Five reasons why blank paper’s a writing inspiration

Ever been caught when that ‘good idea’ floats in – and vanishes just as quickly, before you can get back to your computer? Just as you’re writing to a deadline or trying to make up your NaNoWriMo quota?

History offers us a few ways out of it. Back in the nineteenth century a good number of New Zealand settlers carried watercolours, paper and brushes with them – the same way most of us carry a camera (phone) today.

1195430130203966891liftarn_Writing_My_Master_s_Words_svg_medTheir quick-sketch records are a wonderful snapshot of how they saw their world. Others carried notebooks – among them land buyer Donald McLean who wrote moment-by-moment events as he watched them happen. Like this moment when he watched Maori haul a canoe up the raging Manawatu river:

“…A strong tug and a long tug. Poor fellows – just touch and go and she will do it. No! Yes, she will! There comes the help – now! One strong pull and and one long pull! No – not yet! …Into the water, lads! Over she goes, some of the helpers struggling to gain the shore among the heavy boulders and rocks“.

Today it’s too easy. You can dictate into your phone, take a photo, even type notes (slowly). Yet I can’t help thinking that we’ve lost something. Specifically, the way that writing with pen and ink forces us to translate reality through the filter of mind. There is a value to that. And it does so in ways that electronic gadgets don’t.

A few hand-written notes can be incredibly valuable, quite apart from capturing ideas then and there. Because:

1. Writing ideas down with a pen frames your thoughts in ways that differ from a keyboard.
2. You can literally draw connections between ideas.
3. Ideas can float in, from left field, in ways they wouldn’t otherwise.
4. Paper works during power cuts and doesn’t need charging.
5. Paper’s recyclable and renewable…unlike plastic and electronic parts.

My top tip today? When you go out next, take a notebook with you. One made of paper…

Or do you already? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: Write it now, more National November Writing Month tips, writing prompts and more. Watch this space.


22 thoughts on “Five reasons why blank paper’s a writing inspiration

  1. Great tip! I always carry a notebook with me, whether its just for doodling or for writing down ideas that come into my head for short stories or poems 🙂

  2. I have found that pen and paper allow me a freedom to be more emotionally open in a way that I am denied with a keyboard. I keep a notebook with me and at times a small ring of index cards.

  3. I always carry a little notebook in my purse (and one in my car, one in my laptop bag, one on my nightstand, one on the kitchen table…). Even though I do the bulk of my writing electronically, sometimes it’s easier to just write it down.

    1. Excellent habit to have. You never know when an idea will drift in – I usually have pen and paper with me, but I can guarantee that if I don’t, that’s when I’ll need to write something down! :-).

  4. I have tried that and can’t read my notes afterward. I think that it has to do with how fast I am used to typing. I just added notepad to my phone and it interfaces with my email. I think I am a convert!!!

    1. Sounds good. Yes, these days phones are as much a part of ‘stuff you go out with’ as the door key! And they’re so versatile. What amazes me is that, in reality, we’re all carrying a computer with the sort of raw computing power that would have boggled the geekiest of computer geeks in a desktop machine, 25 years ago. And yet it’s now a normal part of everyone’s everyday life! My phone even appears to have a fully functioning word processor on it, though I’ve never actually tried it.

  5. I always have at least a notepad with me, and probably 10 pens in my bag. Recently I’ve begun putting short notes on my tablet as well. Though I always find I’m reaching for the ‘real’ thing first.

    Does posting blog comments count towards my NaNo word count? 😛

    Thanks for all the tips by the way, they’ve really come in handy so far!

    1. Thank you – I’m happy to share. Do you find that the kind of notes you make on a tablet differ from the ones you’d write by hand? I certainly find that’s so when I change media. Just thinking here about how our writing tools can frame our thoughts – and it’s all good, of course.

      1. They’re totally different, and I’m so much faster writing with a pen than tapping onto my tablet, that I still much prefer real paper and pen.

        I find the tablet notes are usually like what I’d write on a sticky note, whereas paper and notepad often result in a paragraph or two.

        I find the notes I write on paper much more useful when I get back to my desk and can write and flesh out ideas.

  6. Confession time… I don’t own a cellphone. I know – shock gurgle gasp! I do, however, always have a notebook on hand to be filled with observations, ideas, and drawings. Call me ol’ school, but I love the idea of keeping an air of mystique to my availability. Plus, I’m a sensory driven gal who needs to feel the friction of pen on paper to feel as if I’m actually interfacing with a new reality. Ironic, considering that I’m typing this… but I really do find that for purest creativity, I need to smell that wonderful inky perfume that floats up from the page when you’re in ‘the zone’ writing fast and furious.

    1. I know exactly what you mean! Writing is often more than just the expression of words; it is an experience that ideally involves all the senses. Scent is a very powerful one, of course, I believe associated with long-term memory – it’s possible the smell of ink may well itself trigger even more inspiration, even while you’re writing. I know that if I get a whiff of typewriter – that ink-and-oil smell they get in their case – it takes me right back to my earliest days writing, when I somehow had more inspiration than I do now. But the inspiration usually gets fired up by that aroma.

  7. I carry a 5×7 tablet in my purse–the paper kind. I am constantly making notes to transfer to my computer later. If you could see my writing, you would understand why I type. I have an 85-year-old friend who writes out her lessons. She claims it helps her remember them better. I believe her. She makes better grades than I do.

    1. I think writing stuff down helps commit it to memory – then you remember it and wonder why you bothered writing it down, but it was the writing down that did the trick…

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