The Art of Writing (Analog vs Digital)

Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin on writing--totally unrelated to this post, but thought I'd share it.
Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin on writing--totally unrelated to this post, but thought I'd share the chuckles.

The art of writing. A beautiful and ancient art which has been one of the most important technologies in modern society. The ability for information to become transcribed and shared with the masses has transformed society from being a verbal one into a written one. Information-sharing aside, it is also one of the most sacred ways in which an individual can shield him or herself from the outside world and meditate on his or her thoughts alone—in peace.

I have started to write more regularly since graduating and one question has bothered me for quite a while: is it better to write on a computer or on a pen-and-pad?

Before I continue to write, I am going to put this into stone. Neither are better. They both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Writing on the computer definitely has many advantages. On a computer, one is able to type quickly and efficiently, which can be easily posted to a blog or site in mere seconds. Convenience is definitely the key word here. Furthermore, I have noticed that I am able to type as quickly (if not quicker) than I can think—which allows for an easy stream of consciousness to flow into my digital text.

Then comes along writing on a paper-and-pad. Old, boring, out-of-fashion, passé. I am sure there are still many writers out there who prefer to write primarily on paper, but new and more “hip” online writing platforms are much more attractive such as WordPress, Blogger, and the new Tumblr.

Being a “digital native,” I have always wondered why people would spend the extra time to write on a pen and pad which I viewed as “slow and inefficient.” One of my rationales was, “If you are going to write something on paper, you will probably have to re-type it up on the computer anyways. Might as well cut out that unnecessary step, and just type everything up on the computer in the first place.”

Cindy first encouraged me to write on paper regularly, in the form of a journal. She purchased me a journal (one of my favorite presents of all time—thanks Cindy!) and encouraged me to write in it daily. Cindy has always been an avid journaler, and highly recommended me the practice.

At first I was a bit hesitant. Several times in my life I have vowed to keep a consistent journal, but never wrote any entries after the 3rd or 4th day. I know that if I go back home, I can find mounds of dusty old journals that were eager for me to write in, but were left neglected. However around the time that Cindy got me the journal, I began a writing class at UCLA in which we were mandated to keep a daily journal. We were told that we could write anything we wanted and how much ever we wanted, as long as it was consistent. Having this requirement was the first impetus that got me to start writing consistently. However over time, I began to enjoy the practice, and I can proudly say that I have almost filled up this journal full of text (I originally wrote this blog entry into my journal, and now I am typing it up to share with you guys all online).

There is something magical about writing in a paper-bound notebook which I cannot quite put into words. The feeling of my pen gliding across the page, feeling the subtle yet firm texture of the paper. Every once in a while my hand cramps up because I am still much more accustomed to typing on the computer than writing for long periods of times. (Pauses to massage hands).

I feel that the biggest advantage of writing on paper rather than typing on the computer is that there are much fewer distractions. Sure when you’re writing on paper, you might have an annoying roommate bothering you or some noises from outside, but you won’t have a blinking Gmail icon, blogs, or sites nagging for your attention. As I am writing this, my two dual-screen monitors sitting on my table are turned off, and they look a bit lonely. It is as they are begging me, “Come on Eric—turn me on. Just for a minute. It will just take a second, I swear.” I ignore their little pleas of attention and go back to my writing.

I look at my handwriting and although it is scrawled and barely legible, it has character. My character. A piece of myself which is transmitted onto the page. It has soul, character. Each character looks different. Sure, there are some of my own words that I cannot make out quite clearly, but merely studying the gestures of my strokes can make illegible words legible.

I can hear the etching sounds of my pen’s fine metal tip scratching against the paper. In the background, I can hear the crickets chirping outside and the sound of an occasional car passing by. I feel part of the “real world,” rather than the “false” online one.

Sure the irony is that after I am done with this, I will type it up and post it to my WordPress blog for all to see (what I am doing right now). A bit contradictory huh, that I am advocating for more analog means of writing while showing the negatives of writing digitally?

Not quite.

Although I am advocating for the practice of writing one’s thoughts down into text, the online blogosphere is a wonderful place to read the original ideas of others and build a support system of friends and acquaintances. The advent of the internet has democratized information which allows anybody to share his or her thoughts with the rest of the world. You could potentially have your ideas broadcasted to millions of viewers, without having to publish in a popular newspaper or magazine. Now with a few clicks and a bit of patience, anybody could become a popular and well-read writer.

