The dirty little secret

The dirty little secretRecently, Gini Dietrich wrote a post on Spin Sucks entitled Technology Vs. Paper for Your Task List, and in my very unscientific study of all the responses, over 75% of the respondents said they used both paper and online tools OR paper alone for their task lists.

The dirty little secret? People use paper! They actually write…longhand…Eeegads!

I’ve been carrying around the same moleskin daytimer (well, not exactly the same one, but the same type, haha!) for years, and I have too many beautifully bound journals to even count.

Many people who commented on Gini’s post said that the very act of crossing something off their list was very cathartic, and gave them a sense of accomplishment.

I agree.

Writing by hand is more of a right-brain, creative activity.

Keyboarding (or texting or punching anything digital) is more a left-brain, logical activity.

So, when we’re results oriented, digital/punching/pressing makes lots of sense.

But when we’re process AND results oriented, that good old paper and pen (or Sharpie and moleskin), can be as comforting as Linus’ blanket.

Now before you get your shirt in a knot and cry out to defend one over the other, it’s not an either-or situation.

Of course you can be creative when keyboarding. And of course you can accomplish things when writing longhand.

It’s simply a matter of choosing what works for you, for what purpose and for what result, as so many commenters said over on Spin Sucks.

Judy Dunn wrote a great piece entitled “Pencils, Pens and Writing from the Heart: The Beauty of Low-tech Blogging“, where she references a Wall Street Journal article and the research that shows that handwriting engages the brain in learning and creativity.

So lest we think that the importance of handwriting should go the way of the dinosaur, pop over to see this short video, identifying an unmistakable link between fine motor skills and later achievement. Play-doh, grasping techniques and handwriting all instil a love and appreciation of writing that translates to later academic success. It’s not known why or how writing predicts this later achievement, but how cool is that?

Even with all the technology at our fingertips, if we don’t give our fingertips more exercise than picking-pecking-punching-and-pounding, we’re not really optimizing our creativity and brain power.

So get out that moleskin…sharpen that pencil…grab the play-doh (did you know that play-doh was originally intended as a wallpaper cleaner?), cut and paste, draw, paint and WRITE!

Even in our digital world, a little old-school handwriting goes a long, long way.

Cheers! (and if I could have handwritten that, I would have:)



  • Judy Dunn

    Ah, Kaarina. The heady smell of play-doh. Takes me back to my teaching and parenting days. I’m sure it was full of all kinds of yucky chemicals, but, boy, did I love the scent of play-doh. 

    I love to see this topic making the rounds because people who grew up with the tech tools may think that writing by longhand is archaic. As you said so perfectly, there is room for both! I actually alternate and find, as I am writing my memoir, that keeping a notebook and index cards is a great way to pump up my creative thinking. 

    Thanks for linking to my post. Much appreciated!

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       My pleasure @twitter-16115105:disqus . I love your writing (both longhand and keyboard, haha!). I find it inspiring, informative and oh-so-enjoyable to read your words.

      I can still recall the scent of play-doh, and I loved the vibrant colours it came in. And I’m with you: the more high-tech we become, the more high-touch is needed. To cursive writing AND digital technology. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Vidya Sury

       Rightly said, Judy. My niece wondered if I had fairy tales when I was young. Oh, she was only 5 when she asked, but still. Yet she didn’t bat an eyelid when she saw a contraceptive advt. on TV. :-) Other close children in my life asked if my childhood was in black and white, relating old films in b&w to then and color to the “now”.

      We still play word games in our house and play song-tag when the lights go off. 

      • Judy Dunn

        Song-tag? Oooh! I want to know how to play that.   : )

        • Vidya Sury

           We call it “Anthaakshari” @twitter-16115105:disqus . Anth (as in Unth) is “end” adn Akshari is  letter. So – we usually play with hindi and other regional language songs – so it is more the end syllable than letter. If I began with a song that ended with “pa” the next player’s song must begin with the letter/syllable “pa”.  If their song ended with “gay” the next player’s song must begin with “gay” and so on and so forth. Can be adapted to any language I am sure. :-) I am currently trying to play it with 80’s rock/pop in my head.

           (this could be a fun G+ hangout activity).  

          • Judy Dunn

            What a fun game, Vidya! I’ve heard of that with words in a sentence, but never with singing. What a wonderful exercise in creativity.  

