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learning shorthand “in 15 minutes”

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learning shorthand “in 15 minutes”

february 28, 2021

I do a /lot/ of writing and planning by hand. I don’t write using a pen and paper as much as I used to since I got my reMarkableᵃᵇ but I still do carry around my reliable and high-qualityᶜ, fountain pen and word notebookᵉ. I have a tendency to forget stuff, and it's very rude to pull out my phone and start typing away (and it's irritating to type on a soft keyboard anyways), so I pull out a notebook and write something down. People tend to react positively if I say that I want to remember something we were talking about, versus looking like I'm just texting in front of them. The thing is, I write /very sloppily/ (no matter how hard I try or how much I write, it never gets any better than it currently is) and fairly slowly, so I've been interested in learning a shorthand for a while so I can jot down stuff in my notebook faster, and so I can plan out stuff on my remarkable quicker.

The problem with shorthands is that they are not suited to writing with general writing utensils (the Pittman shorthand requires what is essentially a calligraphy pen so you can vary line thicknesses precisely), they are not suited for notes that you reference later (it is hard to read unless you transcribe it to regular writing right away), and they require weeks/months of intense training in order to be able to do properly. There's simplified alphabetic (rather than syllabic) based shorthands like Teelineᶠ, but even they generally require a formal course because there's still lots of contractions, and even the “spelling-based” system is still based heavily on pronunciation.

The reason that shorhand systems so complex is that they're intended to be used to write down spoken word, so they have very advanced contractions that let you write at >150 words per minute. In the modern era though, if you want to take down spoken word that you are then going to transcribe right away, you'd just use a voice recorder. I don't need to write at 150wpm, I just want a way to write faster than print or cursive in a way that is easy to go back and read later. The tradeoff of speed for ease of learning and ease of reading is more than worth it. I was worried that there wouldn't be a shorthand system that is designed in that way, but I then discovered Ford Improved Shorthandᵍ. It's strangely marketed as a way for obfuscating notes, which I can see, but the value to me is really in the ease of learning.

I figured that the “15 minute figure” is a lowball as a selling point, but I will say that I actually learned the alphabet and was able to write without a reference in 15 minutes. Even after a few hours of practice at this point though, I'm still slower than my regular writing and significantly slower than my typing (I was hoping to at least meet my typing speed), and reading back is ~⅓ of my regular reading speed (~90wpm for shorthand in a text I'm familiar with vs ~250wpm normally on a brand new text), but I've only been practicing for an hour or so total, so I consider my current speeds /really good/ considering how quick it is.

[a]: i got an rm1 because it's a lot cheaper (compared to the rm2) and hardware buttons are more important than a magnetic pen for me. i also don't care if it looks “outdated” because who the fuck prioritizes form over function other than assholes?

[b]: if you do get a remarkable, especially the rm1, definitely install these patches, it makes both reading and writing so much better, particularly when you have the real hardware buttons.

[c]: not sarcastic, this is the best pen i've ever owned

[d]: amazon warning!

[e]: a pack of three is only just cheaper than the fountain pen itself! they're great notebooks though, and they last a while unless you're using a page a day.

[f]: teeline shorthand is a streamlined way to transcribe the spoken word quickly, but unlike phonetics based shorthands, such as pitman, teeline is a spelling based system.

[g]: Ford Improved Shorthand: Do you want to learn shorthand in 15 minutes instead of taking weeks of classes?

my writing practice

So this is transcriptions of what I wrote down when I was practicing, more for my benefit of improving my reading than for yours, although looking at how my writing improved over such a short time may be heartening if you're interested in learning it. The main thing holding back my writing speed is oftentimes I need a split second to remember the right letter, although I'm slowly getting better and better, particularly on common letters. My reading speed is well under ⅓ of my regular reading speed, but I think it's lowballed a bit because in the earlier samples a lot of the characters are very ambiguous and poorly-shapen, so it required taking my time to understand context.

