Digital writing, or pen and paper?

Stephen Zeoli
3 min readMay 15, 2024
Ralph Fiennes from The English Patient

I recently got an email from Leuchtturm1917 that included a link to an article about how writing by hand activates more creative thinking in the brain. This is self-serving from a company that makes paper notebooks. Not that I doubt this; I’ve read this claim before, and it seems credible. The notion of writing with pen and paper has an allure that transcends this practical benefit. There’s a romance to a battered notebook filled with nuggets of wisdom — even the secrets of the Universe. Such a notebook features prominently in the film The English Patient, as well as countless other movies featuring adventurers.

And being at least partially a luddite, I would really like to eschew technology and find my voice on paper. But this simply doesn’t work for me. Writing with a keyboard into a text editor is so much more convenient. It is faster. And I am someone who likes to edit as I write, which just makes for a sloppy — maybe illegible — mess on paper.

So the fact of the matter is I won’t write nearly as much if I rely on pen and paper. And it is difficult to be creative if I’m not actually creating.

Note: For everyone who finds writing with pen and paper effective, I applaud you. I have no desire to convince you to move your writing process onto a computer. I’m just describing my own experience. You should keep doing what works for you.

There are other advantages to a digital notebook. I can search my writing for specific details. It is easier to actually publish my work. Details that make their way into my digital notebook, because writing is so much easier digitally, might not even find their way onto the paper. If I’m on the road and want to find a note from a few years ago, I’m out of luck unless I’ve brought my library of notebooks.

If I want to brainstorm, I use a digital outliner to capture all and any ideas. Then, it is easy to move items around until things make sense.

There are, of course, advantages to hand-writing beyond creative stimulation. Paper is pretty much hackproof, but a notebook can be lost, misplaced or stolen. And there is no backup.

A notebook is hard to beat when needing to capture a fleeting moment of inspiration or just any piece of information worth remembering. Notebooks are super portable, don’t rely on having a power source or a connection to the Internet.

That’s why I’ll always have a stack of notebooks and a mug of pens. (Of course, I don’t need a whole stack, one will do, but it’s that romance of writing in a notebook thing again.) But the creative process works best for me when my fingers are attacking a keyboard.

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