  • Tammy

    Most of my blog posts get sketched out on a tiny notebook that I keep in my purse. There is something about putting pen to paper that makes my writing different – tighter and more me. I think it is because normally when I sit down to write something on the computer, it is for my employer with a very different tone.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Thanks for chiming in @3c52b39662a421a77fe61b398b504af2:disqus . As the research shows, the act of writing longhand engages different parts than the act of keyboarding. Keep being “more you”, my friend. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Carolyn Nicander Mohr

    Are you sitting down? I use paper. Yes, I do. In fact, I was at the beach this week and had absolutely no paper. None. I use paper to outline my blog posts and to take notes for interviews for my articles. I had an interview this week so I went out and bought a notebook. A paper notebook, not a computer. 😉

    Technology isn’t a requirement for total replacement. If you get an ereader, that doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to read paper books. You can just use the ereader when it’s convenient.  Similarly, if you get a computer, you’re still allowed to use paper. 

    I promise.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Absolutely @wonderoftech:disqus , and that’s why I say, it’s not an either-or. It all depends on purpose and need…and availability…of paper or computer, haha!

      As a lawyer, do you know why they’re called “legal pads” BTW? Random question, but I’ve always wondered…(pun intended:) Cheers! Kaarina

      • Carolyn Nicander Mohr

        I didn’t know, but now I do: 

        I also didn’t know about the play dough. Very interesting facts!

        • Kaarina Dillabough

           I LOVE finding stuff out like this @wonderoftech:disqus . Thanks for hunting that up and sharing:)

      • Carolyn Nicander Mohr

        In defense of tech, I also wanted to add that I keep most of my lists on my smartphone/iPad. That way I don’t lose them and I have them with me wherever I go. Tech ended the frustration of showing up at the grocery store without my shopping list! :-)

        • Kaarina Dillabough

           Smart move:)

  • Rebecca Amy Todd

    Well, I hope this video isn’t too accurate- my handwriting is so shocking, I often can not read my own notes! I am still prone to anchoring with my tongue when I try and write neatly. For me, nothing beats crossing things off a list manually.  I even feel compelled to say “check!” aloud each time. 

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       “Check please!”, haha @twitter-257989881:disqus . Perhaps you were a doctor in another life? Look forward to seeing you in 14 sleeps…it’ll be a blast, I’m sure;) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Vidya Sury

    You may not be surprised to know that I have a spirally bound notebook (500 pages) check-ruled and I’ve been using it for four years now to write ideas. I have other notebooks (real paper with interesting covers) and a binder where I file my loose paper :D. Yes, I am an avid scrapbooker. I still cut pictures from the – hold your breath – newspaper. I have a stress ball within reach (a smiley naturally) to squeeze the heck out of. There’s a lesson there – no matter what I do, it smiles back at me. 😀 I draw and sketch. I enjoy embroidery. I am big on DIY and handicraft. And I knead dough every. single. day. And confess to playing with it, making shapes and things.

    Oh yeah, right-brained all the way. Not that I am not tech-savvy, but it is the discovery and curiosity-whetting that I love.  The convenience is nice, too.

    I love this post! You were right. And oh, I can imitate any handwriting 😛

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       None of this surprises me @vidyasury:disqus : you are a bundle of creative energy! I keep lots of “toys” in my office…a squeeze ball that looks like a brain (really), some talking toys, and things that always make me smile.

      I keep what I call my “Book of Smiles” (I actually have many books), in which I keep clippings, photos and ephemera. I sketch and watercolour paint, do cross-stitch, but I’ve never kneaded dough…only play-doh:)

      And imitating handwriting…hmmm…there could be a profession in that for you, haha! Cheers! Kaarina

  • Bill Dorman

    I was a letter writer back in the day; loved to write. I will load up my Outlook w/ appointments, but also have a paper calendar on my desk (which I can also doodle on). About once a week, I take everything on my desk and bring it home w/ me. I go through every piece of paper and prioritize via a list. That let’s me know the top 3 things that need to be taken care of first and the rest just reminds me they are things that need to be done.

    But then again, I’m old school like you…:). 

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Love ya old-school @twitter-34985693:disqus . And I’m an avid doodler too. I’m thinking of taking some of those doodles and colouring them in…maybe they’ll find a place in some of my writing too.

      I work with clients to clear the paper clutter by telling them there are only 3 things you should do with a piece of paper: read it immediately, file it in a Monday through Sunday file folder and deal with it on that day, or pitch it. Paper never accumulates when you use this system. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Adam Toporek

    Always interesting to hear how other people work. I agree with the creativity of handwriting. Sometimes a change in scenery and a pad and paper are the ultimate antidotes to writer’s block. Maybe @shakirahdawud:twitter has an opinion on that?