You can skip the rest of this section, it's probably not very interesting, but the raw shorthand PDF may be of interest to see what it actually looks like for longer writing. Just look at the last two pages for the “real deal”, the early stuff is not a representative sample. Also, The [sic]s are errors in my writing, not in the original source that I'm writing down.

here's the raw pdf of my writings, exported from my remarkable.

a rundown of the pages + transcriptions

Page 1 is just the alphabet so I could reference it before I memorized all the characters.

Page 2 is my first attempt at actually writing. This paragraph was particularly badly written, and there were a lot of ambiguous characters. It's not because I can't read the shorthand but just because I didn't really figure out the proper ways to write it yet so it looks bad, it is my first try after all. Something that surprised me is that I had the alphabet memorized by the time I finished writing writing this section.

spent nearly all day coding, accomplished very little. i get ento [sic] these slightly megalomaniac phases where i thnk [sic] i am going to fix all software and the whole internet and then delete my work soon after.

Taken from Alex Wennerberg's 02-27 journal entry because that's what happened to be up on my screen at the time.

By this point I realized that my “I”s, “L”s, and “E”s were nearly indistinguishable, so I kept writing “E” the proper way, made my “L”s look more like big “C”s (distinguished from “C” by the size and from “F” by the curl on the bottom) and my “I”s look like a very sharp “V” with the left line vertical. The next sample of writing is just narrations of stuff that was around me at the time or just random shit i thought of:

tonight ill be eating boober [deliberate spelling] eats
bazooper lol haha
wonderstruck, imagined by bbc america
pokémon emerald for the game boy advance
rocky mountain national park
fucking adorable red-tailed hawk [on t.v.]
harley [my puppy] is currently ripping something up
omg theres an adorable [snow leopard] on tv
let's try out some symbols mixed in:
now there's cute golden eagles [on t.v.]
and the [snow leopard]'s back!
aww the [snow leopard] was so adorable!
hmm, this shorthand is definitely faster, but i really /don't/ like “[shorthand for I]” for “I” and I also think “S” takes too long to write compared to it's frequency. “[shorthand for L]” is also seems too close to “C”, but if you write it like “L” it's too close to “E”.
i also need to practice not putting pressure when i write. both my remarkable and my fountain pen require almost no pressure but it's hard to stop pushing down.

This final paragraph I wrote before I stopped for the day is naturally my best, this is definitely they way I'll keep writing it probably. At this point I realized that making “I”s look like checkmarks makes it a lot harder to confuse it with other characters. I still get sloppy “N”s and proper “Q”s mixed up, but it's very easy to figure out from context.

so it's been more on the order of 45 min rather than “15 minutes”. im definitely faster at actually writing each character, but still significantly slower overall because most letters require a split second of thought. i am realy fast at some letters now though.

And I wrote this final paragraph today, right before I started typing this post:

it is now the next day and i can now write /slightly/ faster than yesterday, so it must have metabolized in my brain overnight. i'm going to go back and try to read some.


Despite not reaching rapid speed, I am very happy with the results of such a short time spent practicing, so I'm definitely going to keep using this. If you write and plan stuff by hand (which you should, especially if you're a programmerʰ) then I'd definitely recommend at least trying it out. A strong point (that I haven't even made use of) is that you can mix in regular letters, so if you forget a letter or just don't like one of the forms, you can just use regular print instead. I do that with “O” because doing it like an “α” actually is harder and slower than just drawing a regular “O” for me, my hand automatically connects the ends of an “O” very quickly.

In the end, try it out! It's pretty neat, and I genuinely did learn shorthand in 15 minutes (in the sense of being able to write it without having a reference nearby). I'm interested in steno for typingⁱ too, but my current computer setup uses too many shortcuts and keybinds to trivially be able to migrate to a steno keyboard, I do far more than typing. Maybe a fauchpadʲ with context-aware macros? Not something I'm going to be getting into for a very long time at least.

[h]: i've been meaning to write a post about this for a while (longer than i've had my gemlog) but haven't gotten around to it. i really need to though.



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