Paper and ink versus laptops and word documents

Ornamental NotebookTravel journal

Open notebook with red ribbon

Which do you prefer, paper and ink versus laptops and word documents?

I have to admit, this is a hard one. There is nothing more I love more than beautiful stationary and pretty notebooks, and there’s something so tangible and intimate about handwritten notes. Until now, there is something personal and gracious about handwritten thank you notes and invitations that a Facebook message or an e-mail just doesn’t have, no matter how sophisticated and well-designed the template is.

Then there’s the old postcards and letters (wrapped up in lavender and tied with a silk ribbon, of course) and the old diaries. It’s lovely to think that once upon a time the person who wrote these entries had actually touched these pages, slipped little keepsakes between the leaves, the sense that these pages have retained a little of their essence, an imprint of their soul, if you like. It’s a bit of history that you just don’t get with a laptop.

And yet. Laptops have just so much convenience about them! Your Microsoft Word Documents will never get dusty or roach-infested, you can make endless copies, typing is so much quicker than writing (no more cramped hands or inky little fingers!) and, if your handwriting is anything like mine, so much more legible. Plus, it’s so much easier to edit or correct.

However there are times when I find myself returning to good old paper and ink, especially when it comes to brainstorming ideas for stories or blog posts. Somehow, writing things down the old-fashioned way really clears the mind and allows me to come up with ideas that I was stuck for while using a Word Document on a laptop.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in this. Studies have shown that writing things down have helped students better absorb information.  According to a WSJ article, handwriting can be shown to boost our cognitive skills and improve idea composition. There’s a sort of ‘the sky’s the limit’ feel about paper and pen that a laptop doesn’t invoke. As Austin Kleon wrote in his book, Steal Like an Artist, “there are too many opportunities to hit the delete key. The computer brings to the uptight perfectionist in us – we start editing ideas before we have them.” And once you hit delete, the words have vanished forever. Whereas with the indelible ink, we can only draw a line through our words, crumple up pieces of paper and toss them at the wastebasket. Who’s to say what would have happened if Stephen King had wrote the beginnings of Carrie as a short story on a laptop, then deleted those first few pages in disgust rather than tossing them into a wastebasket where his wife would later fish them out, read them and convinced him to turn it into a full-length novel that became his first published book and the beginning of a bestselling writing career?

I like to think I’ve managed a happy medium between laptops and notepads. I do most of my writing on laptops, but I also keep little journals in my bag or bedside so I can write down ideas whenever the muse seizes me. I have a notebook full of ideas and brainstorming sessions I keep by my laptop that I can refer to. Sometimes, I transcribe these handwritten notes on my laptop so that I can refer to them more easily (like I said, my handwriting can be pretty bad and sometimes it’s hard to refer to them). Other times, it’s nice to take a break from staring at the screen and just flip through the pages.

What do you prefer? Paper and ink or laptops?


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