Discovering the Power of Pen and Paper

Over the past 20+ years of my life, I never liked writing (physically on paper). It was tedious, it was slow, it was messy, and most of all, it was a pain.

I’ve always preferred recording all my thoughts and notes on a computer. It’s much easier and faster to type. I could search for past entries, and best of all, I can always edit my work without leaving a mess.

But perhaps the biggest reason for my dislike of writing was the fact that for a very long time, I had very bad handwriting. It’s so bad that I can’t recognise what I wrote after a week has passed. So what’s the point in writing if I can’t refer to my old handwritten notes?

All that has changed recently, especially after I’ve made it a point at the start of the year to learn and practice Western calligraphy. I’ve now developed quite a nice handwriting. Coupled with the right pen and paper, the writing experience can be very pleasurable. This has motivated me to write as much as possible, be it small reminders to myself or a to-do list.  I’ve even tried finding memorable passages to practice my calligraphy.

In the process of doing all these things, I’ve come to realise that the very act of writing is itself a form of meditation. As I slowly yet carefully write each stroke to form the letters and words, time slows down for me, allowing me to slowly ponder on the words, and meditate on its meaning. This process gives me the opportunity to slowly chew and digest the words that I’m recording. Or if I’m trying think about stuff, I provide myself with ample time to slowly ponder and develop the thoughts along the way.

Somehow, I don’t get this when I use the computer.

Perhaps the greatest weakness and the greatest strength of writing is its speed.

Yes, writing is slower than typing. Typing does allow me to get a lot of work done fast. I can finish a book and record all the notes in less than a day, or record lectures almost word-for-word when I’m typing. Yet, such fast speed also means that I forget fast. All the details fade away, leaving me with only a vague impression of what the book or lecture says. And I will have to go back to what I typed in order to read and re-read what has been recorded.

However, by sacrificing that fast speed for pen and paper, I gain precious meditative moments that allow me to acquire deep insights on the things I write.

Moreover, there is still one additional thing I gain from writing than I don’t gain from typing (at least not anymore in recent years): It’s the ability to get in touch with my most intimate self, to hear the silent whispers resonating from the depths of my soul. When I write, it’s just me, a pen and a notebook. All the devices and gadgets are out of sight and out of mind. This helps me to focus and to still the inside of my mind and heart.

I used to be able to do that in front of a computer, but not anymore. I blame social media and all the notifications that come along with it. It’s hard to concentrate, especially when the number of distractions online have increased. Sure, you can tell me to close my browser tabs, but that doesn’t really work. Opening a browser tab, to go onto Facebook, is just as easy as closing a tab.

I do think this discovery of the power of pen and paper has come at quite an opportune time. It might seem like an exaggeration to call it a discovery rather than a re-discovery, but that is really the truth of the matter. I never like writing with pen and paper until recently, and so I’ve never got around to actually organise my life around a pen-and-paper-system.

This recent discovery of the pre-digital way has indeed motivated me to give it a try.

In a recent post, I wrote about how I made a DIY Midori Traveller’s Notebook (see My Very Own DIY Midori Notebook) for myself.

I’ve since used this notebook to record my thoughts and ideas while I’m on the go. It’s small enough to be held in the palm of my hand to write while I’m on the bus or train. And surprisingly, it’s very versatile and convenient to use while on the go.

My very own DIY Midori Notebook (passport sized)

I’ve also made another notebook system for myself.

This is my on-the-go work file. It contains everything I need to know and spare pieces to record important information at meetings. There’s even a calendar and scheduler with a daily to-do list that I use to review my progress throughout the day.

This is my on-the-go work file.

I’ve shifted to using Kokuyo paper. The feel of the paper is amazing, and best of all, it gives me great pleasure when I write. It makes a significant difference in the user experience. The best part is that it costs about the same, or even cheaper, than buying a notebook of decent quality or refillable notebook paper (Filofax standard, the 6 ring one) from Popular.

However, this meant that I had to buy Japanese files because Kokuyo paper uses the Japanese 20-ring standard. It’s annoying, but it’s something I got used to.

We all need tabs to organise the chaos and mess in our lives.

I’ve also got another file that’s meant to archive all the inspiring or informative quotes, as well as other research materials or work-related notes.

The archive folder

Well, it certainly is very nice to get all excited about stationery.

This decision has definitely helped me to gain more focus and to be more contemplative – something which I’ve struggled with for the past few years. It seems that the good old fashioned analog ways still have their charm, purposes, and uses.