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Writing Life: Why Notebooks Rule

I’m an unlikely convert to the whole notebook craze. I love my computers, and I love all my tools to keep my writing organized on the computer. Notebooks are messy. Notebooks fill up. You can lose a notebook. I have around eight or nine full notebooks already, and nowhere to put them. Why bother writing on paper when you have all your writing, indexed, searchable, on the computer? Why do I use notebooks for my writing?


I get distracted on a computer. If I need to get in the zone with some heavy-duty editing or writing, I pull out a notebook or print out a manuscript to mark up. All the good things that computers can do lure me away from the empty page, and before I know it I’ve wasted hours. I love notebooks for their simplicity: it just feels better to sit down and open a notebook to a blank page. I don’t know many feelings that are more satisfying than that.

Plus, with all of my work being computer-based, I’m all too likely to wander from a morning writing time into my Outlook and my FTP and web design support requests, and then it’s all over. Who wants to work at 7 in the morning? (Not to mention that with a good 8+ hours of screen time already, my eyes definitely don’t need more of that). When I write, my phone is far away and my computer lid is shut, unless I’m playing some soft music. It just works better that way.


Believe it or not, using your hand to form letters, words, and sentences embeds the information into your brain more directly. Keyboards are an abstraction: we type on them and create a document elsewhere. Writing is direct, hard-wired: our hands are actually bringing shape to our thoughts. I find that an incredibly cool thought.

Writing by hand also prods me get to my thoughts more effectively. No science to back it up, but I feel better able to get my thoughts out when I have a pen in my hands. Your mileage may vary, but I’ll often switch to a notebook if I’m blocked on a computer screen for a blog post or an assignment.

Editing — but also no editing

Notebooks win in both departments in my book. When I want to get my thoughts down, there’s nothing better than blue pen in my Moleskine without a backspace key. Without any way to take back what I’ve written, I push forward, and often get to the good stuff by just writing a lot of bad stuff. On the computer, I edit while I write, which drives me crazy and doesn’t make for cohesive, flowing writing.

When I do need to edit something, especially something short like a poem, I much prefer my notebook. Having two drafts side by side is quite valuable, and again, you get that tactile sensation that’s not there in a computer. Sometimes I page through my notebooks and find three, four, even five drafts of a poem in progress. It’s like a slow-motion animation.

Last-Minute Errors

If I have to submit something in print, I will always hand-write it to begin with, even if it’s a seven or eight page paper. Then, when I need to type the final version up, I always catch the typos and awkward phrasings that eluded me. Call it labor-intensive if you want, but there’s no better way to catch a mistake than to actually type the entire paper out. It forces you to be much more careful than just a basic read-through, and it was always my last line of defense for college essays.

Write Anywhere, Write Everywhere

My favorite notebook is the little 5.5″ Moleskine with a plain cover. It’s small enough that it fits in my back jeans pocket, and my shirt goes over it. It’s not visible, but it’s always there if I need to jot something down. Typing on my phone is abysmal, and I don’t always have my laptop with me. While I don’t have a specific common-place notebook, I do love to have a notebook in my back pocket…just in case. I find that when I have the tools to write always with me, I end up writing more often.

For me, writing is always a work-in-progress. I change the way I do things and I always feel like I don’t do enough of it. But notebooks boil writing down to its simplest ingredients, and at the core, that’s why I love them. While I did write this on a computer (yes, full disclosure: apparently I don’t practice what I preach), I’m looking forward to starting another fresh notebook soon!