The Creative Power of Pen and Paper

Welcome to the Content Creator’s Toolbox, our series dedicated to helping all creators of all types of content keep those creative juices flowing. If you have a creativity question or challenge you’d like us to address in a future post, drop us a line!

Some of my friends call me a “techie” … and I’m never quite sure how to respond.

I guess compared to some peeps in my circles I’m pretty tech-savvy … but of course, I’m also married to a software developer, and compared to him, I’m short-bus material.

But yes, I do turn to technology for many of the tasks I perform on a daily basis. I use it to manage my to-do list (Toodledo), to store and share files (Dropbox), to jot down and access notes (Evernote), to map out content projects (XMind), and so on.

But when it comes to getting those creative juices flowing, there’s just nothing better than good ol’ pen and paper.

The Creative Power of Pen and Paper image fountain penThe Creative Power of Pen and Paper

The pic above isn’t from a catalog. It’s an actual photo of my prize possession: a genuine Waterman fountain pen, a birthday gift from my beloved Mister back in 2009.

And when my thoughts turn to serious creative productivity, I don’t reach for Microsoft Word, PhatPad, Scrivener, Evernote, XMind or even MindMeister. I grab my trusty Waterman and a blank pad of paper.

I can bang away at a creative conundrum for hours at the keybord, but give me pen and paper and the answer will (usually) be in front of me within a few minutes.

So, what is it about this old-school approach that makes it so effective? Is it psychological? Is it an instinct squirreled away somewhere in our DNA? Or is it some ancient voodoo that sneaked into my boxes when I emigrated from New Orleans all those years ago?

I can’t be certain, but I do have a few ideas.

1. The page doesn’t multitask. Much as I love my MacBook, my iPad and my iPhone, they make it far too easy to divert myself from the task at hand. Creating is hard work, and when the mind is presented with hard work, its first reaction is to look for the nearest Exit sign. When email, Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, and now (God help me) Netflix are all just a click or tap away, those exits are wayyy too close and convenient. But with the blank page, there’s one option and one option only: fill the space.

2. It’s all in the flow. Writing longhand involves a lovely continuum: from brain to hand to pen to ink to paper to eye and back to brain. No electronic circuits, conduits or other whizbangs in between. To me at least, writing longhand feels more organic, more earthy, more inherently human … and it’s that unplugged humanity that the creative sprit springs from.

3. It’s truly freeform. When I sit down to create something or to generate ideas, I don’t like being limited. I might start off writing six straight lines of text, then fill up the rest of the page with doodles, then start a new page and draw a mind map. Sure, I could do all that on my computer, but it would involve switching between toolbars and maybe even between programs—just the kind of thing that kills the creative spark.

So the next time you find yourself struggling with a creative puzzle—even if it’s as simple as what to tweet about today—unplug from your devices and give yourself 15 uninterrupted minutes with a pen (or pencil, or crayon) and a pad of paper.

The results just might surprise you.

Give it a try and let us know how it went in the Comments—we’d love to hear from you! 

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