Why You Should Write With a Notebook Instead of a Computer

No, I don’t mean notebook, as in laptop; I mean a stack of lined paper, held together with wire. I understand how the advancements in technology have given us amazing tools to make our writing more accurate and professional, but that concerns editing and finalizing. I’m referring to that first draft that you hammer out over a few days or weeks; the rough cut that no one but you will ever see. That is what you should write in a notebook, for a number of reasons.

First: No Page Numbers

We all know word counts and page numbers aren’t important when writing a new story; the point is to convey the plot and characters first, and worry about length later. However, it’s hard not to glance down and see the 1 of 1 page count on Microsoft Word and feel like you haven’t accomplished anything despite hours of work. Sure, there is probably a way to turn it off, as well as the word count, but it’s still too easy to scroll up and see your work mashed into a few tiny paragraphs. These statistics, while useful for final drafts, are murderous for first drafts. They make you self conscious and upset, pulling you out of the story. With a notebook there are no page numbers and the length is based on the size of your handwriting. I’ve often been surprised by how many pages I’ve written by the time I’m done. Not only that, but with a notebook you can literally feel how much work you’ve done. There is the slightest of indentations for each letter you’ve written and running a hand across the paper can be surprisingly satisfying, even if you only wrote two pages.

Second: No Deleting

When writing on a computer, there is a strong desire to edit as you go. It’s just so easy to look up the definition of a word, or correct a spelling mistake or delete something you don’t like. But when writing a new story, momentum is key. Doing these little edits will quickly drag your story to a halt. With a notebook, you can’t look words up, or fix spelling mistakes or delete words, and this is a good thing. You’re forced to say ‘I’ll have to check this later’ and then you just continue with the story. It’s the best way to ignore the nit-picky stuff early on and focus on the writing. I also want to mention here that you should always use an ink pen of some kind; something that cannot be erased. You never know when something you wrote is going to be needed, and ink lasts longer than pencil. So, invest in some ballpoint pens.

Five Star Composition Book, 100-Count, College Ruled, Teal (72255)
Five Star Composition Book, 100-Count, College Ruled, Teal (72255)

Notebooks come in a variety of qualities and it really comes down to personal preference. Personally I love the basics; two pieces of cardboard and a stack of paper fastened together.

 
BIC Round Stic Xtra Life Ball Pen, Medium Point (1.0 mm), Black, 60-Count
BIC Round Stic Xtra Life Ball Pen, Medium Point (1.0 mm), Black, 60-Count

You're going to go through pens fast, so it's a good idea to buy in bulk.

 
The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary: Fourth Edition
The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary: Fourth Edition

It's surprisingly satisfying to look words up in a physical dictionary.

 

Third: No Distractions

Unless your computer is disconnected from the internet, then you probably have a great deal of distractions just waiting to steal away your writing time. Maybe it’s Facebook, or a new video game, but nothing on your computer wants to help you be more productive. Your notebook is offline and wireless, so make use of it. It may also be a good idea to change your writing location. You may not technically be on your computer, but if it’s sitting right next to you with that inviting glow, then it is still a distraction. I can’t promise that phones and family members won’t demand your attention, but the more you can minimize interruptions, the better off your story will be.

Fourth: Easier To Write Notes and Sketches

I know what you’re thinking; Microsoft word has a comment feature which allows for more room than the margins of a piece of lined paper. And, if you’re tech savvy, I’m sure there is some sort of drawing program you can use for sketches. But do you really want to go through that trouble when it’s considerably faster to draw/write in the margins of a notebook? Remember, we’re talking about story momentum here, so in the time it takes you to launch your drawing program, or write up your elaborate comment, you could have written a shorter, more direct comment, or drawn an entire sketch with your pen. These allow you to hammer out quick story elements, characters and objects and then jump right back into the story. The notebook centralizes all of your writing work. Whereas, entering your drawing program may remind you of that other project you should be doing, and then you’re suddenly not writing anymore.

Fifth: More Refined Writing

Writing in a notebook is messy. After all your notes and scribbled words, it is definitely not something you want to show anybody. So, how could it be more refined? The reason is because you have to put it onto a computer eventually. The way that submissions and edits work, it’s silly to think you could use anything but a computer. But remember I said that the notebook is better for the first draft, not any other draft (except selective re-writes). So if you’re the kind of person who hates editing, the act of transferring the writing from the notebook to the computer allows you to refine it as you go. You might make a correction here or incorporate a comment there. The end result of which is a more refined story than your original draft, which will inevitably help you in the long run. You might make the argument that these edits would have been made on a digital version, but if your comments and errors are digital, it’s much easier to forget about them and submit a poorly edited manuscript. Not to mention, a perfectly good story might never have gotten off the ground because you were on Facebook.

