The Left-handed Writers Page
Classic Fountain Pens
What we can do.
Many left-handed writers have trouble with
several kinds of writing tips. Points may catch
on a corner or on an edge, digging into the
paper. The worst of these are the extra-fine,
needlepoint, flexible, and italic nibs; however
poorly-designed mediums and stubs can also be
nasty for lefties. While broad and broad-oblique
tips usually present no problem, any of them can
be problematic if they are poorly-adjusted or
even just a little bit sharp in the direction of
For these and other
reasons, fountain pens can be just miserable for
southpaws. However, with a few
we have found that we can partially or
completely accommodate left-handed writers.
By paying attention to the direction of the
script, noting the position of the hand, drying
up the point if it is too wet, or providing a
narrower or drier tip, we can make writing more
fun for lefties. We can even give left-handers
some exotic nibs, such as extra-broad stubs and
oblique points. After all, left-handers are well
suited to appreciate the unusual.
McCarthy is an underwriter. His writing line slopes
downward at about 20 degrees. He is holding his pen
at a right angle to the writing line.
Propas is an overwriter, sometimes called a
His line rises at about 15 degrees.
Checklist for left-handed writers.
Writes neutrally, neither
pushing nor pulling.
Writes by pushing the pen
toward the right.
Pulls the pen down in the
direction of the line.
(This usually requires the
top of the paper to be
turned extremely to the
Overwriter (Writes on top of the
Pulls (I have a hard
time imagining this, but
have included it just
because there is always
an exception, and I’d
like to see it.)
see photo examples to give you and idea of which of
these techniques you employ. If you use some other
method, I’d like to hear about it.
is an overwriter, holding the point of his pen
toward himself and the writing line rising at about
The following is an article submitted to
The PENnant, the magazine of
Pen Collectors of America for the winter
Notes from the Nib Works
While just over ten percent of Americans are left
handed, they represent a disproportionate number of
fountain pen users (at least from the perspective of
The Nib Works.) This may at first glance seem
strange, given the difficulty that they have using
fountain pens. But, on further thought, this may not
be so strange. Faced with a difficult situation,
left-handers seem to push ahead and embrace the
challenges that are thrown their way.
the last presidential race Al Gore, Bill Bradley,
John McCain and Steve Forbes were all southpaws.
While George W. is not left-handed his father is.
And so is Bill Clinton. Other famous left-handers
include Colin A. Powell, H. Norman Schwarzkopf,
George S. Patton, Winston Churchill, and Napoleon.
(1.) None of these people could be said to shrink
Historically, left-handers have come in for a lot of
trouble. Gauche and sinister are synonymous with
being left-handed. Many school children were
severely "corrected" from this defect. Three hundred
years ago, questions of witchcraft lurked in the
minds of the pious. Suspicion and prejudice of
lefties was very common. (No pope would be chosen
from their ranks.)
Avanzino is an overwriter. She writes vertically,
away from herself at about 90 degrees.
Ackor is an underwriter. Her writing line slopes
downward at about 45 degrees
Robert Folgedalen keeps his paper vertically in
front of him and writes from the side, pushing
almost directly across the page
it turns out left-handers do not have a shorter life
span than right-handed people. (According to the New
York Times, Tuesday June 8, 2004 , three recent
studies shows that lefties are not more prone to
accidents and serious injuries. It contradicts an
earlier study that did not take into account that
many older people were required to use their right
hand, skewing the population of older people. This
made it seem that lefties were dying off at a higher
rate.) Faced with more obstacles, left-handers
become adapters. This is certainly true of their
writing. Cursive western writing is performed from
left to right and, because they tend to dig into the
paper more when they are pushed, fountain pens are
harder to push than to pull. Left-handers must push
their fountain pens at least some of the time, while
a right-handed person pulls or draws most of their
marks. Add to this trouble the problem of slow
drying ink, and left-handed people are sometimes
faced with ink stained palms as well.
how do left-handers accommodate this dilemma? They
develop numerous strategies to compensate. Some turn
their left hand hard to the right, so that they
write over top of the line. These "over writers"
manage to write parallel with the writing line, and
over the top and out of the immediate wet ink line.
