Why writing in a notebook still matters

Notebook Collection
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"Notebook collection" from flickr user Dvortygirl
“Notebook collection” from flickr user Dvortygirl

Recently, I wrote about how I’m adopting a morning pages writing routine. So far, it’s working out well. I’ve used my morning pages to come up with ideas for writing projects, and at times it’s served as a “brain dump.”

My morning pages time is as low-fi as possible for it to succeed. I never use the computer for this type of writing, and that’s not just because of the distractions on the internet. It’s also because I prefer to do my most important writing in notebooks. I’ve written about this topic before (“Notebook Afflictions“), and it’s something very important to my writing process.

That’s why I was happy to find this quote from Mary Gordon in her essay “Putting Pen to Paper, but Not Just Any Pen to Just Any Paper.” She writes about why writing by hand is so important, and it’s because of its physicality:

Writing by hand is laborious, and that is why typewriters were invented. But I believe that the labor has virtue, because of its very physicality. For one thing it involves flesh, blood and the thingness of pen and paper, those anchors that remind us that, however thoroughly we lose ourselves in the vortex of our invention, we inhabit a corporeal world.

This idea of inhabiting “a corporeal world” strikes me. It’s something I still experience when I take the time to write in longhand. Although it’s a longer writing process, it’s quicker in the long-term because it sticks in my mind and stays there.

Funnily enough, I remember a piece of writing better if I wrote it by hand before typing it out. It’s a more intimate writing experience.

I feel the same way when I read a physical book and mark in the margins. It feels fuller, somehow. This is an experience that, as much as I’ve tried, can’t be replicated in a digital space (yet).

As I’ve said before, this is why balancing your productive life between digital and physical spaces is so important: it helps you inhabit that “corporeal world” more fully.

What do you think? Can we ever get to a point where digital technology replicates the physical space of writing with pen and paper? Can it ever match that feeling of physicality when writing longhand?

(Thanks to Maria Popova’s Brainpickings for the quote: Mary Gordon on the Joy of Notebooks and Writing by Hand as a Creative Catalyst)

Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also check out his professional website, KevinThomasEagan.com.