Shaping words.

learning to write alphabet.

How often do you think about the various tools that you employ in writing?  There are so many that we take them for granted, and quite rightly.  When inspired, the words flow, and that’s the way we want it.

Remember when you were learning how to write?  You had to concentrate.  There was a correct way to hold a pencil, and to angle it on the paper.  Slight variations were possible, so some wrote with their left hand instead of right, and curved their wrist round their writing, as if shielding their words from sight.  Others gripped the pencil with three fingers and their thumb, rather than two.

Marking the page correctly, so that we didn’t press too hard and tear the paper, or so faintly that the graphite barely showed, came next.  Copying the letters, following the shapes, in the correct order, remembering where the pencil moved up, down or around, that was the big thing.

Tongues were trapped between teeth as we strove to copy the perfect symmetry of a printed alphabet.  I remember that such neatness seemed no more possible than that I would ever be able to mould a plasticine rabbit to match the one Miss Johnson pinched into shape for us.

Ancient Graffiti on the Face of Bishop Edmund Stafford by richard.heeks

Ancient graffiti on the face of Bishop Edmund Stafford.  Photo by R. Heeks.

I suppose I would have figured out my own way of copying the letters, if I’d had to.  So long as someone had taught me to read.  Making marks seems to be a part of our human nature.  But how much time I must have saved, having the logic given to me.


I don’t have a beautiful scrawl.  Over the years I’ve developed my own variations on the script Miss Johnson taught us.  I experimented, adding in fragments of copying from old books and my neater friends as I developed a fist all my own. Sometime after leaving school I stopped thinking that writing was about what the page looked like.

The beautiful notebooks that I’ve been given, or been unable to resist buying, are not filled with illuminated script, they’re not even tidy.  When my writing goes really well, I am not thinking about the pen or the paper, I’m following my muse, who seems always to be late, and in a hurry. Rather like the rabbit that Miss Johnson copied in plasticine from that nice Mr Carroll’s book, now I come to think on it.

Isn’t it amazing how stories are everywhere, once you start thinking about them?


4 thoughts on “Shaping words.

  1. Ah you remind me of the writing lessons we had at school. We all had to learn the “Marion Richardson” way – no loops, curlicues or wotnots! Like you, my own scrawl has evolved and certainly depends on what pen I use. I still write most of my stuff freehand and then transcribe – time consuming I know – but somehow the ideas seem to flow better with a pen in hand.


  2. Another great read Cath. I was that annoying pupil who wrote neatly, always choosing ‘neat’ pencils. My neatness survived until I left school and then 25 years in the NHS produced today’s untidy scrawl.
    I agree about writing with a pen in a lovely notebook. There’s something delicious about filling a blank page with words from my fountain pen.
    I recently visited the Book of Kells at Trinity College, Dublin. The beauty and precision of those made me resolve to slow down my writing in the hope it would become more appealing. Not sure I achieved it but I definitely think more about the shape of my words now.


  3. Thanks Ruth,
    Lucky you to see the Book of Kells. I once saw a chained library, and seeing photos never gives the same chill of excitement. I’m guessing that even if it was behind glass, there’s something extra to be got from getting close to such a beautiful object.


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