Paper Isn’t Dead: Why We Still Need Notebooks

MikeachimWriting14 Comments

Red Moleskine Notebook

Paper is dead – so, goodbye notebooks? NOT SO FAST.

Ten years ago Dick Brass, Microsoft’s then Vice President of Technology Development, announced to the world that “Paper Is Dead“. He believed we’d all be reading e-books within a decade – and if Amazon’s Kindle sales are anything to go by, he was onto something. The Pew Project For Excellence In Journalism concluded that by the end of 2010, more people were getting their news online than from newspapers (irrespective of the age of the readers). If paper isn’t dead, it certainly has a nasty cough.

But that’s publishing. What about the process of writing itself? Should all modern writers be turning to their gadgets to “pen” their work rather than a good old-fashioned ruled moleskine?

Here are 7 reasons why they shouldn’t be so hasty to embrace progress.

crumpled paper ball


In a recent phone interview with Rolf Potts for The Atlantic, veteran travel writer Paul Theroux outlined his main grievance with blogging. Quality writing was ”a great labor of thought and consideration,” while in contrast most blogs looked ” illiterate…hasty, like someone babbling.” Cranky writer shouting “get off my lawn, kids”? Perhaps – but there’s a good point here, and it’s this: how often do bloggers first-draft their material? When blog posts are being squeezed into the tiniest gaps in your daily schedule, that constant pressure to publish – it’s easy to regard drafting as a waste of valuable time. Why not edit it as you go along – because life’s too short, right?

Here’s why: because, in the words of Anne Lamott, all good writers produce “shitty first drafts“.

It’s difficult to throw away a first draft when you write it on a computer. The software encourages you to rearrange, cut, paste and tinker.  And that’s why you need paper notebooks – because they force you to rewrite everything you’ve written, every single word.

Stick a notebook into your workflow, and you’ll never publish a shitty first draft again.

old notebook


All too common: a travelling writer has their laptop stolen. Less common? A travelling writer has their paper notebook stolen. Why? Because the latter is absolutely worthless to anyone except that writer.

Protect your words by storing them on something nobody wants, like a notebook – an uglified notebook, in fact.

spiral notebook close-up


This one doesn’t apply to the more techno-wizardly folk among you – but personally, I’ve never met a gadget that I can start writing into faster than a well-holstered moleskine. No thumbing the power button, no booting up an app – you just flick your notebook open and off you go. And as for speed of use, there’s a reason many professional journalists still uses shorthand

Sign carved into wood


Scribbles. Doodles. Drawing big swirly lines connecting your thoughts. Bracketing. Underlining wildly. Writing over the top (“This is rubbish, DO IT AGAIN“). Ringing words. Sketching pictures into the margins. Crossing out in self-recriminating fury!

These are parts of the creative process that you shouldn’t skip.

And they’re much easier to do on paper.

battery power of human being


The bane of a roaming writer’s life is power. If you’re relying on your phone or laptop to record your thoughts, you’re constantly dependant on its battery life. Journeys become agonised waits between recharging points. Going under 50% power is enough to break a sweat; under 10%, a full-blown panic attack. Thank heavens for solar-panelled backpack technology.

The only power source a paper notebook needs…is your brain.

(And a nice pen).

Apps on Phone Close-up


Gadgets are distraction machines, designed to tug your attention a million different directions. Not conducive to a focussed, observant travel blogging mindset, especially if you’re the type of person who has all your social media update notifications pushed to your phone (ahem, *cough*).

In contrast, there are only two things you can do with a paper notebook: write things in it, and swat things with it. Both equally rewarding activities for the average traveller.

handwriting with fountain pen


If you’re writing in a paper notebook, chances are you’ll find yourself assembling your thoughts in a very different way.

Obvious, right? It’s a different physical process, your body is doing different things, you’re aware that you can’t Cut or Paste or Delete, you’re having to turn your thoughts into marks on a page rather than pushing at buttons. It’s a different way of thinking, and there’s growing evidence that it’s good for the development of your brain.

Longhand isn’t necessarily a better or worse way of writing than using a keyboard, but it’s certainly different.

So why not test it out for yourself  – for example, by first-drafting everything on paper – and see how your writing changes?

Originally at
Images: seanmcgrathTatinauk, turinboySeanMacEnteeB RosenEric__I_Evince42 and OMFGmatt.

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