×11 notebook for nwo, but have been meaning to get to Office Depot to pick up one of those steno pad deals–certainly, writing across only a half-page column would be a lot nicer. (And the ruling is confusing and distracting me.)

    George, I actually just won an eBay auction–the Anniversary manual for like $4 plus shipping. I'm hoping it gets here before I leave for Italy next week. But thanks for the suggestion, I'm sure I'll find it useful someday.


  8. Your are fine as far as the mission statement is concerned.   If you feel the urge to delve into a non-Gregg topic, we do have the Anything Goes section available.  If you send me your post address, I'd be happy to send you a free steno pad…I keep a drawer full of blanks.  Why?  Beacuse I'm a nerd like that, okay?!   _________________________ Go, Speedwriter, go!

  9. Christian, welcome to the group! You have already received a great deal of good advice. Use what works for you! I use 1916 but learned for a long time previously from simplified (and before that Series 90). I say if you are happy with Anniversary stick with it.The piece of advice I would like to share is beware of ebay bidding which can get out of control pricewise and last minute bidders can swipe the item away in the closing minutes. I suggest that before you bid on anything on Ebay, check first  Buy It Now on Ebay (Shorthand, Gregg Shorthand) and take time at least once a week  to check out the fiftysome pages on ABE.com. You will be astonished at how low priced the books are. Good luck!   DOC

  10. So now I understand why you are having the three-inch problem — you are using a regular sized notebook.  I recommend three kinds of notebooks:   1.  A regular Gregg ruled steno notebook (which you can get in any office supply store), or   2.  A reporter's notebook, 70-sheets 4"x 8" paper, Gregg ruled.  You can get them online (Office Depot, eBay, etc):   http://www.bettymills.com/store/images/product/NTOP0252.JPG   Some brands are Sparco (non-recycled paper), Tops, and Ampad (recycled paper) — these are actually the ones I use for shorthand.  They are smaller than the regular Steno notebook (which is 6" x 9"), or   3.  if you will be doing court reporting, a court reporter's notebook, which is the size of the regular steno notebook, except that the pages are numbered, and it has additional vertical lines for court reporting purposes.  The paper on these notebooks are heavier.  These ones you can get online and in eBay as well.   Make sure that whatever you get, it is Gregg ruled (3 spaces/inch).   I hope this helps.

  11. Thanks for the welcome, Doc! When I first went to eBay, I saw a no-bid auction for the very book I wanted, so placed a bid capped at something like $5 and went to bed, figuring I wouldn't be awake until the auction closed. Woke up and paid the shipper; my first eBay transaction, ever. Only later did I look at the ABE.com lists, and was just flabbergasted. But if my book gets here before I leave for Europe and is in as good condition as advertised, I'll be a happy camper, never mind the $3 I could have saved. 🙂

    And thanks for the pad comments, Chuck; I stopped by Office Depot and bought a big thing of twenty of their-brand Gregg-ruled steno pads, that I'll try out in my study session tonight. It took forever to find; they were with post-its or something like that. (I also got some cool light parchment-toned card-stock that I ran through my laser printer to make some really beautiful piano music printouts from mutopiaproject.org.)

    (I can't believe I actually typo'd "nwo" for "now"! So embarassed.)


  12. Andrew sez: What I did was this:  I bought the still-printed Simplified manual, and when I finished it, I supplemented it with Anniversary's principles and brief forms.    Stenomouse replies: I've got a large collection of Gregg books — pre-Anniversary, Anniversary, Simplified, DJS, Notehand, 90, and Centennial. I've also got a number of supplementary books on court reporting, speed building, graded readings, stories in Gregg, etc. (sorry, no Alice)   Despite my rather large collection, the truth is I'm just starting out in Gregg — still in the first chapters of my first book. I've chosen to use the Centennial book. Once finished, I was thinking to supplement this with Anniversary, for the additional principles and brief forms, as you've said. I'm reassured to find that others have successfully taken a similar path.   However, before I get too far along in the Centennial book, is there any reason why I would NOT wish to use it for my foundation in Gregg? Not too many comments on Centennial — it doesn't appear many folks have learned Gregg this way. As I already have Anniversary, pre-Anniversary, Functional, and Simplified texts on my bookshelf, it would be quite easy for me to use these if there was a consensus on one of these as a better approach. Any suggestions?   As a practical matter, what can I expect in terms of proficiency? That is, if on the average, I study say an hour per day, how long do you suppose it will take to gain some basic proficiency in Gregg? A year? Two years? Aside from Swem's suggestions (which assume someone has already completed a shorthand course somewhere), do you have any tips on a study regimen for beginners?   Kindest, Stenomouse Gregg Speedwriter Wannabe 

  13. gregg-shorthand-comparison.pdf Which shows all the various Gregg shorthands, says about continennial: Speed Potential    Slow that's about the only reason people have for not learning it.  From what I've leanred on this baord, there isn't much in the way brief forms and abbreviations, etc., to help you gain speed.  It can be learned, any can.   Just depends on what you want to learn and how much.  How to Practice – link has ideas on practicing your shorthand. Debbi

  14. Hi, stenomouse.  Thanks for the nice posts, and welcome to the group.  I don't think we have a single Centennial writer in the group.  From what I know, it sounds very attractive.   Related post: Gregg Now Required in Highschools _____________________ Go, Speedwriter, go!

  15. Perhaps the only reason for not using Centennial would be speed, like Debbi said.  You can always supplement your principles later with additional speed practice and brief forms.  Important in starting is to know well the lesson before you go into the next. Good luck in taking up shorthand, and most of all, don't give up! 

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