First Draft of the Opening Poem of Alice in Wonderland

I’ve been doing some experiments with pens, inks, and transcription styles, and I’ve come up with this for your consideration (one sheet as media below). I’m planning to go ahead and write out the rest of “Alice …” in this style, and I’ll watch for comments and suggestions. The purpose is to force myself to write DJS as quickly as I can instead of “drawing” it. I am sure there are several mistakes, and I’m hopeful that the mistake rate will decrease as I go along. I expect this project to take a good, long time.


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12 comments Add yours
  1. Hello Brian, I don't know DJS, so my remarks will be general. I read also this remark "not draw" but, in my opinion, without being sure of your drawing, you necessarily hesitate. Only repetition, once you are sure of your drawing, enables you to consider the form as a serie of movement of the hand and so do it without thinking much about it. I don't think there are any shortcuts to this.

    The size of the circles is varied: there should only two sizes, little and big.

    Voilà, that's all. Other people will give more astute and comprehensive advices.


  2. Thanks, Christine! I'm working hard on making just two sizes of circles, and on making r and k short and l and g long. Those are the hardest things for me, they're at the top of my self-awareness, and I know I have several defects along those lines in the poem. When I'm running slowly and "drawing," I get it right more often than when I push speed. I am copying the poem many times in the hope that eventually I won't have to think about the content at all. When the outlines begin to flow automatically without thinking, then I can push for even more speed. 

    1. When practicing shorthand, there are two kinds of drills, both equally important in my opinion.

      The first kind is writing from dictation at a certain speed (or with speed variations) with the purpose of improving your shorthand writing ability (being able to write any word at speed). Most of the time we use voice dictation for this kind of drill, but a variation is to do "self-dictation", that is, taking a longhand passage from a book and writing it in shorthand at speed.

      The second kind of drill is penmanship practice from a well-written shorthand text. Here, the purpose is to improve shorthand penmanship. This kind is better executed with a slow speed, writing (copying) the shorthand in the best style of the writer. For those who are starting to write shorthand, it is recommended to imitate the style of the plate writer so that one can learn the correct character proportions and slant. This may seem like "drawing", but it is really copying (you are still learning, so copying is perfectly fine). Once the learner feels comfortable with how characters are supposed to look like, the writer will not be copying anymore, but writing at a slower speed using their own style. The great masters in music and art learned their craft by imitating the greats before them. The same principle applies here.

      Starting with the Simplified books and throughout the subsequent series, speed drills are emphasized much more than penmanship drills: that's why you don't see them prominently featured in these series. The earliest penmanship drills come in Lesson 24. Louis Leslie was of the opinion that teaching penmanship in the early stages of shorthand writing "costs much time and effort" in the classroom and "discourages the beginner" because "most young beginners enjoy learning the new shorthand symbols, but they seldom enjoy the process of refining the penmanship." However, that doesn't mean that penmanship drills are not important. It is just that in a classroom setting they take time. To compensate, Leslie advocated two things that could be done to improve penmanship in the classroom setting: (1) the use of an enlarged outline, and (2) a demonstration (by the teacher or a shorthand writer) of the correct writing movement.

      It is not coincidental that if you take a look at actual Gregg Shorthand writing specimens from early 20th century writers, their penmanship is much nicer in general than those from the second half. Part of the reason is the lack of emphasis in penmanship drills in the classroom in shorthand classes in the second half of the 20th century.

      However, since people learning shorthand nowadays are for the most part not in a classroom, and are attracted to the system in part because of its beauty and practicality, why not take some time to practice and refine penmanship? By doing so, outlines will be more legible. Moreover, there is a practical reason for practicing penmanship. Penmanship degrades at high speeds, but if one's penmanship is good to begin with, notes will still be legible at high speeds.

      So back to the Alice exercise, I think you're trying to accomplish the first goal, which is write at speed, and that's perfectly fine. Your writing is neat and legible (this is a good thing!). I'm seeing that the placement and proportion of some outlines could be much improved. Did you superimpose the shorthand on the lined paper? The placement of some of the shorthand character lines looks way off (for example, the phrase "to begin" should start right on the line).

      I would still recommend that for penmanship purposes, take one of the passages of your DJS book and write it in your best shorthand possible. Imitate the plate writer — that's not a bad thing!

      I can give you more specific advice as to how to improve the writing some of the outlines if you wish.

