I was recently spurred to answer a question about why I prefer writing by hand these days — more specifically using pen and paper — over many of the digital tools available. Digital tools that, many would argue, are better than their analog predecessors. I thought my answers would be the beginnings of a manifesto of sorts. Sort of a “what we believe in” for this site.
Therefore, this will be a “living” document. It’s not finished. I will add to it as more reasons, ideas, and points come up. Eventually, I will turn this from a post to a page. It deserves a place of its own.
Here it is:
- It has a proven track record as long as language itself. From documents written millennia ago to stone tablets to cave paintings, properly preserved writing and art can be opened, read, viewed, translated, appreciated, and enjoyed today in the same manner in which it was first created and received. This is not true of digital files. First of all, digital simply has not been around as long. But secondly, there are countless examples of digital files created even five years ago not being able to be accessed or opened today due to changes in software programs and supported file types.
- Writing by hand helps me retain more information. Countless studies show that the act of writing by hand is better for both retention and comprehension of ideas than typing them digitally. It engages the senses and synapses by a factor more than digital. I write by hand because it is the best way for me to remember and learn.
- Because it is a physical object, I am more inclined to pick up past writing off a shelf — for example, and old journal or a book — and be transported. The digital gets lost in a sea of other detritus and, unless actively in progress or specifically recalled, is never accessed again. The opportunity for random investigation and discovery is low with digital. For me at least, it is high with the physical.
- Remember when we were kids in math class? Well, there was an emphasis on being able to show your work. It was not enough to know the answer. One had to show how they arrived at the answer. What logic led to that outcome. Why? Well, because if you know the logic to arrive at that outcome you can use that logic and arrive at the correct outcome even if the numbers change. Well, when I write by hand I get to “show the work”. It’s why I use pen and ink. I don’t mind striking through to indicate changing a word, or using a notation to insert one, or making notations in the margins to rearrange the order of a sentence or paragraph. It should be messy. Messy is the work. Sometimes, I even encourage or yell at myself in the margins (“This is crap! Fix it!”). But, in all of this I get to show the work. It is the essence of the shitty first draft. So that, when I actually go to polish and publish, I have a hard copy of the logic that led me there. Because if I can take this piece of crap and show the work it took to make it worth someone else’s precious time, I have the formula to do it again and again even if the words change. Just like math.
- Writing by hand on paper gives me flexibility and freedom. I can write in straight lines or sideways, diagonal or upside down. I can use any color I want. I can use pencils or pens or crayons or charcoal. I can make doodles and drawings in the middle of a sentence. I can scribble in the margins and scratch the whole thing out. Then, I can fold it up into a paper airplane and sail it across the room or crumple it up and go for a three-pointer into my wastebasket. There is not a single software program that allows us the sort of freedom and flexibility paper affords.
- I find it pleasurable. Writing with a good pen on nice paper fills me with a certain joy. It excites me and puts a smile on my face. I don’t know the exact reasons why, nor do they matter. What matters is that I am happier writing by hand than I have ever been using a digital tool.