A tale of two modes: Paper versus digital

My beloved notebook and my even more beloved computer!
My beloved notebook and my even more beloved computer!

The irony was not lost on me.  As I downloaded Natalie Goldberg’s new book The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language I knew I was treading on sacred ground: you see (if you are not familiar with Natalie Goldberg, which you should be if you think you’re a writer) Natalie’s writing philosophy is deeply underpinned by the notion of the writing flowing from the heart, through the arm and out the pen as you move your hand across the paper.  Although she acknowledges the utility of the computer, and no doubt uses it herself, the paper clearly has the upper hand in the paper versus digital divide for writing practice.

Last week I changed offices again at the university.  Yes, my time chained to my desk toiling away at chairman-type duties has finally come to an end.  Few people understand the concept of peer governance in university departments: that’s when we all take a turn at being “in charge” and spend a year or two or three with all the responsibility and no authority.  I have done my duty now three times – one for a full three-year term and twice to fill in for year-long sabbaticals for others – and now return to doing what I do best and prefer.  That would be teaching and writing.  However, changing offices is not without its substantial benefits.

true secret of writing natalie goldbergThe requirement to take files out of cabinets and books off shelves gives one a moment to pause and consider whether or not one actually needs all that paper.  And that question refers equally to one’s creation as much as to one’s consumption.

First I’m thinking about my consumption – of books, documents, pamphlets (does anyone actually produce these things today?), newspaper clippings, print-outs of academic articles, notes, and the list goes on.  It’s only recently that I succumbed to the eBook mania and began downloading books on my IPad.  What I’ve discovered is that I actually read faster on the IPad – although I still love that feel of a real book in my hands.  Now, though, I can have a whole library in the space of one IPad.  Who can argue with that notion?

So, I’ve taken the view that anything on paper that needs to be kept should be digitalized and saved on a hard drive.  I’ve been doing this both at work and at home.  As I move ever closer to early retirement, and my husband and I move ever closer to right-sizing our living accommodation, we have purged all manner of paper – photos being the number one culprit.  Even all those old photos of our ancestors just after the advent of the widespread use of photography from the early 20th century.  Yup, all scanned and digitalized, and the paper products recycled.  It’s such a feeling of a burden of paper being lifted off our shoulders.  So those are some consumption thoughts.  What about creation?

I create a lot of paper.  All I have to do is open the bottom file drawer in my desk to see that I do love to keep paper copies of my writing.  I write on a computer and I print out everything.  And I do love my writing journals.  I won’t go on about them now – since I’ve done that before – but it does bear repeating that there is nothing quite like a new journal and a pen that glides smoothly over the pages.  If you can get that just right, you can be in writing heaven.  But my hand gets a cramp these days.

Does this mean that I’m confined to the computer forever?  As I’ve begun to read Natalie Goldberg’s book (on my IPad), I begin to get excited again about the possibilities of those ideas truly flowing from head to heart to hand in just that physical way.  I actually dug out one of my hard-backed journals and did some writing practice.  The ideas did flow – but the unfortunate result was a severe hand cramp.  So, I’m back at the computer this morning as I embark on two months of writing.

There was a tie when I’d do a ten-minute timed writing as Natalie suggests every morning before I stared what I considered to be my real writing.  To me that’s a bit like sitting meditation before beginning work: something I should do but often neglect.  Like my return to my daily meditation, perhaps writing practice on paper is something I should get back to.  My only question that still remains though is what to do with all that paper!

I have a list of half- and quarter-completed writing projects, and one that isn’t started but has to be finished by August 1 (only 1500 words for that one, so no problem).  So, pe or keyboard, I better get at it.

What are your thoughts on pen and paper for writing practice?

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4 Comments

    1. Thanks. And I know what you mean. For me the major distraction of the computer is my unrelenting need to stop and look things up as I write. This is what I should be leaving to the editing process so that I don’t interrupt the flow of ideas. I’ve just picked up Victoria Schmidt’s “Book in a Month” (Writer’s Digest Books) to see if I can’t get some inspiration to stop editing as I go – that’s what her book is focused on.
      Thanks again for stopping by! Cheers, P.

  1. I waffle between the two. I love the feeling of writing on paper, but I feel like I can get my thoughts out faster when I’m typing. At the same time, when I’m on the computer, there’s always the temptation to do other stuff instead of focusing on writing. I usually end up starting a writing project in my journal or notebook and transferring it to a Word document. Then I still go back and forth depending on how far away from the computer I am or whether or not I can focus. 😛

    1. I agree: the computer can be so distracting if we let it! On the other hand, it’s such a terrific resource when you need that perfect piece of background. For those of us who have been writing since pre-web days, I think overall the proximity to the distraction of rich information sources trumps the old days! But I too like my notebooks…so many notebooks, so little time!

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