Analyzing Writers’ Personalities From Their Handwritten Manuscripts


Like all literary nerds, we’re fascinated by the marginalia of our favorite authors, and recently we’ve been totally addicted to examining their handwritten manuscripts and journal entries. Thanks to the our new favorite Tumblr, Fuck yeah, manuscripts!, there are many examples at hand, but after spending a significant time sifting through, we wondered if we were really learning anything. In an attempt to be pop-psychologists, we checked out a 5-minute online handwriting analysis test (meant, obviously, for hiring managers), to see if we could dig up anything on our favorite writers. We found the results to be something like a horoscope — a little bit right for everybody, but probably kind of random. Click through to check out the handwriting of ten famous writers, and see what it might say about them.

Emily Dickinson’s manuscript of “Wild Nights”

The relatively severe right slant of the letters indicates a writer who is “emotional and garrulous,” but the steadfastness of the line (without any rule marks, natch) indicates a controlled, goal-oriented individual, so we’re not sure what’s going on there. Her large writing suggest a need for attention and “elbow room,” which we’re not sure quite tracks either. But large loops are supposed to mean sensual and hungry, which we totally buy.

Jorge Luis Borges’ notebook

The direct upwardness of writing suggests a “self-reliant, independent” individual, and the small writing indicates one who is “intelligent, modest” and “unassuming” with a great “ability to concentrate.” His stick-like lower extensions suggest a stoic with simple tastes who just wants to “get the job done.” The extreme compression of the letters indicate an introvert who could turn out to be “the office ‘tightwad.'” Yikes.

Ernest Hemingway’s manuscript for “The Battler”

Hemingway’s evenly spaced lines suggest someone with clear thinking, able to organize his work properly. Like Borges, his little sticks instead of lower loops mean that he is a man of simple tastes — a man’s man, perhaps.

Chuck Palahniuk’s notebook

The crowded nature of Palahniuk’s lines suggest someone with “confused thinking” and a “poor organization of time and space,” who might even be “overly familiar” — the penis sketch might suggest that too. Of his printing, our source tells us that “the writer who prints is basically one who is a constructive and practical thinker who relates to the mechanics and material/ tangible aspects of life. Printing provides a cover up for his true feelings…” but “inharmonious printing indicates a person who is fragmented in his thinking and has difficulty relating to others. He can be sharp and unfeeling in social interactions.”

Jane Austen’s plan for a novel

The slight right slant suggests a writer who is “compliant” and “outgoing.” The long lower loops on her letters indicate a “strong physical drive,” and the defined left margin shows her to have a strong interest in her future, indicating one who is ambitious and “socially oriented.” Kind of like a lady who would spend all her time writing novels about social events.

David Foster Wallace’s notebook

The relatively short extensions on letters like ‘t’ and ‘d’ indicate a writer who is “practical” and “mechanical” and suggests “short-term goals,” whatever that means. Like Palahniuk, Wallace prints, though we would argue that his writing is much more “harmonious” and thus more likely to indicate “a person who thinks in a building block fashion… able to take many small details and combine them into a coordinated whole.” Well, after our five hundredth footnote, we know that’s accurate.

Edith Wharton’s manuscript for The House of Mirth

The downward slope at the end of the line could indicate “pessimism” and “fatigue” — or maybe just the awkwardness of writing at the edge of one’s notebook. Her letters are large, which can mean she has a healthy ego, and fairly widely spaced apart, indicating “generosity” and “freedom from supervision,” even suggesting that she might be an “entrepreneur.” Her relatively light hand suggest that she is cultured and prefers an “intellectual approach” to any given situation.

Franz Kafka’s manuscript for The Trial

Some of Kafka’s characters are so far upright that they slant slightly to the left, which indicates a “reserved, cold” and “withdrawn” personality, and the uneven base suggests a writer who is “moody” and “restless.” We must say, we did not need help interpreting this chicken scratch as restless. However, his use of “arcades” — top-rounded connectors rather than soft, loopy ones, suggests a “creative personality… a constructive thinker, one who deliberates before making up his mind.” That’s our totally anal, totally bizarre Kafka.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscript for The Great Gatsby

In one page, Fitzgerald moves from keeping his margin open on the left (“interest in future, ambition, socially oriented”) to letting it drift over to the right (“interest in past, works best behind scenes, introspective”), so he may either be good at everything or mildly schizophrenic. His long lower loops suggest a strong physical drive, but his wavering downward slant could indicate fatigue. So maybe, too much physicality today?

George Orwell’s manuscript for 1984

Orwell writes “upward,” which indicates optimism. His relatively short loops on letters like ‘g,’ however, indicate someone “entirely disinterested in physical activity,” who might be lazy or even sedentary. The angular nature of his letters and the connections between them suggests a writer who is “often analytical, tense and self disciplined. He usually can see more than one approach to a problem and therefore often has some degree of executive ability. He uses willpower to direct and control his actions.” Very interesting.