Therefore I advocate you to try the practice of not only regularly writing, but doing it in a paper-back journal. There is nothing else in the world quite like it.

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6 thoughts on “The Art of Writing (Analog vs Digital)”

  1. Hey Eric! Will your talents never end? !! I didn’t know you liked to write too. OK to weigh in on this matter… I have done both… paper journals for so many years (from the time I was about 12 to about when I started writing professionally at about 23) and then kept a blog (started in 2005)… I think there are advantages of both. I kinda like looking over my old journals, to see how childish my handwriting was :-)… and the “angst” was somehow more easily communicated in my scrawls as well. Plus, there is the worry that will all digital media “really” be archived? Will future generations lose the records we are keeping now?

    I’m gonna add you to my blog roll. I just started blogging again after a long lapse, distracted as I was by social media. 🙂

    1. Haha oh shucks. Writing is something I am passionate about, but definitely something that could use a lot of work. Interesting to also hear your feedback regarding digital vs writing on a pen and pad. And also great point about the future. If one day the internet were to “crash”–we would lose everything.

  2. Great post, Eric. I totally need to interview you for my diss. I talk to the people I interview a lot about their method of composing, and it is something I think about that. Research has shown that people retain information better if they take handwritten notes instead of typing them. And that they score higher on tests.

    But I am really interested in the aesthetics of writing, the part of our attraction to material writing objects that has to do with the sensations they produce.

    Another benefit of the method you suggest is that writing ideas out and then typing them ensures that you are revising your ideas at least once.

    I stopped handwriting most things a few years back (I love to ask my participants about their memories of switching to composing solely on the computer, which almost all of subjects have done), but when I think about outlining or writing a first draft, I think about clearing space, pulling out a pad, and handwriting. I absolutely love your point about how composing on paper allows you to free yourself of the I-way.

  3. The important thing is to write, and to do that effectively requires reflection and openness. I may not even be aware of what the contents of my writing are likely to be. In that regard their is a certain element of mystery in the process of writing. I sit and I think, and somewhere out of the blackness words start to form, to percolate to the surface of my conscious mind. I write them down, and now they are visible, and able to be mirrored back for further reflection until more words come to the fore. In one sense it is Narcissistic – I gaze into a pool and I myself gaze back.

    There needs to be a desire to penetrate beyond the surface though, to somehow mine something that is hidden and deeper than reflection’s surface. What is it? I don’t know, but that not knowing provides a compelling anchor to be used by my pearl diving psychonaut to descend. The risk of course is that I won’t have enough psychic breath to find a pearl and bring it back with me to the surface, or that upon reaching the surface what I perceived of as a pearl from the altered perspective is really nothing but flotsam and jetsam.

    There is another element to writing which is often given short shift, and it is the aesthetic. Writing has a phonetic aspect, and its own rhythm and flow. It is a music – or it can be at its best. That is what is so appealing about poetic form. In prose the quality that has greatest appeal is the ability to paint with it to create a verisimilitude that evokes a sense of authenticity and empathy between the writing and the reader. Prose is a stream in motion, a narrative, a motion picture. There are, however, inviting gaps that allow the reader to project himself into the story and the characters via the imagination. The writer provides the lines, and the reader fills them in creatively with his own experiences of life. The author may take the reader into spaces that he has not explored, and this can be a very creative space for the imagination. Good writing engages the reader: It has hooks that pull the reader into the narrative. The characters and the story have to resonate as meaningful. The emotions invoked have to be powerful, nuanced and coherent with the reader’s experience of what is real to anchor the reader in the character’s conundrums.
    The world may be alien or familiar, but it is the connection that I feel to the human quality of the character that is compelling. If I read Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, I am somehow able to relate to a character who has become an insect, and it is not because becoming an insect is something I can have any experience of. On the surface it is bizarre and alien, but in fact the sense of alienation – of being or becoming so different as to resemble being an insect may not be so bizarre as it first appears. Our fears of being discarded should the alien within ever manifest is something familiar. We construct socially acceptable masks to obscure that aspect of who we are, but in the case of Gregor, he has involuntarily awakened into that form. The consequences for Gregor are tragic, but what is just as interesting as Gregor’s journey into despair and death is the way in which his transformation has revealed qualities of his family and people in general. We learn something about being human, and what cruelties we can commit when we feel repulsed on an instinctive level – even to those to whom we regard as family and profess to love. And this is what good writing does – It reveals something to the reader which was obscure or unconsidered before, and which is recognized as important.

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