When I was very young, I had a teacher who took pen posture and handling very seriously. I can't really recall if she was my first grade or kindergarden teacher, but I do recall being forced, over and over, to hold my pencil or crayon the ‘proper' way. While she didn't slap our hands with rulers, she didn't let any of us leave without holding our writing implements properly.
Of all of the things I have learned, this is one of the most valuable things. It's something that impacts my life on a daily basis, as my tool of choice is the humble pen and my not-so-humble moleskine journals.
At the request of a surprising number of people on Google+, I am going to try to teach you how to hold a pen or pencil properly. There are a few warnings that I feel are necessary before I start this exercise. Pay close attention to the photographs. I actually hurt my hand trying to show the common and improper ways of holding a pen. (It seems I strained one of the muscles on the top of my hand.)
Let this be a lesson to you: There is a right and wrong way to hold a pen, and I'm going to try to show you a few. This is for those writing in the right-handed style. While my teacher helped the lefties in my class, I'm not a lefty, and my lefty posture is probably not correct, for all I can write legibly with my left hand.
There are several things to note about this position: First, all pressure is evenly distributed between three fingers — the index, middle, and thumb. The index is a guide finger, while the middle finger and thumb stabilize the pen. The pen is resting near the knuckle of my middle finger, while the fleshy bit of the tip of my index finger keeps my pen going where I want it to. The thumb provides stability and support for the pen. When I write, all three of these fingers are in motion.
Note where my fingers are on the pen. In order to prevent hand stress, apply pressure near the head of the pen. The farther away from this point you are, the more pressure you have to put on your hand in order to make the ink flow. many pens have grips in certain locations on them. These are right above the head of the pen in most cases, and should be where you target when you hold the pen.
This, however, can change depending on the type of pen you're using. Felt tip pens, such as a sharpie, often involve the same basic hand position, but farther up the shaft. With pens with superior ink flow or ease of writing, I'll often hold the pen near the middle of the shaft. However, the basic positioning of the hand and form of writing does not change.
There is something to notice about this — as I progress across the card, the angle of my thumb has changed to account for how my hand is moving across the paper. You won't write the same exact position every time — it does change as you work your way across the page or down the page. However, there are a few things that should stay the same. This includes the angle of your wrist and the angle of your pen. If you find yourself writing with your pen sticking straight up in the air, move the book or your hand. You want your pen able to move freely in your grip, moving to all positions as you need it. If you can't write with a fluid motion, you will strain your hand. Straining your hand is a common cause of pain.
A good rule of thumb here is this: If it causes pain, you're doing it wrong. However, however, however, you need to understand that when you're adjusting your handwriting to start, you may feel muscle soreness, experience minor blistering, and develop callouses. This is normal. What is not normal is pain after writing a few sentences.
When you hold a pen correctly, you can write for hours without stopping for a significant period of time. (I always recommend stopping every 5-10 minutes to shake your hands out for a few seconds. This will help keep your hands limber.)
Now that I've talked about the ‘why' and showing what it should look like when you're writing, here are some pictures to show how to get to that stage:
When I hold a pen, I am able to quickly adjust how I grip it — my hand is relaxed. It's easy to turn my pen into a pointing device. It's easy to open my hand up to grab something with my pinky and ring fingers. My pen is an extension of my hand. It isn't something to be clutched at, clawed at, and abused. When you hold a pen in a way conducive for long-term writing, it's just another part of you. It shouldn't hurt, it shouldn't cause discomfort, and it shouldn't slow you down.
You shouldn't have to apply a huge amount of pressure to get the ink flowing, either. The pen should glide across the paper.
When you start out, expect your hand to get a little sore. If you've been holding a pen wrong for years, you have a lot of muscle memory to undo. I recommend holding your pen in the positions I show above in the set of three pictures. These will help your hand get used to holding a pen correctly. When you get to the point you can hold it in ‘writing position' without discomfort, you should be ready to start composing sentences.
Try practicing your letters with the new position, and don't strain your hand. Take it a few letters at a time. You'll have to pay close attention to how you write because you're used to writing in a different fashion. This isn't easy, so don't feel bad if you have to try again over and over. Retraining your muscles isn't an easy task!
Here are some positions that you should not do. And these hurt me trying to write like this, so if you're holding your pen like this, you run risk of blisters and injuring yourself.
These positions are ones that you should be wary of. Gripping the pen between the middle and ring fingers is a common position I see and the one I hurt myself trying to mimic. While I could write with this positioning, it wasn't comfortable, my handwriting suffered on account of it, and I wish I hadn't tried it. I also toyed with holding the pen higher up on the shaft, another experiment that didn't work very well at all — this was a ballpoint, and the pressure needed for this style of ballpoint works better when the pen is gripped closer to the head versus higher up the shaft.
There is another factor in writing by hand that you should be aware of — your body position.
Please refer to this lovely diagram on how you should — and shouldn't — write.
Remember, the things you do with your arms impact your entire body. You can really mess yourself up lying on your desk to write and putting your nose to the page. Try to sit upright. You shouldn't be ducking your head to your chest while writing. A gentle angle so you can see the paper will do. Your whole upper body is doing something when you write, and you can trigger headaches and muscle pain in your back and neck because you're stooped over the journal you're working in.
Treat yourself nicely, and try to adopt good back posture while you write. Also, don't put your eyes too close to the page. You can permanently damage your eyes. Once again, please refer to me for personal experience with this. I had bad posture for ages and now the ‘break point' of my vision is permanently impaired. I have trouble with making my eyes see things held within a certain range of my face. This was directly caused by writing and reading with my journals and books too close to my eyes.
I hope this helps you write for longer periods of time more comfortably!