(See Rick Propas's writing sample) If the ink is
very wet or slow drying, and the writing is fast,
some of the alphabet is bound to be smudged. With
many overwriters, the predominant direction of the
writing neither pulls nor pushes the pen on the
paper. Some overwriters turn their paper so that
they write straight away from themselves, vertically
up the page. (See Linda Amanzino's writing sample.)
In a second strategy southpaws hold the pen below
the line. These "underwriters" have several
variants. If the paper is placed squarely in front,
most underwriters must push their pens into the
paper. If the top of the paper is turned radically
to the right, to give more comfort to the hand and a
better direction for the point, the writing is seen
as coming down toward the writer at a sharp angle.
(See Pat Ackor and Emily Eldredge's writing
Because of the variety of unique approaches lefties
bring to their writing, (and to their lives, for
that matter); any generalizations made about
left-hand people are sure to be wrong for more than
a few individuals. Left-handed people run against
the grain of our physical world. For this reason
they frequently think differently. They handle our
world in unconventional ways. Albert Einstein,
Charles Darwin and Leonardo da Vinci are prime
examples. (2.) Several times, when I have asked to
see how a left-handed person writes, they have given
me a choice of methods. "I can do it this way or I
can do it this other way". And they proceed to
demonstrate more than one technique. One lefty told
me that she chose to write with her left hand when
she was confronted with the prospect of being in a
class of first graders who were all writing alike.
right and left hemisphere studies of the brain
relate the left side of our bodies to the right
brain. Intuitive thought and spatial relations are
believed to reside there. The physical process of
writing is handled in the area of spatial attention,
giving left-handed writers a more direct mode for
writing. As well as that, other brain studies
suggest that a greater number of left-handed people
have more cross over between the hemispheres of the
brain. This is where, many researchers believe, much
creative thought is generated, especially the kind
of thought used by artists and architects. Betty
Edwards, in her classic drawing instruction book
tells us that drawing forms that remain nameless
requires right brain thinking, often more accessible
to left-handed people.) (3.)
Left-handers have a lot thrown their way that is not
so easy. Poorly designed scissors, corkscrews that
turn the wrong way, wrist watches with stems on the
wrong side and anything with a molded pistol grip
are among the obstacles that southpaws have to
Left-handed writers do find solutions to their
Emily Eldredge is an underwriter. She is a pusher
with her line falling at about 25 degrees.
Waterman’s pens in their 1927 advertising list a
"Ball point tip", not to be confused with the ball
point pen. Waterman's describe it as "suitable for
left-hand writers". The tip of this pen writes well
and consistently in all directions. Inspection of
this tip reveals no sharp corners or edges. The
inner margins of this point, where the slit
separates the two halves, are rounded and regular in
kind of pen point that a lefty chooses is important
to their comfort in writing. Waterman's was on to a
good idea with their "ball point tip". Because it is
well rounded, especially on the leading edges, not
excessively fine, not flexible and not too wet, it
serves as a model for the ideal southpaw point.
Fountain pens are an excellent choice for portsiders.
They force care in forming the letters when writing.
There are, however, good choices for pen points and
bad. The best are rounded evenly especially to the
top of the point and are medium size, not too fine
and not too large and wet. Because any minor
miss-adjustment will be felt more intensely by
left-handers, the tines must be perfectly set. The
worst are the needlepoints, the italics, and the
flexible tips. But, of course, with left-handers,
there will always be exceptions.
do so many left-handers take up the fountain pen in
an age of ballpoint pens and computers? They are
rising to yet another challenge that has been thrown
their way. "Oh, you are left-handed. You will not be
able to use a fountain pen."
Forget Left-Wing. Say Hello to Left-Handed Politics.
Melissa Roth, New York Times. Jan 23, 2000
on the Right Hand Side of the Brain, Betty
Edwards 1979, J. P. Tarcher, Inc.