I have written a few times about my struggles with pen and paper as a creative medium rather than using an electronic device.

The inconvenience, the awkwardness, the much slower pace at which I can get my thoughts down...

I've had a selection of small notebooks in the drawer of my bedside cabinet for ages, still snuggly wrapped in their cellophane jackets. Nothing as flashy as a Moleskine but that doesn't matter.

I've made the effort of buying new pens, nice pens that feel good in the hand. One sits wistfully on top of my bedside cabinet, separated from those notebooks by an inch of wood and the Scott Sigler novel it rests upon.

They are no good to anyone separated like this so I get one out of the drawer, unwrap it, and place it ready for use should inspiration strike. It's only small, incredibly pocket sized, and I wonder if that's part of the problem.

Small notebooks can be hard to write in comfortably whilst fitting only a little on each page. Am I unintentionally hamstringing myself with such choices? Am I more likely to write by hand if it is an easier experience?

Does size matter?

I often vow to make more of an effort, that this time will be different. It never is, never has been. At least not yet!

Perhaps it never will but that doesn't mean I should stop trying.

  1. jemostrom says: #
    @colinwalker “the much slower pace at which I can get my thoughts down” – my personal experience is that the “quality of my thoughts” are better when I’m forced to slow down.
  2. I know the struggle you’re talking about, Colin. I have Simplenote installed on my phone, and I find it really easy, and even enjoyable, to type ideas into that. It’s one of my favourite apps.

    But, as you probably picked up from my recent poem, I’m pretty concerned about the place of phones in our lives. I think they’re a far bigger intrusion than most people will admit. So, over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to reduce my use and incorporate traditional writing tools into my creative process. What that’s meant is, putting the phone in my backpack (so it’s not in my pocket and easy to grab) and putting a notebook and pencil in my pocket.

    It’s been a bit of a battle to leave my phone tucked away, but after a few weeks, it’s become easier, and I can honestly say I’m starting to enjoy writing in the notebook–particularly with a pencil. (I bought a few Palomino Blackwings, and a friend of mine sent me a selection of nicer pencils, and they make quite a difference.)

    Like you, my handwriting is pretty bad, although, interestingly, it’s better with a pencil than with a pen. Perhaps because of the extra bit of friction. And I know what you mean about small notebooks being a bit frustrating to write in, although I’d argue that a phone screen is even smaller, and, for me, even clumsier. I’ve got big thumbs and I regularly hit wrong letters!

    Like you alluded to in one of your other posts, I like the separation of drafting and editing. It really frees me up to try things. And it breaks my habit of always being on my phone.

    I do think it takes time though to break the habit of whipping out a phone, and to see the benefit of creating the awkward, slow way. I guess we each have to experiment and weigh up the pros and cons of different tools and approaches.

    (Sorry for the wall of text. It’s just something I’ve been think about a lot lately.)

    1. Colin Walker says: #
      Appreciate your thoughts Chris, and don’t apologise for the walk of text.

      I’m an impatient writer, always looking to get my thoughts out before I lose interest in them. I’ve chastised myself many times for it, make a bid for redemption but fall back way too easily.

      I’ll get there eventually.

  3. jemostrom says: #
    @colinwalker When I use electronic devices I tend to jump from idea to idea without really thinking them through. Using pen and paper I manage to really think about the question and if I get another idea I just make a one-two word note and come back to it later. But we are all different so …
  4. kulturnation says: #
    @colinwalker @jemostrom I heard that a) “thinking“ is best done by hand, while b) “bringing it down” should be done by typing. As a more analog person I agree on a), for b) I often use (please, don’t laugh) a mechanical typewriter – allows a good flow for me.
  5. patrickrhone says: #
    @colinwalker Thought #1: Replace the small notebook with a larger one and see what happens. Nothing fancy. A cheap drugstore one will do. Thought #2: Maybe you’re not a paper guy. It’s OK. Be you.
  6. sketchbookb says: #
    @colinwalker I recently switched from a small Moleskine notebook to a Leuchtturm 1917 Master Slim. It’s A4+… massively oversized. Took me a while to get used to the bigger size, but now I love it.
  7. jemostrom says: #
    @kulturnation I really like using pen/paper and especially doing sketch notes … but unfortunately I rarely have the time to actually use them. Since most of the time I need to publish my material electronically and it takes too long to do it twice 😭
  8. kulturnation says: #
    @jemostrom I first think about a topic, then I write it down. Writing down is much faster then. With a computer I tend to do to much fine tuning before the piece is done. But it depends on your job, of course.
  9. kulturnation says: #
    @jemostrom (There is Feridun Zaimoglu, a German author who “prepares” all his novels in notebooks, and when he feels ready he types it down with his electric typewriter right out of his head)
  10. jemostrom says: #
    @kulturnation Yeah, I’ve tried doing it the “paper outlining/planning” way first and then converting it to electronic form for the lectures/course. I can’t do it, I end up with 1-4 very nice lectures in the beginning and then panic. But it’s a character flaw of mine 😀
  11. Colin Devroe says: #
    For me the difference was the system. Bullet Journal changed everything for me. It wasn’t left up to chance. It doesn’t matter how nice the notebook or pen, if you don’t have a system and routine everything else falls about.

    Take a look at using one of your notebooks to convert to a Bullet Journal and try to stick with it during an entire calendar month. You’ll be hooked like the rest of us.

  12. jack says: #
    @kulturnation Same here. Also, when using the computer I often end up doing everything but work on the project at hand. Paper helps me think clearly and, more importantly, focus.
  13. colinwalker says: #
    @jemostrom This is always my issue – the time and duplication of transcribing or converting from paper to type. While I can see the appeal it usually frustrates me as it feels like doubling the work.

    Perhaps it’s worth it in the long run.

  14. kulturnation says: #
    @colinwalker Had to laugh when I read your „there’s a certain je ne c’est quoi to them“ – read „a certain je ne sais quoi“ this morning in George Saunder‘s short story „Victory Lap“ (in: „Tenth of December“) – is this French commonly used?
  15. jack says: #
    @colinwalker I believe it’s completely worth it. For me it’s quality over speed. Also, as the Field Notes guys say: “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”
    1. I’ve got a Moleskine pocket notebook at the moment (got it for half the usual price on the Book Depository), but when I’ve filled that I’m going to try Field Notes. They look a lot better (thickness-wise) for actually carrying round in your pocket.