The pen and the idea

Some interesting thoughts in this Fast Company post about writing down ideas instead of typing them.

Carrying a notebook with you at all times is cheap and easy. You can catch those startlingly crisp ideas about a project that pop up in the auto shop waiting room, the airport, a bookstore, or wherever. Marina Martin, business efficiency consultant and self-described “quintessential Type-A Personality,” says that even the most fluid, thoughtful electronics introduce too much friction into the process of thinking, writing down, then thinking further out.

“We’re more likely to find an electronic device, open our favorite word processor, and fiddle with a margin and font size before committing a single word to the page,” Martin wrote in an email. “Automatic spellcheck and word correction can slow the process further and cause you to lose your train of thought.”

By committing your thought to paper, you’re also doing more to lock it into place. Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, has the brain scans to prove it. Berninger told the Wall Street Journal in Oct. 2010 that as your hand executes each stroke of each letter, it activates a much larger portion of the brain’s thinking, language, and “working memory” regions than typing, which whisks your attention along at a more letters-and-words pace.

A 2008 study, also cited in the Journal, asked adults distinguish between characters in another language and their trick mirror images. Those who had a chance to write out the original characters with pen and paper had “stronger and longer-lasting recognition” of the proper orientation than those who found the character on a keyboard.

I do agree that there is a link between the brain and the hand that assists with idea generation. When I write by hand, it feels as if I am digger deeper into my writing voice.

However, there are some amazing technology out there. For example, I have a notebook on Evernote simply called ideas and whenever I have a thought I want to revisit, I email it to the notebook from my mobile device. I can tag it on the fly and days or weeks later, it makes for interesting reading to revisit those fragments and hunches.

Actually, tools like Evernote are really useful for keeping these fragments together (and sharing them with team members).

Every tool has its purpose. Understanding its purpose will help you make most of it.

For a while I have been writing long-form material with Scrivener. But recently I discovered the intense joy of iA Writer. I have learned that one doesn’t replace the other, but they all have a place in a well-defined workflow.


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