20hr Da Vinci Project

Gregg Shorthand

THE GAMEPLAN

The Gameplan is how I plan to learn this particular skill in twenty hours' time. Everything from resources I found to timing and practice styles fit in here

For this project, it didn't take me very long to find a few pretty useful resources I wanted to use. It also wasn't the first time I wasn teaching myself a new writing system (I'm already pretty fluent in my own), so that helped me plan things out a bit. First, I looked for resources I could use to learn what shorthand was about, and how I might approach practicing it and looking up words / alphabets. For that, I found a low-def but nonetheless helpful YouTube lecture series as well as this website, both of which offered not a complete and high-quality guide to get started, but did enough that I could find my way around Gregg without too many problems.

I also had to pull in a few lessons from teaching myself my own script. From that experience, I knew that, at least for me, one of the things that worked the best was to constantly be writing, stream-of-consciousness style.

A generally useful trick / tool seems to be to look at and read a lot of samples online (Google Images is your friend), as well as read / write as much Gregg as possible when you have a few seconds or when you get the chance.

Starting out with these ideas, here's how it went.

HOUR 1: DIVING STRAIGHT IN

I started out by watching the video linked above, which is a series. I made my way through the first two videos, which are a little over an hour in length combined. I didn't follow the suggested practice guidelines, though. From that little-over-an-hour of looking at shorthand, I had a few key takeaways.

First, shorthand isn't traditionally for personal note taking, as I intend to use it. Tranditionally, shorthand was used in place of what we've replaced today with audio / video recordings and computers / word processors. Shorthand was originally created to rapidly write down spoken word onto paper, in situations like court proceedings or speeches. In contrast to that, I mainly want to learn shorthand to write down ideas and take notes faster, for myself. The main difference between traditional shorthand and my personal use case is that, for me, other people's legibility of my shorthand writing is not a concern, so I could take some liberties in that direction.

Secondly, shorthand, at least Gregg shorthand, uses a number of what are called "brief forms" -- abbreviations to make writing often-occuring words or phrases even faster. Think of these as analogues of "w/o" for without or "b/c" for because in everyday English note taking. For at least the first 10 hours, I made a conscious decision to forego brief forms, for a few reasons, despite the widely agreeing opinion that using thes abbreviations from the beginning is better. I forewent brief forms as I started out because 1) I didn't need to go 300-words-per-minute, which is the generally aggreed-upon average top speed of Gregg. I only needed a half or a third of that; and 2) I didn't want to increase the memory load as I was starting out.

Day 1, the first few words I wrote were less shorthand and more abnormally slow, drunk scribbles on paper.

HOURS 2-9: READ, WRITE, REPEAT

The next few hours of learning Gregg was just constant practice in reading and writing. I placed my emphasis more heavily on writing (another trick that comes from teaching myself another writing system previously), because for me, I find that writing takes more time to learn that reading a new alphabet, and because in writing shorthand, the speed of transcribing speech and thoughts is more often the topic of concern that the time it takes to read the notes back later.

For example, here's a letter I wrote to my future self in shorthand in one of those writing practices.

Generally, what I found was that the delay between my thinking of the letters to write down and remembering what those letters look like decreased with practice. I usually filled out 2-3 pages like the one above every day, filling in times during car rides, communites, and coffee breaks, and they do add up to quite a bit. But the cool part of the deal with learning these new things is always that you get to experience the fast-pace growth of any skill in the very early stages of your learning it, and this was no exception. It's fun to see yourself get faster and better each time you fill out a new practice sheet, and I definitely felt it.

By the time I began my ninth hour, I still wasn't using too many brief forms (I settled on "th" for "the" and "n" for "and", for example, but those are trivial). But I was comfortable enough with writing them on a regular basis and fast enough that I wasn't bothered my speed when writing for day-to-day notes. I sitll couldn't take notes in class, for example, but where I'd normally write in English letters my to-do lists and grocery lists and short notes-to-self, I began writing them out in shorthand instead. Once shorthand got into the realm of practicality, it became a lot easier to use regularly.

HOURS 10-13: EVERY DAY, IN EVERYDAY THINGS

What followed was a process of half-forcing myself to use shorthand whenever I could. So outside of my few hours of practices, I took some small notes in shorthand in class, I jot down ideas and kept to-do lists in shorthand, and where other people didn't have to read what I wrote and it wasn't critical that I recover what I wrote perfectly later, I used shorthand over the standard English alphabet. And surprise -- that's helped me realize a few things about shorthand.

First, the most difficult thing, still, in using shorthand isn't a part of writing -- my writing was pretty solid by hours 9-10, and I can now write reasonably well, following the speed of a slow speaker. The trouble was in reading. Gregg shorthand uses some characters that are identical, save for their size. "F" and "V", for example, are identical except for the fact that the latter is a longer stroke than the former. This turned out to be the biggest challenge in reading what I wrote after a few days had passed. Often, I would confuse the two, because my handwriting was not yet clearly distinguishing the smaller characters from the longer ones. That didn't stop me from deciphering what I wrote, but it did slow me down, because I'd have to go back and re-read a passage a few times to figure out what I meant to write down when the strokes were ambiguous in size.

