The Power of Pen and Paper for Writer’s Block

Writers today have a wide range of tools, literally at their fingertips. Laptops, desktops and everything in between mean we can write on the go and all that nifty technology syncs it all to the cloud or some other magical place. However, I still find a place for pen and paper, in my writing habits. When I say this, I’m surprised how many writers I know shudder at the thought and cry, “Oh, no. I can’t write longhand. It’s just not the same as a keyboard”.

No, it’s not the same, but that’s the point.

Grabbing a pen and paper, is my go to method of getting past a block. When you’re blocked, the blank screen and blinking cursor can taunt you, making the whole thing worse. You’re trying to squeeze those thoughts from your brain, down your arms, through to your fingers, but it just won’t come and when it does, it’s crap, so you delete it.

My solution is going old school…

writer's block

…no, not that kind of old school.

I mean…

writer's block

..

…pen and paper.

When I’m blocked, I grab a notebook and a pen or pencil and start scribbling.No matter how blocked you are, you can ALWAYS make a mark on a page, so the page never remains blank for long. Even if you just write your name or the date or doodle down the page or write random words, physically writing on paper, is easier because there’s less time for your brain to edit.

Pen and paper is immediate. Your hand is making the mark. There’s no inputting onto abstract keys at arm’s length and then waiting for that to be received and translated by the machine onto the screen. By the time it reaches the screen, your brain’s had time to think it’s crap and delete half a sentence, which leaves you with the blank screen again. And the screen, literally, puts a barrier between you and your work, making it intangible.

When you’re blocked, you want as few barriers as possible. You want a direct line to your brain and failing a Matrix-style jack in your neck, scribbling directly onto paper is the closest you’re going to get. The act of typing is detached. Keyboard zealots claim that it’s faster and easier to get your thoughts down and writing takes too long. That’s all fine if you’ve got lots of thoughts and everything’s flowing, then sure, speed may be of the essence. However, the blocked writer doesn’t need speed, they need access and space to unlock their creativity with no pressure and that’s where paper wins.

You can cross things out, but they’re still there on the page because there is no delete to wipe your words away. Writing longhand is messy and organic because you can’t shift things around. Instead, you have to add arrows and asterisks and scribbles and turning the page makes you feel like you’re on a roll. And you can feel where your pen’s pressed through from the other side of the page and smell the metallic whiff of the biro ink. You can’t keep word counts, you just write until you’re satisfied.

From a purely practical point of view, a paper notebook never runs out of battery and if you’ve got a pencil, you can always write. A thin notebook is light, needs no wires and people are unlikely to steal it, if you leave it on a cafe table to order another drink. And there are no distractions because pen and paper doesn’t lead you to the internet or your emails and you have to remember to spell words without a prompt from software spellcheckers.

And the final reason why writing with pen and paper rocks is because you have to type up what you’ve written. The process of typing up your notebook scribblings gives you a chance to edit your prose. Going from paper to screen gives you another chance to  filter your writing, offering opportunities for new thoughts and ideas along the way.

I’m not expecting you to bin your keyboard technology, I’m just encouraging you to go offline, sometimes. Give it a go and see what happens, you may be surprised. Next time you’re blocked, hands resting mute on the keyboard, shut down and find yourself a comfy seat with some paper and a pen.

Let me know what happens, if you give it a try. Or are you already a fan of analogue writing, if so, why?

 

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11 thoughts on “The Power of Pen and Paper for Writer’s Block

  1. Anyone tried ‘Morning Pages’? http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/oct/03/morning-pages-change-your-life-oliver-burkeman.
    It’s sounds rather hokey and unlikely but sitting down and writing, in longhand, three pages before you get on with your day is strangely calming, clearing and liberating. It’s a kind of clearing-the-decks exercise which can – if you’re lucky – catch you some interesting fish (erm, forgive clunky metaphors), as the creative bar is set so low (no one’s ever going to read this tripe, not even you, probably, so it profoundly Doesn’t Matter) that it allows you to say whatever, do whatever, get past that pesky inner editor/filter and actually come up with some interesting, new, non-cliched ideas. And if you don’t, that’s fine too. That’s the beauty of it. And yes, it’s a good way to get through the block – if you’ve got one. A kind of mental Drain-O. I like it anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did try Morning Pages and here are the results https://writersanontaunton.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/morning-pages-three-weeks-on/

      It appears I really enjoyed them, reading that blog post. I didn’t keep them up, but I might start again. They are good for those times when you feel pulled in lots of directions – putting it all on paper allows you to step back and prioritise.

      That said, I didn’t really mean for this post to be about block, I just wanted to write about how I love putting pen to paper, rather than always putting fingers to keyboard.

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  2. I’m a huge fan of ink on paper. And as I read, I kept saying yes, Yes, Yes!
    I “played” at learning to write with pen or paper and now when I want to remember that it’s fun I return to it.
    And besides I don’t want to turn on my laptop late at night, but I can grab a pen
    And besides time away from the screen isn’t a bad thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think the term ‘writer’s block’ really applies until you’ve been struggling for at least 3 years. (I’ve been struggling for 6.) If you’re just a bit stuck, or can’t think what to say next, that’s perfectly understandable, everybody has that. It’s like not knowing what to cook for tea. Eventually you’ll decide. But to be truly blocked –
    Here’s an interesting article about it.
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/06/14/blocked
    (On the subject of writing longhand as opposed to onto a computer, most writers do it longhand. You write too quickly if you write onto a screen. You get the words, but they’re seldom good enough. Longhand gives you thinking time, and a sense of the phrasing. ‘Writing’ helps you visualise.)

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    • Peter, I don’t see ‘block’ as a badge of honour, more a pain in the arse and a personal experience for each writer. However, that New Yorker article seems to see it as an almost exclusively male affliction, so that’s quite reassuring – women writers might have an advantage after all.

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      • Getting stuck for a couple of weeks is hardly writer’s block. It happens to all of us: lawyers (I’m married to one) architects, landscape gardeners, painters, designers. ‘Getting stuck’ on a matter is normal life. ‘Writer’s block’ is too easy an excuse, and one that people can easily wallow in and use as an explanation. When they can easily just crack on with it. It’s not a gender issue. (Despite the fact that those speaking in support of your piece appear, on the whole, to be women.) It’s a low blow to claim it is gender-related. And I don’t believe, for one minute it is.
        It has nothing to do with a ‘badge of honour’.
        Your lack of sympathy is duly noted.

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      • I was merely suggesting that The New Yorker focused on male writers in its otherwise interesting piece – I was being flippant. It was a dig at their male centric journalism, nothing more. Sometimes sarcasm misses its target. My bad.

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      • ‘Badge of honour’ is the last thing it is. It’s the thing that shreds your soul.

        Like

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