I work in a tech company where most of the employees hover around the age of thirty. They grew up with computers. They are experts in Apple devices. They live and die by technology. I come in as the oldster with a fondness for paper. I want paper files, paper documentation, and paper notebooks to help me think through problems. I get chastised regularly for the trees I kill. I’ve searched my soul to see if I could live without paper and decided I couldn’t. I’ve made my peace with that.
I do, however, use a laptop to write my novel. I can’t imagine such a massive undertaking being done with pen and paper alone. I need my laptop. I need Scrivener. I would be a disorganized mess if it weren’t for my specialized writing software.
However, there is something delightful about finding a particularly appealing journal with the pages inside a specific weight and feel. Even better is finding a pen to go along with that paper. I once bought what was what I thought going to be a fantastic journal, but pulling the pen across the pages did not give me the same joy as using my Pentel RSVP fine point across the pages of my Moleskine. The paper was too smooth. I then happened upon a promotional pen that was almost as pleasant to use as my Pentels. I tried it in the journal with the too-smooth pages and oh! the delight. It was a perfect match of paper and pen. Sadly, the journal had already been relegated to the task of containing all my dog training woes and successes.
I know of writers who still write long hand in journals, on yellow legal pads, on whatever, and I find a certain appeal to that. It’s much easier to carry a pen and a pad of paper around, handily at the ready whenever the need to jot things down strikes. It’s less conspicuous then a laptop if the urge to write hits in a bar or a store or in the middle of walking down a crowded sidewalk. There is the romantic vision harkening back to the days of Hemingway carrying his Moleskine wherever he went and look what he produced. But as much as I like paper, I do find a joy in feeling the keys of a keyboard under the tips of my fingers. Plus, my writing has gotten quite sloppy over the years, and there are many times I can’t read my own writing. I would hate to scribble down the perfect scene only to find that I couldn’t decipher it.
But when it comes to problem solving, when I need to figure out a character motivation or work through the point of a scene or figure out what my protagonist will do in a particular situation, I turn to pen and paper. I think better with paper. I’d rather brainstorm on paper than on my laptop despite having a great brainstorming software called Scapple. Is it because I’m older or is there something else going on?
Turns out, something else is going on. Studies have been done on brain function while writing on a laptop versus writing by hand. Here is one on note taking by college students. The results show that the writing by hand is a more complex task, requiring more from the mind and the body thereby improving cognitive function. Typing on a laptop encourages a certain mindlessness.
What if I’ve been doing it all wrong? What if by writing on my laptop my mind is not fully engaged in what I am doing? Would I be a better and smarter writer if I turned to pen and paper? Maybe so. One writer made the conversion. With the support of two long-hand-writing friends, he wrote his next novel on paper with positive results.
I’m just not sure if I can do the same. I’d like to do what I do at work and blissfully disregard the lives of trees and write my story on paper. I’d like to be at my cognitive best when I am writing. But the mere thought of such a huge project being compiled on paper is just too daunting. For now, I’ll keep using my laptop for my novel while collecting paper at work, but maybe, just maybe, I will try to write a scene – just one – with my Pentel RSVP and Moleksine. Then I’ll try to reduce those stacks of paper at work.