Second, I mentioned earlier that I chose to forego using abbreviations, or brief forms, for the first several hours of practicing shorthand. But in bringing shorthand to practical, everyday use, I realized that using abbreviations, my own or standard, Gregg ones, was sort of unavoidable. So in trying to write faster, I developed my own set of abbreviations, like "N" for "and", "AT" for "-tion" or "-ment", and "T" for "the".

After around the twelfth hour, I found a critical point in my twenty-hour journey: I could write in shorthand faster than I could write in cursive, standard English alphabet. This is a key moment, and it was a turning point for me because it meant that, to an extent, my goal in learning shorthand had been unlocked. I wanted to write faster, and now I could. From here, it was a matter of training to improve further. This change was pretty exciting.

As I hit the over-halfway point in learning shorthand, I sat at a middle ground between why don't more people know this cool skill? and wow, this is an utter waste of time with no utility. Shorthand is a cool skill, and for me, personally, its utility is pretty broad, in quickly writing down ideas and annotating chicken sketches on backs of napkins and in taking classroom notes efficiently, shorthand is something I both enjoy writing in -- if only just for the cool factor of writing in a secret script -- and benefit from. But it's also not something that everyone should automatically go out and learn, like, say, coding. It's not going to change your future, it's not a groundbreaking resume item, and it's not very exciting for most people. It's exactly between the two extremes -- a cool party trick that also happens to be useful for the right person.

Fortunately, I fit that bill.

HOURS 14-17: PRACTICALITY?

Practicality is a big concern, and it's also, obviously, the point of shorthand -- a good shorthand eventually becomes practical because of its speed and its simplicity. But after little over the first half of my time learning Gregg, there was one big hurdle. Although I could write at a reasonable rate, I still couldn't read as fast what I'd written before. So for the next few hours of training, reading became a big focus.

But that doesn't mean I left out writing, and one of the more interesting things were that 1) I began to join phrases into single words and 2) I learned to memorize the shapes of simple, short words.

Joining phrases into words is an interesting thing that happens even with normal writing and speaking, but becomes far more important in shorthand writing. For example, we join "I will" or "I would" to "I'll" and "I'd" in speech and in normal writing. But in shorthand, I might shorten "I will" to simply "il" or "it could" to simply "td". This makes writing these simpler, often-occuring phrases lightning quick, since, for example, "td" requires barely two strokes to write, and "il" barely one.

Memorization is a step in learning to do anything fast, and after memorizing the alphabet, of course, next came the words. Words like "a", "I", "s/he", "to", "of", "it" (abbreviated "t"), and "and" (abbreviated "n") are just some of the words I can write, without even thinking about them, from memory. I can picture exactly what they look like on paper, and I can scribble them out without having to convert each sound into shorthand alphabet. This is how we normally word in English -- when we see the word "and", we don't sound out the individual alphabets, we recognize entire words. The same, evidently, goes for shorthand reading and writing.

This period of time is also when I transitioned completely to writing everything I hand-wrote into shorthand, unless someone else had to read it. And that produced a rather unique problem, which was that I couldn't bother to be as sloppy with shorthand as I was with the alphabet. Alphabet characters each have enough differentiation and redundancy in its shape built-in that a sloppily written P could easily be distinquished from a V or a B, but not so in shorthand. And to remedy that, I had to begin to practice writing shorthand much neater, in consistent size and strokes.

THE FINAL STRETCH

Like many writing systems, shorthand isn't something to be mastered and instinctively used after a few weeks. But being based ona language and alphabet I (and most of you) already know, it's also something pretty useful to learn on the side,

Shorthand, unless you use it every day as a part of a job, isn't really life-changing. It's not one of those skills that can introduce you to new worlds or give you the ability to do things you couldn't before -- I could still write notes to myself and keep them hidden in plain sight before, in plain English alphabets.

But shorthand does have a few advantages, besides just being fun to use. Its sheer simplicity means that, even at far lower than full-speed of hundreds of words per minute, I can write significantly faster in Gregg than I could in the standard English alphabet, and sometimes, that in itself is a huge help writing down ideas quickly as they occur to me, especially when I don't have a lot of time in between doing other things.

Of course, it's also hard to ignore the fact that there are very few people who can read shorthand, let alone shorthand that we taylor for ourselves and our eyes only. I have a notebook dedicated to my personal notes, of which 80% of the notes are in shorthand (the other 20% being my own writing system / language). That not only makes it practical to read and write, it also makes sure that I can leave it in plain sight or share the notebook with other people without them having a glimpse at what might be personal information.

As a way of wrapping up my time focusing on Gregg shorthand, I wrote a short personal narrative story, entirely in shorthand. Yes, it was far faster than it would have been, had I written in English. There were certainly mistakes, and there are things I could still improve on, but this is a good start.

I think learning shorthand was a good first idea to start this journey on. This took a bit longer than expected, across a few weeks, but as my caledar eases up, I think it's going to be even more interesting to see how I fare with more ideas coming down the pipeline. It wasn't too challenging, and it definitely wasn't something I could get in a matter of a few hours, but it was interesting, fun, and something I do use, literally, every single day to help me get my work done more efficiently.

Should everyone in the world rush out and start learning shorthand? Probably not. But if you're the note-taking or the doodling type, or if you're just into indecipherable writing, shorthand is definitely a handy trick to know.