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paperandpen.jpgPaper. The analog method. Call it what you will. In this age of digital, using something as 20th century as pen and paper sounds like a very strange thing to do.

It doesn’t matter if you use a tablet, a pocket notebook, the other side of some printed paper, or the back of an envelope. Paper can be more than just a quaint way of going old school. It can be a useful and powerful tool.

Why use paper?

I’m definitely not harking back to the days when William Faulkner wrote his manuscripts with a pen on a legal pad. Instead, I’m advocating the use of paper for other tasks, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The goal these days seems to be to go paperless. So you’re probably asking why paper, and not … well, something digital. A few reasons:

  • No matter how hard we try, we’re not always online or have our computers turned on
  • There are situations — when riding transit, for example — when we can’t just whip out laptop, tablet, or smartphone
  • Sometimes you just can’t be bothered turning on a computer or electronic device

There are times when the keyboard is a source of stress when I’m trying work. When I have distractions pummeling me, it’s like the keyboard is taunting me and I don’t have a good comeback for those taunts. That’s when paper becomes a sanity saver.

And as someone told me, when the power goes down pen and paper stay up.

Using paper effectively

Doing that isn’t as simple as pulling out a notepad and moving a pen across it. As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, there are certain tasks that I recommend using paper for. With some of them, going the analog route can be more effective than using software or a Web app.

Like what? Jotting down quick notes, ideas, and quotes. I do that a lot. In fact, half of my notebook is filled with little snippets like that.

If you write for a living, dragging yourself away from the computer is a great way to focus on building an outline or even scribbling out that first draft that’s been giving you trouble. Regardless of what my instructors in journalism school told me contrary, going this route actually helps me write faster.

Paper is great for brainstorming. Better, I think, than mind mapping software. Using paper and pen allows you to be a lot more spontaneous and gives you opportunities to immediately explore a tangent.

No matter how you’re using paper, keep the old adage don’t think, do in mind. Let your pen flow over the paper. Don’t worry about mistakes or whether or not what you’re putting down is any good. You can edit and excise later.

The drawbacks of paper

Yes, there are a few. The biggest one is the what does that say? problem. No matter how neat your handwriting is, if you’re writing quickly then sometimes your nice flowing handwriting becomes a hard-to-decipher scrawl. If your handwriting is anything like mine, then this is a problem at the best of times!

If you want to move what’s on paper to a digital repository like Evernote or Google Docs, it’s going to eat up a bit more of your time. You’ve got to spend more than a few minutes typing up what you’ve handwritten. This can drag on you if you’re facing a deadline.

Of course, running out of ink and of empty pages is a constant danger …

Still, I believe that the advantages of using paper really outweigh the drawbacks. Paper is portable and flexible. And it’s easy to use.

Do you use paper? If so, how? Feel free to share your experiences by leaving a comment.

Photo Credit: pyth0ns

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  • http://twitter.com/IntrepidSuccess Mark Coren

    I am a proud paper lover and user! When it comes time to capture ideas, sitting in front of the keyboard just doesn’t do much for me. I have an editing style that lends itself the wonderfully static nature of paper, so I always keep some handy. Almost every one of the blog and article ideas that I’ve had ends up on white index cards, in a fun little box I carry, ready to be sprung to life at a moment’s notice.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid user and advocate of eTextbooks, print on demand publishing, Evernote and GoogleDocs. Sometimes, though, the physical experience of writing it down on paper is as important to the end result as the words that I share.

  • Gregg Costanzo

    No need to rewrite notes for Evernote. Just scan it. Your handwriting becomes searchable!