On writing

For a variety of reasons which are far too boring to explain, I’m currently writing blog posts on paper. I wouldn’t mention that unless the point was central to the topic of this post, as it is essentially transparent to the reader – the fact that you can actually read this means that I’ve electronically transcribed it by now.

Anyway… here’s what I’m thinking as the process continues:


  • writing, eh. Pen and paper. Takes me back a bit. I mean, I make notes and stuff, but it’s ages since I’ve written long passages on paper.
  • my handwriting got really bad in the last 10 years
  • I can type much faster. This will take me 3 times as long, as I guess I’m about 1.5 to 2x faster at typing, and typing up what I’ve written whilst trying to decipher what I wrote will take 1 to 1.5x longer than typing it direct in the first place.
  • this biro is rubbish
  • how did people cope? My ideas and sentences all arrive out-of-order. I like to be able to rearrange bullet points and paragraphs. Where would I be today without being able to insert and correct words, sentences and paragraphs? Cut-and-paste is marvellous. Ah, this must be what it would be like to use a pre-3.0 iPhone as my regular computer…
  • hyperlinks. A conceptually simple and incredibly powerful concept. I guess that’s why they stuck.
  • I used to do my university essays by making notes by hand; creating an electronic mindmap to organise ideas and sections; and then type the essay. Overkill for blogging, and I remember how hard it was to churn out 3 12 page essays by hand in each of the exams without the weekly writing practice.
  • OK. End of page and rubbish biro. That’s all for this “post”, then.

9 thoughts on “On writing”

  1. I know, I KNOW! I never kept an actual paper diary or journal and I’m trying to keep a dead-tree journal now.

    But it’s so HARD.

    And my blog is so much prettier. With pictures and stuff.

    Yet, I’m quite enjoying using a real day-planner (in pencil, not pen) in addition to my Notes email and calendar. For the second year in a row. There’s something satisfying about recording one’s days on a piece of paper.

    Go figure. 🙂

  2. I find now that writing makes my hand hurt really badly after just a few sentences. I think I’m gripping the pen too hard. Basically I’m out of practice and… I’m forgetting how to write. This is not good! 😉

  3. To me, it would have been most fascinating to learn your reasons for blogging initially on paper. My writing is more soulful when I hand-write compared with when I type, and yet I type-write my blog entries for efficiency’s sake…which sort of defeats the purpose of blogging, which, for me, is to parade my soul. If only sleep were unnecessary….

  4. Weirdly, I found myself in the same position recently (though for different reasons? I want to know why you’re doing this too!). The battery on my laptop had run out but I badly wanted to start writing something on the train on the way home before I forgot it.

    I completely agree with your observations here. It turns out that my thought structure has become entirely dependent on text editing. I can’t write anything significant without using copy and paste. Even note taking in a notebook is pretty hard. Committing to putting those words in that order, unless it’s really basic stuff or direct quotes, terrifies me.

    Even short stuff. I’ve already edited this comment extensively, moving sentences around, changing the start of sentences… it still flows (just about) but in a very different way to how I remember writing something on paper used to flow. Perhaps I’m keeping more of it on the page now, and less of it in my brain? Allowing the thoughts out half formed because it’s easy to correct them. Has my internal buffer shrunk through under-use? I expect it has. When I start a sentence, I certainly don’t seem to know how it’s going to end any more.

    The idea of taking my A-levels again, or finals at university, and writing with pen on paper, for hours at a time, would terrify me. Computers have definitely changed how I think.

  5. (And reading that back, I want to change the second use of “terrify” to something else. The first occurrence was the last tweek I made while reading the comment through and changing it for the nth time, and I had meant to take out the other one but forgot).

    If editing half sentences is just how we think now then perhaps hitting Submit (or Send) is the new ‘putting pen to paper’.

  6. Computers are good for some things, papers good for others.

    There’s a immediateness and freedom about paper that computers can’t match. There is no UI that has yet created in me the same feeling of potential, of expanse of intellectual freedom that a blank sheet of paper and a pen can. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, and I sit there, grinning, mad with power, but with nothing to put down.

    You can put a word anywhere at all on the paper.

    How easily you can make the word ‘flower’ look like a flower, or following the flowing lines freely, doodle your structures and graphs and faces. Your thoughts can come before, or after your writing.

    Your ideas aren’t restricted to going along the page, they can go up and down, you can add things parallel, sideways, backwards, reflected.

    The immutability of what you put down can be frightening, but it’s only as permanent as the paper its written on. There’s no need to feel that it is forever (this is unlike the web, which fools you into thinking you’re communicating ephemerally, when you aren’t at all).

    It’s an amazing instant-on, high-contrast, low appeal-to-thieves, cheap, pocketable, graphical medium.

    Typically, I prefer to plan my ideas on paper with a pen, or jot notes on academic papers actually on them with a pencil, ideas that come to me at random when walking around the world go in the pad with a real pen. When I’m following the plan, and constructing a large structure. That’s the time to use a computer.

    When you combine them, when it’s easy to photograph your crazy scrawl, move bits around, add other bits, have it automatically transcribed and searchable, then you might really have the best of both worlds. An infinite space rather than the one dimensional line of text that word processors give you.

  7. That’s perhaps the most passionate and endearing defense of paper I’ve seen. Kyb, you’ve made me feel silly for forgetting the immediacy and non-linearity of paper. You’ve made me want to start using it regularly again.

  8. Reading over the comments, as usual I’m delighted by the thoughtfulness of my readers.

    As for the whys and wherefores – I’ve been without / with limited access to a computer in the past couple of weeks due to vacation, and it’s just not practical to write stuff of this length on an iPhone.

    I agree with kyb of course – it’s possible to be extremely / supremely creative on paper. I guess writing a blog has trained me into thinking more in paragraphs and (allegedly) coherent and flowing thoughts.

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