I love the environment, and I’m totally for email and hand driers and anything else that conserves paper, but as a writer, I see how destructive the computer can be to that initial process. Maybe you can compensate for certain things; removing the page numbers, enlarging the text, disconnecting the internet. But in my experience, it creates a sense of freedom when using a notebook over a computer. If you haven’t done it in a while, I recommend giving it a try. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy writing again.

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Comments 30 comments

VeronicaFarkas profile image

VeronicaFarkas 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

Very good points! As a writer, I try to use paper and a pencil as much as possible, but sometimes get lazy and resort to the other form of laptop. This has inspired to go back to the basics. Thanks!


emichael profile image

emichael 5 years ago from New Orleans

Very good thoughts. I agree completely. The only problem that I run in to using a notebook is that a lot of times my thoughts are going so fast that I can't write fast enough. Sometimes this in itself is hindering to the momentum of the story. So a lot of times I find I'm torn between wanting to write by hand and wanting to type quickly.

So if I'm working on a project of considerable length and already have a solid idea of where the story is going, I prefer computer so that I can move quickly. But if I'm drafting a new story, notebook is definitely better.

All of that to say...good hub :)

Voted up.


Brupie profile image

Brupie 5 years ago

Distractions are definitely the number one issue for my computer writing, but I have found a few ways to mitigate some of the problems you've mentioned: Any time I'm drifting into distraction or deletion is imminent, I just hit "Save as". I might wind up with "Hub1.doc", "Hub2.doc", "Hub3.doc" ... "Hub7.doc", but I know I won't lose much.

I don't worry about losing momentum. I'm not the fastest typist, but I type faster than I can write.

I confess, I am a chronic simultaneous editor, but I revel in the correction of a formerly choppy and shapeless text fixed with my good friends cut and paste.

Thanks for the Hub. You've pointed out some hazards, but for now I'm sticking to my computer.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz

all fantastic reasons. I would probably balance between the two. e.g. hand-writing a chapter, then transferring it to the pc for editing. I do feel more secure knowing I have backup copies of my manuscript on the pc or online. But there is something about holding a pen in ones hand that seems to resonate better with the creative juices of the mind.


GrowingDeeper profile image

GrowingDeeper 5 years ago

I love the idea and even methodology of using pen and paper. I have hundreds of scribbles notes for various thoughts. I have returned to an elementary school idea of using 3x5 cards. But, I still end up using the other "notebook" more often than anything else. It just becomes habitual. Even writing hubs, I seem to be more focused when writing in the editor as opposed to in Word. I frustrate me! :)


Sunny2o0o profile image

Sunny2o0o 5 years ago from USA

I understand your points, but efficiency-wise, I"m still going to stick to the computer. Unless you spend a lot of time procrastinating, the time to transpose to a computer will outweigh the time that you save. I also have semi-illegible handwriting, so that factors in. I also enjoy have backups rather than only one copy, as would inevitably occur with a hand-written piece.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

I tend to write in longhhand first. I agree that the internet is a big distraction.

Rob


Rusty C. Adore profile image

Rusty C. Adore 5 years ago from Michigan

This speaks volumes to me. I always go to the computer when I want to write (you know, I just have an amazing idea that needs to come out) but then I notice that my Internet icon is RIGHT there and before you know it... I'm on Facebook... or my e-mail. It's just terrible. So now I keep a notebook by my bed. My moments of inspiration tend to come around 3 or 4 AM... weird. Great hub!


Skylar Spring profile image

Skylar Spring 5 years ago from New York

Very useful tips. I've never thought of it that way. I may start writing with a notebook more often.


BrantleyFoster profile image

BrantleyFoster 5 years ago from Southeastern United States

I find the fifth point hits home for me. It is often much more effective for me to edit as I transfer from my notebook to the computer.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

VeronicaFarkas - Don't feel lazy for using a computer. Honestly I find that the computer is the harder one to use because of the distractions. I think a balance of the two is what works best. Thanks for the comment!

emichael - I often have the same problem; when I'm really into a story my handwriting just can't keep up, which usually results in terrible chicken-scratch, spelling errors and notes in the margins. Sometimes I have to stop writing altogether and just jot down notes to get all the idea falling out of my head. Thanks for the comment!

