Writing And Essential Tremor

My full time job is writing the code behind websites. As a web developer, one of my favorite things to do is look at how people are finding the pages I create. This extends beyond work to the blogs I run. Key words are important, and seeing what words people search for helps a developer cater sites to specific needs.

In looking at the key words that people finding this site are using, I was surprised to see “essential tremor” pop up enough to be in the top five searches. I have only mentioned it in a couple of posts. I figure it might be a good idea to make a post specific to this topic and how it affects me, specifically, in connection with my fascination with writing.

Let’s start with some background.

What is Essential Tremor?

Wikipedia has an excellent article on essential tremor. At its core, essential tremor is a neuro-muscular disorder which results in the rhythmic shaking of the extremities, particularly during voluntary movement or times of stress. It is one of the most common movement disorders and it’s estimated that 4% of the population age 40 or older have it, though that number may be under-reported as many people who have it may not realize it or attribute it to other things.

No one seems to quite be sure what causes it. Some studies have linked genetic regions to the disorder, but there are others who suggest environmental toxins could be at work.

My Background

I suspect I first began noticing signs of essential tremor during puberty, though I mostly attributed it to caffeine. Caffeine is considered a “trigger” that can worsen the symptoms. Any stimulant can have that affect, but caffeine was my particular vice.

Essential tremor is often degenerative, so over time it gradually got worse. As I got older, I noticed it more frequently, for example, when I was hungry – low blood sugar being a trigger, or during times of (*ahem*) intimacy – physical exertion and strong emotions, more triggers. Eventually, I figured it was time to figure out what the heck was wrong. After a series of movement based tests, I was diagnosed with essential tremor.

So, let’s bring this back to writing

Essential tremor can kill your handwriting. I have always had bad handwriting, even before the onset of essential tremor. I was a pretty lazy learner as a kid, doing only what was necessary and little more. I suppose it didn’t help that I had vision problems and didn’t get glasses until the third or fourth grade (I honestly can’t remember! I know that first pair of glasses where big, thick plastic things with the Pink Panther on the side, but not quite when I got them.) By then, my handwriting was already a disaster.

Now, take that horrible handwriting and begin putting at first imperceptible wobbles in it. Make those wobbles bigger as time goes on. Yeah, you get handwriting that only the writer can read.

A decade ago this month, I started working on improving my handwriting thus sparking an interest in pens leading inevitably to this site. Okay, maybe that’s stretching it a bit… But let’s see where I was then and where I am now.

Handwriting Comparison

I’d say that is an improvement. Back then, to compensate for the tremor, I wrote very quickly. The lettering looks rushed and generally illegible. Below you will find my tips to improving your handwriting if you have essential tremor (or, hey, even if you don’t.)

Roger’s 5 Tips For Improving Your Writing

  1. BUY THIS BOOK! This link is NOT an affiliate link. I gain nothing by recommending it. When I decided to start working on my handwriting, this is the book I picked up. It guides you through italic lettering, a concise, legible letter face. There are many exercises as well as trivia that keeps everything interesting. Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay are handwriting experts who have put out several excellent books. They know their stuff. Your handwriting will be better by the end of the book whether you work with italic or another writing style simply by following their excellent advice.
  2. Slow Down. I used to write fast in the hopes it would overcome the tremor. But writing fast is a poor trade-off. Sure, you get fewer jiggles but you simply can’t write well fast. Everything looks rushed and sloppy. This may not be a problem if you are dashing off notes that only you will read, but it’s a poor choice for letter writing or anything, really, that you want to have longevity.
  3. Use a Wet Pen. A wet pen is one that puts down a lot of ink. Generally, this means using a fountain pen or gel pen, as ball-points tend to have a thicker consistency. A wet pen helps to smooth out lettering as the ink is absorbed by the paper. Some papers don’t take to a wet pen very well, feathering the ink which can make your writing illegible. Test combinations to see what works best for you. A wet pen also helps with point number two, as you will write more slowly as the ink dries.
  4. Write In Comfort. Stress and physical discomfort can make essential tremor worse. This will show up in your writing. Find a comfortable place to write away from distractions. I tend to curl up on my couch or sit at a desk specifically for writing, depending on my mood. Music can be handy if you are in a noisy environment.
  5. Write Frequently. Nothing helps improve your writing like practice. If you don’t already, take up daily journaling. You may not feel like you have something important to say everyday, but don’t worry. No one is telling you that you have to be verbose. Just write something. I have plenty of dull journal entries. The important thing here is simply practicing.


Filed under Essential Tremor, General Ideas, Handwriting

2 Responses to Writing And Essential Tremor

  1. Allison

    I have the exact same problem as you do! My essential tremor affected my typing and handwriting as well. I used to write beautifully with my right hand during school years, then by the time i was 19 and in college, I just stop writing legibily. i still have a hard time writing so i am looking for a remedy that does not include medication nor a surgery of any kind.

  2. Roger

    Allison, thanks for your comment. I still think my number one suggestion would be to pick up the book “Write Now.” It’s now in its third edition, and contains a ton of useful info and exercises.

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