If You’re Struggling to Write, Try Saying Sayonara to Your Computer

Ervin SinclairCreativityLeave a Comment

I Never Write Anything on the Computer

Ok, I know what you’re thinking…this is written on the computer.

But before a word of this was ever typed by a keyboard, before it ever appeared behind a blinking cursor, it was written down on paper.

There’s one simple reason for this:

Computers make great word processors, but not great word generators…at least not for me.

It was a Friday afternoon — one of my usual writing times — and there I was again, staring at a blank computer screen, unable to type out any words that would stick.This was becoming a frustratingly common occurrence.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t written anything. In fact, I had written nearly 500 words, but they were no longer on the screen. They had been looked over, edited, backspaced, and CTRL-A deleted more times than I could count. Now I was faced with a blank canvas and dozens of ideas that I knew wouldn’t work.

I was up against a deadline and I couldn’t waste any more time browsing the Internet, or checking Facebook, or streaming Netflix on a second monitor while I tricked myself into thinking that I was writing.

I couldn’t allow myself to get distracted. It was down to the wire. I had to write.

So I did something that I had rarely done before: I GOT AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER.

I grabbed a notepad and a fountain pen.

I began to write.

It was just me, my thoughts, and the black ink streaming across the white paper. And what happened next seemed almost like magic.

The words flowed out. One after the other. I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up.

When I wrote something that I didn’t like, I left it on the paper and I kept going. (I didn’t really have another option — there’s no delete key when you’re using paper.) When I found my mind wandering or my hand cramping, I took a moment and looked out the window and let my thoughts mist around in my head before I could see one of them clearly enough to capture it on paper.

Then I began again. Page after page after page, until I had a clear idea of what I wanted to write. Only then did I slide the mouse across my desk and bring my computer screen blinking to life.

The Power of Paper

There’s something intimidating about a blank screen and a blinking cursor. They’re great for editing, rearranging, and rewording. But when it comes to just getting the words out, in their rough, raw form, the blank screen givestoo much freedom, makes it too easy to edit. The screen tempts you to write things in their final form. To immediately delete what doesn’t work, and to rearrange ideas and paragraphs before you’ve even spat them out.

Paper, on the other hand, doesn’t allow you to do any of that, for at least two reasons:

1. Paper Sets the Pace

You might be able to type 70 words-per-minute, but you can’t write that many in longhand. Paper forces you to slow down, which stops your hands from out-writing your brain. Because you spend more time, your ideas move more logically and smoothly from one thought to the next. Your brain and your hands have a chance to develop a rhythm, instead of the type-pause-think pattern that is so common while using a computer.

2. Paper Makes it Permanent

Write something down on paper that you don’t like? You can ignore it or you can cross it out, but it’s still there. Just the fact that you’ve gotten it down on paper means that your brain no longer has to consider it and can now focus on other things. When you write on paper, the more you write, the more you have to show for it. You can physically flip back through the pages you’ve written, which not only lets you see how much you’ve written, but also how your ideas have developed over time.

Paper has found a place in my writing process, and I hope it has a place in yours.

But let’s be careful not to throw out the word processor with the proverbial bath water. Computers serve a valuable purpose too. (You can’t publish a blog post on paper.)

The trick is to find the right balance. Stuck trying to write on the computer? Take a break and jot your ideas down on paper. Have a healthy draft on paper? Maybe it’s time to take up the keyboard.

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