Why I have started writing using pen and paper again

Writing is a totally different experience when you are working with pen and paper

Just when I thought that the art of writing (that is, using pen and paper) is gradually dying, I have suddenly started writing, just the way I used to do in my college days. Of course back in those days we didn’t have computers and laptops (yes, I am THAT old).

Anyway, writing is a totally different experience when you are working with pen and paper. There is a direct connection with what you are writing. There is a very soothing silence. You can be away from your PC or laptop. There are no distractions and there is no sudden urge to check out something.

A couple of months ago I was reading “Hamlet’s BlackBerry” (or another book, I cannot recall but the genre was similar) and at a particular point the author talks about how the typewriter changed writing forever. Many writers complained that the “connection” was no longer there. And that was when they had no computers.

For a few years I have been reading digital books — first on my Android tab, and these days on my Kindle reader. So when I read War and Peace, consciously and visually, I had no idea what a thick book it is. My wife’s nephew is staying with us and I saw the book in his hands. It’s not that I haven’t seen thicker books, it just came to my mind, how could people like Tolstoy write such great works when they didn’t even have proper pens, leave alone typewriters and wordprocessors? How could they write so much? How did they edit and rewrote? How did they manage so many loose sheets, or even notebooks? Just imagine, one of such writers writing relentlessly at his or her desk, under the light of a solitary candle, in Europe, while the icy winter winds ravaged the dark alleys.

These days we move around words, sentences, paragraphs, and even entire chapters with quick CTRL+X, CTRL+V without even blinking an eyelid. We even have dedicated software applications for writing books and novels. Using tools like Google Docs you can access your documents from anywhere (provided you have net connection) and start writing with any device that allows you to write. You can do an unparalleled amount of research on the Internet and dump tons of information into Evernote, in different “Notebooks”, properly tagged, and then retrieve particular bits of that information in milliseconds. If you don’t want to use Evernote, you can save complete webpages using Pocket, stripped of navigation links and other distractions. Cool, isn’t it?

Socrates was worried when the art of writing was just being introduced. Instead of memorizing, if you write things down, he lamented, your thinking power is reduced. He said that having an ability to record knowledge doesn’t make you knowledgeable. In fact, the more you store knowledge, the less of it you have.

This is debatable, especially when we are moving towards a stage when microchips containing vast amounts of information will be embedded into our brains and we won’t have to depend on other tools to access that information (we may have biological search engines).

Anyway, I’m digressing. Why I mentioned Tolstoy, and then Socrates, was to stress upon the point that just as having access to vast amounts of information doesn’t make us knowledgeable (although it may make us smarter and more efficient), having state-of-the-art writing tools doesn’t make us churn out classics like War and Peace. If such were the case, all you had to do was spend some bucks on Scrivener and write all the way to your literary immortality. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen that way.

In order to connect with my writing I needed to disconnect. I was doing fine, my clients were happy with the content I was writing for them, but there was something missing. The writing had a feel of aloofness..

Absentmindedly I dug out a dilapidated notebook and started writing, my computer monitor switched off. I could feel the connection immediately. I felt like I was back in my old world where I’m alone with my words. The sentences grew shorter and more personal. My writing was crisper. I was actually communicating rather than simply expressing ideas, no matter how convincingly. Even my clients felt the difference.

Of course initially it was difficult. I was writing using pen and paper after, maybe 20 years (I mean, really writing, not just scribbling telephone numbers, names and addresses). So the fingers, would grow stiff, n would turn into m or m would turn into something totally else, and I almost gave up. It was too much of an investment in terms of time and effort, especially when so much needed to be done and assignments needed to be turned in on the committed time.

But something kept me going and after a week’s effort, I was writing just the way I used to.

While praising my writing using pen and paper I’m not denying the importance of wordprocessors and associated technology — after all I earn my living using technology. I don’t totally agree with Socrates — writing has completely revolutionized the world. Besides, while the old chap was whining about whether writing should be encouraged or not, the 4 Hindu Vedas had already been written and widely circulated. So writing was old news in these parts by then.

I still use my computer to write lengthy texts and eventually, whatever I write using pen and paper, it needs to be transferred to the computer (for instance I first wrote this Medium post in my notebook and now I am typing it out).

It may work for you, or it may not work, but if you feel that the interminable distractions of a highly connected world are stultifying your writing, pickup a notebook, buy a good pen (this is important), and start writing. You will be amazed to discover how much more you are writing — doing the actual writing.

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