Brupie - Saving multiple copies of any document is definitely a good idea. I have entire folders filled with separate files for just one story. Also, backing up those files is a good idea as well. My writing rituals aren't finished until I've saved all of my new work onto my flash drive. Thanks for the comment!

Parrster - A balance is certainly a good way to write. As I mentioned in the article, computers are much better for editing and revising something you've already written. I think one of the things I like most about writing with the notebook isn't necessarily holding the pen in my hand, but rather, holding the completed notebook. It's a great way to give your writing a physical weight and texture. Great stuff. Thanks for the comment!


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

GrowingDeeper - I agree, using a computer becomes a habit. For the longest time, I didn't even think that a notebook was an option. I used them in school, but rarely made the transition to personal work. Once I did go back to basics, I fell in love with it all over again. Thanks for the comment!

Sunny2o0o - I understand completely; for some people, the distractions of a computer aren't as prominent and they are able to write efficiently. I also enjoy having multiple copies of any given story, but I would make the argument that a handwritten story is safe from any sort of electrical malfunction. Though it's not safe from fire and water. ;) Thanks for the comment!

Robwrite - The internet is a big distraction, you're right, but I also find myself pulled away from my writing by art programs like Photoshop and DAZ Studio, as well as any new games I might have installed recently. So many things are working against productivity. It can be frustrating. Thanks for the comment!

Rusty - Inspiration does strike at weird times, but having that notebook handy is a great idea. I also noticed that home computers are more distracting than work/public computers. When you're limited in what you can do, it's easier to focus, but when you have all your stuff on hand, it's hard not to just drift off into zone-out land. Thanks for the comment!

Skylar Spring - I think I realized how much I liked writing in a notebook when I was without my laptop for an extended period of time. If you haven't given it a try yet, I highly recommend it; it really helps to narrow your focus to the story in question. Thanks for the comment!

BrantleyFoster - I agree completely. I find that when I sit down to edit something that's already typed up, I look at a problem and say 'that's good enough' or 'it would take to long to edit that. Where as when I'm transferring something from the notebook to the computer, I'm more likely to start the edit before even questioning whether I want to edit it or not. So it's a sneaky way to refine your story without the author even realizing it. ;) Thanks for the comment!


Chin chin profile image

Chin chin 5 years ago from Philippines

I really should write with a notebook. I got used to writing using the keyboard and the monitor. But it's been months since I've written a hub and the number one reason why is not really the lack of time but too many distractions. Thanks for writing this hub.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Chin chin - It's easy to fall into the routines of using a computer. Notebooks can even seem primitive by comparison, but if you find yourself getting distracted on the computer (like me) then I think the notebook could really help. Thanks for the comment!


silkwormy profile image

silkwormy 5 years ago from Manila, PH

"The notebook centralizes all of your writing work." - M.T. Dremer

This article gives me more reasons to write my first drafts on papers without the guilt. I find manual writing an eco-friendly duty because it lessens electric consumption at home. Also, instead of brand new notebooks, I reuse papers (with the other side blank). I still have to practice this faithfully.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

silkwormy - I didn't even think of notebooks being eco-friendly in that way. One just assumes that paper consumption equals dead trees, but it's a great idea to re-use paper that has blank sides. I remember, when I first started writing my novel I wrote it in the blank notebooks my ex-girlfriend had given me for note writing (the kind of notes you pass around in school). After the breakup I found a creative use for something I didn't need anymore. Also, later on, I noticed that I had a lot of leftover notebooks from school that had random blank pages sprinkled throughout, so I ripped them all out and compiled them in a 3-ring binder. There was actually a hefty amount of paper that wasn't being used! Thanks for the comment!


krazikat profile image

krazikat 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

I have been working on a novel that has reached 100,000 words - all in a notebook (a big, fat notebook) and now I am meshing my way through it and typing it out. This is also like an editing phase as well and getting it in electronic form...and the one thing I wouuld like to add is that if you are writing a large book, then you may want to frequently input your work into your computer so you are not fighting with it later! It is great to have just your pen and paper there waiting fo ryou when an urge to write comes on, instead of having to turn on the computer, wait for it to start up, open the program, etc. Great stuff!