      I hope this helps.

  3. This is fantastic and generous of you, Carlos! I will be delighted to take any critique you have time to give!

    I trained in art as a kid, and I admit obsession with penmanship; I have to force myself to write at speed. My normal (thoughtless) handwriting is nearly calligraphic and slow. I give many talks with "slide shows" in my work. I don't use "Power Point" or any such; I just hand-write my slides. I have been asked more than once to share my "font." One attraction to Gregg for me was simply to increase my speed, but it is not difficult to persuade me to pay more attention to form!

    I did not superimpose my outlines on the lined paper. In fact, when I found myself off the line and didn't otherwise immediately know where to go, I just continued where the pen happened to be, biasing for speed in this exercise. 

    I shall go back to my DJS books and look for info on placement, and certainly imitate the plate writer as you suggest. I know I didn't pay attention to line-placement the first time through, partially explaining my "offs."

    1. Be careful with the nd looking like an ld or rd. The nd should be written upwards, whereas the ld and rd are just the l or the r with the end swung upwards. Also, I see some confusion of o-hook vs. oo-hook.

      Here are some corrections.

      First stanza

      1. The o-hook in "golden" and "oars" is not turned on the side in DJS.

      2. The word "full" is written with the oo-hook, not the o-hook (it now reads "fall").

      3. The base of the l in "leisurely" should rest on the line.

      4. The base of the b in "both" should rest on the line. The outline should start on top of the space.

      5. The m in "make" should be written either on the line or slightly above (not in the middle of the space).

      6. "Pretense" should be written with the ten-blend.


      Second stanza

      1. The dot in "ah" should be placed below the circle (placing it above would read "ha" or "hay").

      2. "In such" starts on the line.

      3. "Beneath such dreamy weather" and "yet what can one poor" are well written, but should be placed on the line.

      4. "To beg" stars on the line, not above, because it starts with a t.


      Third stanza

      1. "Imperious" should start on the line (or slightly above).

      2. The e-circle in “prima” should go outside the angle formed between the r and the m.

      3. "To begin" should begin on the line.

      4. There is no e-circle in "gentle."

      5. "Tones" is written with the o-hook, not the oo-hook (it reads "tunes").

      6. There is no "oo-hook" in "Secunda": right s – e – k – nd blend – a. (Similar to writing "fecund.")

      7. Start the "under-th" in "there will be" on the line so that it doesn't look like an r.

      8. "In it" can be phrased.

      9. "Tertia" is written with the circle, not the dotted circle (similar to "Russia").

      10. The l in "tail" should end in the middle of the circle, not above (it not, it would read "tailed").

      11. "No more than once a minute" should be written on the line.


      Fourth stanza

      1. The a in "chat" is too small.

      2. The r in "bird" and the last verse should rest on the line.


      Fifth stanza

      1. "Faintly" should be written with the nd blend.

      2. The r in "weary" looks like an n.

      3. Try to write "voices" in the space. Only the second s of the ses blend should lie below the line.


      Sixth stanza

      1. The outline for "the" is incorrect: it reads "there."

      2. The th of "thus" looks like a t.

      3. "Events" should start on top of the space so that the v rests on the line.

      4. The outline of "is" is incorrect: it should be a right s.

      5. The o-hook in "home" should be turned on the side because it is before an m.

      6. There is no o-hook in "sun": right s – n.


      Seventh stanza

      1. "Twined" should have an underscore under the broken circle. Also, the nd blend is just a big under-th. It looks like the "ld" blend (it reads "tiled").

      2. There is no o-hook in "memory's."

      3. There is no e-circle between the m and the left s in "mystic."

      4. Check the nd in "band" (it reads "bailed").

      5. The broken circle in "like" should be written on the back of the second circle.

      To help you with the placement of outlines, take a look at Georgie Gregg’s Alice in Wonderland plates.

  4. Others have already given such excellent comments, so I'll just say I'm impressed with your ambitious project and look forward to seeing more!  I just love seeing people creating fresh Gregg material in this day and age!  Yay!

  5. Just popping in to give an update. I am completely retraining myself from scratch in DJS, having realized due to Carlos's kind guidance that I ignored the writing line first time through. I plan a second draft of the Alice poem as soon as I get through the "refresher course" a couple of times, now focusing on penmanship instead of speed.

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