Learning to Write: Times Past


© irene waters 2018

Following a fiction piece I did for Charli over at Carrot Ranch with the prompt ‘blot’ my piece mentioned a copybook. I was surprised by the number of people who had not heard of a copy book. I asked my Silent Generation husband whether he’d used a copybook but although he had heard of them, he too didn’t know what they were nor had he used one. Perhaps Australia was the only country to retain such a thing into the 1970’s at least.


copybook courtesy wikipedia

A comment from Charli suggested that it would be interested to hear how we learnt to write, where we learnt to write and whether this was different between generations and locations. Some writing can be an art form whilst others are illegible. Is it in how we learnt our writing skills?

Please join in giving your location at the time of your memory and  your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in can be seen at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments or by creating your own post and linking. Looking forward to your memories.

Baby Boomer:  small rural town Australia

I do not recall knowing how to write when I started school and lessons in writing only commenced in the first grade. Kindergarten was exempt from formal activities but we probably started to learn the alphabet and we certainly played shop, learning to count.

Our first writing lessons were done with a pencil. We had to have a HB pencil and we printed our letters. Writing seemed synonymous with increasing our word bank. It wasn’t until we were in grade 4 that running writing lessons began. The form used was modern cursive. This was different to the copperplate that had gone before it but it was no easier to get perfect. It had to have a particular slope and the early books also had lines marking the correct angle. Writing became a subject on its own like social studies. For an hour at a time we would work at perfecting our script. We were given copy books and had to painstakingly copy the sentence on the top of the page over and over. Knuckles were rapped for untidiness and incorrect holding of the pen. Ink blots were a no no.

This was where I fell down. I was blessed I wasn’t a left hander (they were forced to write with their right hand and got into dreadful trouble for both messyness and disobedience)  but my technique was seen to be just as heinous. I was right handed but I gripped the pen with two fingers on the shaft and my thumb wrapped around them both. The first joint of my hand went backwards so it lay along the pen shaft and the joint behind raised like a mountain. My teacher pleaded, yelled, slapped, put me outside the room but to this day my pen holding style remains unchanged. My writing was a little more legible then that it is now.

We were right on the cusp of ink and quill and the coming of the BIC biro. I was relieved when we changed to biro in my sixth class as the ink got everywhere but for many years one of my prize possessions was a Parker fountain pen.

And that was how I learnt to write. What do you remember about your writing experience or your childrens? Perhaps they learnt earlier or perhaps typing on a computer is replacing writing.  I’m looking forward to reading  your memories…….

For those interested in memoir I am doing a series on the second Friday of the month some musings about memoir, about writing one, things to consider when writing a memoir over at Carrot Ranch. I’d love you to join the conversation. And talking of conversation – if I am tardy this month in my response to you please forgive me as I am going to be out of internet range for most of the month as I cruise the high seas. I look forward to the conversation and your memories on my return.


About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
This entry was posted in Historical Perspective, Memoir, Past Challenge, Times Past and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Learning to Write: Times Past

  1. calmkate says:

    like you I did printing with a HD pencil, learnt modern cursive style but never heard of copy books! My biggest gripe with the ink wells was that the boy behind me like to stick my extremely long plaits into them and it was very painful to scrub the ink stains from my hair! I was a very neat writer so had no horrid experiences like you … shame my writing is no where near as neat now. But I can be neat if I make an effort 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ouch – I wonder whether the nasty little boy is now a delightful adult. You were lucky. I was good at spelling and composition but my writing always let me down. Now it is illegible (even to me). I wonder if we were the only people to have copy books. I had a very old teacher and we were in the backwoods although the script in it was modern cursive so who knows.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We practiced cursive every day for two years.
    I’ve heard that today’s kids aren’t even being taught cursive as so much of what they write is on computer. My two older grands write beautifully and they picked it up quickly. There’s too much to learn to devote hours and hours to perfect slants and evenly marked tops. I’d rather kids had much more time for creative endeavors – painting, dancing, acting, singing, writing poetry, running through the woods, playing an instrument.


  3. Charli Mills says:

    This is a topic I look forward to learning more from the past experiences of others. Hand-writing often comes up in modern debates over its future. Recently I’ve begun to feel satisfied with signing my digital receipts by finger. I said something to a young cashier who told me just makes a line. I felt like it was a moment of watching the demise of cursive!


  4. Jules says:

    I don’t remember how I learned to write. Too many schools in a short childhood. But I like cursive. Though I never seem to have the same slant twice. So I don’t know what those who study handwriting would say. 🙂


  5. Irene I know you are on the high seas but my response is lengthy as well as late so here is a link.
    Ps, I am enjoying your essays over at the Ranch.


  6. Hi Irene, I hope you’re having a wonderful time! ‘Blotting your copybook’ is an expression my mother often uses. I had never given it much thought so far as what an actual copybook is, and pretty sure I didn’t write in one at school as I’m sure I would remember, but I will ask her and get back to you with her response! Once again, we share similar experiences though so far as the HB pencils and the glorious Parker fountain pens! I remember my cursive handwriting lessons very well and loved them. The rebel in me makes me glad you stuck to your writing style Irene 😉 Love the letter extract too…I would have loved to have been at that dinner party 🙂 Looking forward to returning with my post. Meanwhile, happy sailing my friend! 🙂 ❤


  7. Hi Irene, I hope that you are having a wonderful holiday. Here is my contribution to this challenge: https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/learning-to-write-times-past/


  8. My experience was like yours, Irene, right down to the loved Parker fountain pen. (rural, Victoria) As to copy books, I have a vague memory of a ruled book with a dark green cover – landscape orientation. We copied the sentence from the blackboard, though, I think. I was fortunate I had a neat hand, and an desire to please.

    I do hope you are having fun on the high seas!


  9. susansleggs says:

    As a baby-boomer in a rural central school in western New York state we learned to write cursive using fat green pencils with no eraser. The teacher would hand out a lined piece of paper with the letter on it and we were to make copies of it, but the lines were probably half an inch apart, two solid with a dotted in between to total an inch.. The lines were so we could form the letter with the correct size “heads and tails.” That means make the top of the h all the way up to the top line. It sounds good in theory, but trying to form the letters huge, didn’t translate to forming them the natural writing size once I learned the shapes. I never could make a perfect circle for an o and still don’t. My cursive is scrawly, uneven, and as we say, “Looks like a doctors signature.”
    I do remember one girl who always got A’s made her letters with all sorts of fancy add-ons. It used to infuriate me that she would get such good marks when to me her writing was just as bad as mine, just in a different way.
    I like to use the computer now even if I am writing a personal note that way I know the recipient will be able to read my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s