silkwormy profile image

silkwormy 5 years ago from Manila, PH

Yes, yes, lots of papers way back school days..I can relate. Right, more papers more dead trees...so maximize its use. Thank you for your article.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

krazikat - That's really good advice. I also write out entire drafts in notebooks and the process of typing it up can be pretty daunting. So it's good practice to type parts here and there. The important thing to remember is not to overwork yourself, otherwise you run the risk of disliking what you're writing. Great advice and thanks for the comment!

silkwormy - Agreed, if the trees have already died we cannot let their remains go to waste. :)


A.CreativeThinker 5 years ago

Hi M. T. Dremer,

This is quite an interesting and informative hub.

Notebooks are very handy to have when you are brainstorming ideas and doing research. Everyone has their preferences but I think writing down on paper, before you write online, is a good idea. Both have their good points. I actually wrote a poem about notebooks, on one of my hubs. Thanks for sharing. :)

Regards,

A.CreativeThinker


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

A.CreativeThinker - Notebooks are great for notes and research; it's just so much quicker than booting up your computer and launching a writing program. Plus, like your poem points out, you can have a notebook anywhere and everywhere. Thanks for the comment!


SJmorningsun25 5 years ago

Great points! Reinforces my plan to handwrite my NaNoWriMo project this year. I love the speed of typing, but you're right--as-you-go editing is a huge downer. Thanks for sharing! Up, useful, and interesting.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

SJmorningsun25 - If you're writing a brand new novel for NaNoWriMo, then a notebook is a great idea. It really helps to keep you moving forward and it is immensely satisfying to hold that finished notebook (or several notebooks) in your hand. Good luck and thanks for the comment!


Eddie-Perkins 5 years ago

Thank you M. T. Dremer for this hub. I saw your hub early this morning and wanted to read it then but I’ve been too busy typing out my next hub. :) Seriously, I used paper and pen for years to record my key thoughts, outline and structure. Many times the thoughts came so fast I forget them before I could write one sentence so I would often just write out key words. Like others, I can’t read my writing after it gets cold, but I usually figured it out.

Now I’m in the computer mode and more often than not I do the same thing on the computer. Maybe I’m just a slow thinker, but later something else will come to me and I will add it to what I had already started. If I’m away from the computer I jot it on a napkin or something.

At any rate I agree 100% with you. I know it works best and I’ve proven it to myself. Still what I’m doing seems to work pretty well – even if I jot down my outline and structure after I’ve typed out pages of text. I do that often as I’m still thinking when I’m away from the computer.

Not to take anything away from this wonderful hub though. I am definitely going to return to pen and paper for a refresher on how good it once was. Who knows, I may forget all about Microsoft Word. Bottom Line – Vote up and Useful


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Eddie-Perkins - I'm glad you came back to read my hub! Speed is definitely a chief concern when debating a notebook versus a computer. I can type so much faster than I can write, and yet for some reason creativity escapes me on the computer. Not all creativity; I can edit fine and do re-writes, but it's those initial ideas that seem to escape without the four walls of the page to confine them. Usually, if ideas start coming faster than the narrative, I also stop and break for notes to just get everything down. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!


Joe 4 years ago

I like to write on paper, then set it through a page-scanner so I can have my "digital assistant" transcribe it all to Word/Open Office/Celtix. I tried using text-bridge software but my handwriting/idiosyncrasies are too bad for these programs.

Giving someone in a poor country an opportunity to earn some money doing a job that both bothers you and prevents more production I feel is a good method of getting around this problem. Also, I know that my assistant has multiple clients and makes a pretty good living doing this work.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

Joe - A digital assistant sounds like a good idea, though my handwriting is terrible. I would be surprised if it could transcribe any of it. Thanks for the comment!


Rosyel Sawali profile image

Rosyel Sawali 3 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Good one! I learned from the great tips here! I'm definitely taking notes ^_^


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 3 years ago from United States Author

Rosyel Sawali - Thank you for the compliments and the comment!


Moataz Mortada profile image

Moataz Mortada 20 months ago

Keep going in writing more articles.

Thank you for the great tips.

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    M. T. Dremer profile image

    M. T. Dremer670 Followers
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    M. T. Dremer is the author of two novels and received a Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing from Grand Valley State University.



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