The Power of Pen & Paper

Look how far we’ve come. From typewriters to desktops to laptops to netbooks to iPads to smart phones; seems as though you can write on virtually any device today. Yet, I sometimes prefer the old standby—pen & paper. There is something powerful about the simplicity of writing with pen & paper.

Such a simple medium. No keys. No incessant tapping. No delete, backspace, spellcheck or undo buttons. Instead, a pen, the ultimate writing instrument, glides across the page freeing your mind to, well, speak its mind. Loopy cursive handwriting brings into perfect synchronization the idea and the instrument. And when your idea stalls? No problem, you keep your engine running by doodling in the margin until you’re ready to assemble your next sentence or pound out the next paragraph.

While laptops, netbooks and iPads are easy to tote with you, what is more portable than pen & paper? Some of my favorite articles were written on a legal pad under a shade tree by a bay, down at the beach or overlooking a valley. And nothing stimulates the imagination like the aura of the outdoors. Grab a pen, any pen, and paper, any paper, and let your mind loose. Admit it, some of your best article ideas were scrawled across a bank deposit slip, a grocery store receipt, on the back of an envelope or on the proverbial napkin. Pen & paper; it’s part of a writer’s DNA. (I think Steven Jobs understood this. After all, isn’t the iPad in all likelihood loosely named after, well, a pad of paper? Sure, some will argue it’s more likely named after a “touch pad.” Yet, you can flip the pages of an iPad like a pad of paper, right? And isn’t a pad of paper also called a tablet? Is this a stretch? Maybe. I’ll leave it for you to mull over.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love new technology and I own the most current laptop, desktop, software and iPhone. And all are central to my daily life. I’d be lost without the efficiency of electronic communication, but I still contend that there’s something “pure” about a writer with pen & paper.

With these iconic tools of the trade there are no rules or restrictions. Go ahead, doodle outside the lines when you can’t find the right words, jot in the margins, and scribble notes to yourself. There is a freedom pen & paper bring. Can’t think of your opening line? Okay, start coloring and wait, it will come. Ever notice how you naturally give your pen permission to scrawl all over an entire page without any inhibition, reservation or regret? Sometimes the blank page of my laptop is a little more intimidating.

Yes, there’s a mysterious power in writing a first draft with pen & paper. It magically rekindles and reinforces the artistry of being a writer.


The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement. Blog entries are posted once a week on Thursday.

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Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 7:38 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] The Power of Pen & Paper ( […]

  2. Too funny! I brainstorm on paper, but do the bulk of my writing on keyboard as I type faster than I write. When doing actualy writing, I get frustrated when I try to do it on paper as my thoughts don’t want to wait for my hand. And I seem to think better through the keyboard, if that makes sense. And I often send myself brainstorm ideas via my iphone. Yep, I’m a technology-junkie!

    Some of my friends use those speech to text software programs to speak their story into a document, but I could never do that. Or at least, not without some getting used to. But it is good to know that option is there if my eyesight ever goes or I get corporal tunnel or arthritic fingers. I also have friends who load their manuscript on Kindle then use the read-aloud option to catch errors.

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  4. I use a pen and spiral notebook to get my words on paper. Typing into the computer is the first revision for me. I agree with everything you’ve said, but I’m amazed at the people who look at me with derision when I say I write on paper.

    • Cynthia,

      Thanks for your comments. I use a nice mix of pen and paper and the latest technology. While I love technology, I also enjoy the romance of pen and paper, especially when roughing out an idea. Thanks for writing.


  5. Jim,
    You definitely reflect your generation. But I wonder — with cursive no longer being taught in a majority of schools, will the pen and pad go the way of the typewriter? Printing an idea, one letter at a time, takes from the romance of writing (in my view).
    Then again, 20 years from now, when you and I are in the rest home, some young writer will blog — “the new technology that simply lets me speak my words to paper can’t compare to the good old laptop.”
    Nothing is quite a comfortable as the medium we launched our careers on. For you and me, it was paper and pen. But we are dinosaurs. When is the last time you saw a teenager at Starbucks with a “pen and paper”? Our reservation at the Smithsonian is quite secure.

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