It should go without saying that I am writing these words with a pen on paper. (The first draft at least.) But why? In a world where you have so many other options, from the phone in your pocket to your laptop, how is this old-fashioned way of expressing thought even relevant, let alone useful? To say you prefer pen and paper risks trapping yourself in a punchline along with those who need the feel of an actual book in their hands to read, swear by vinyl, or are loyalist to film cameras. I even remember a few years ago there was a program you could buy that would make the squelching and static noises of dial-up Internet whenever you decided to connect.
Not to say that these things don’t have value. (Except, of course, the dial-up thing, which is objectively just dumb.) They are all worthy approximations of their contemporary equivalents. However, writing in a notebook, in the most important ways, is completely different from on a device. And because it is different, it can be in addition, a complement, rather than contrary or a choice.
Both a kindle and a bound book want you to read. Both a bluetooth speaker and a turntable want you to listen to music. And a camera, whether digital or analogue, wants you to capture images. A pen wants you to write. A blank page wants you to fill it. A device? Well, it could want anything from scrolling endless Facebook feeds to watching NBA highlights to checking that bad investment you made in Bitcoin again.
Because the focus of a pen to paper is exclusively on conveying thought, it clarifies the work. Writing in a journal is like having a good conversation with a friend in a quiet place. Writing on a device can be like arriving at a banging houseparty where two different sound systems are competing for the dance floor and you have to ask person after person where your friend is, before finally finding him locked in the upstairs bathroom, too drunk to make sense.
The friend in both of those situations, of course, is yourself.
As throw-away corny as that sounds, isn’t that ultimately what we seek whenever we write anything more substantial than a shopping list? (And even those sometimes.) Whether it’s a poem, a song, a diary entry, or a business idea, what we’re trying to figure out is what we think, what we believe. And if there is a component to what we are that is bigger than what we believe, I don’t know it.
Writing the old fashioned way can be inefficient and slow, but it cloisters off that conversation. The blank page is a patient listener, never interrupting with its own views, its hot takes, its advice. It is simply waiting, giving you the space you need to work it out. They say that the best conversations come with people who ask questions.
That’s all a page and a pen do.
-Written by Tim Lane