    I’m completely digital for organization though. For me, all paper systems eventually lead to chaos in that area.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Paper can indeed lead to chaos @twitter-223833082:disqus : I’ve seen that first-hand with many clients. But for me, whatever systems we use, there’s just no replacing the joy of handwriting for me. I love the way it feels to have the pen glide over the paper: it feels like artwork, and my creativity is enhanced. But “collecting” paper and letting it pile up is just clutter.

      I’ve had some people say that they leave papers to pile up because by the time they get to them, a deadline’s already passed, and then they can throw the piece of paper away. True avoidance behaviour:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Soulati

    Which one of y’all still writes letters? I raise my hand high and my daughter’s too. Now that’s a dying artform (and my cursive is suffering due to this dratted keyboard.)

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       I’m with you: I still write letters and cards @soulati:disqus :)

    • Hajra

      My grandpa still wants a letter from us every few months. And yes, it is sort of fun to keep that habit alive!

  • Life, for instance

    I love paper, particularly beautiful journals, and I love the keyboards! I can see how creativity can be connected to the hand-written word. I used to teach calligraphy lettering and the key (one of them) was thinking of it as not writing so much as drawing pictures. During my classes I had classical music playing. They loved it – both the atmosphere and the calming activity of learning calligraphy.
    Recently I head that somewhere they are going to stop teaching cursive writing in schools. That seems a shame. Years ago, in schools in England, children were learning to do calligraphy!  😮

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       I believe there’s a lot of back-and-forth controversy about the cursive writing in schools @twitter-228904159:disqus , based on some of the recent research. On a personal level, I think it would be a shame. Based on the research, I feel the same. And calligraphy…I have a friend who writes in a calligraphy style, and it’s simply stunning. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Gini Dietrich

    You know, this makes me think of Judy and blogging with paper and pen. There is NO WAY I could blog without my laptop or iPad. I don’t know why I can’t make the shift to technology for my to-do list.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Just keep doing what feels right @ginidietrich:disqus . As you said in your post, to each his/her own. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Judy Dunn

      Oh, no, Gini. I don’t blog all the time with pen and paper. I would never get any blog posts out if I did that!    : )  Mostly I jot and doodle in the planning stages. I also switch it out sometimes when I am working on my book. It just helps me think better. I like to-do lists made in longhand. Something about drawing a line through it when it’s finished. 

      • Gini Dietrich

        Oh phew! I was trying to figure out how you did that!

  • Hajra

    I am in the love with paper reminder. You can’t snooze them, the striking off feeling is very helpful and the fact that my paper will never run out of battery just keeps me in a normal frame on mind. 

    I ain’t against technology, paper just works better for me. And the things I write makes for good reading (personal reading) days after! :)

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       I’m with you @hajrak:disqus . Like good old paper/bound books, I’m a lover of the pen and paper world:) Like you, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate and use technology. But I do love to write…longhand:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Ralph Dopping

    Hey Kaarina, here’s an idea. Write your post and scan or photograph it and post it as an image kinda like an infographic. Wouldn’t that be cool?

    I am with you on the sketchbook thing. I have a series of hardcover books used a lot in my profession not unlike the moleskin (but not as expensive) that I have most of the past 15 years of my daily work life documented in. Check lists, I will lists (your idea), ideas, thoughts, sketches and doodles. 

    Only in the last few years have I begun to track my workflow using Outlook. It’s just so much more efficient to manage “to do” tasks, schedules and coordinate the work of my team. That doesn’t mean the sketchbook is going away anytime soon but as i mentioned on Spin Sucks and as you noted above it is a happy marriage between the two; digital and analog.

    Coincidentally, our post today covers the idea of digital vs print publications. The same, only different. Ha.

    Cheers! And have a great weekend. 

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Great idea @twitter-229922134:disqus :) We’re birds of a feather on the sketchbook/journals, and I like your phrase, “a happy marriage between the two; digital and analog.”

      Did I miss your post? Heading over now. Cheers! Kaarina

      • Ralph Dopping

        You may have. I love your comments. Birds of a feather indeed. Good to be part of your community. Look out for next week. I have a handwwritten surprise….:-)

        • Kaarina Dillabough

           Yay! I’ll be on the lookout @twitter-229922134:disqus :)

  • The JackB

    I wrote a long response that I would have shared here but two things happened to it:

    1) My penmanship is so bad I had trouble trying to figure out what I had written so I had to take a break to grab a glass of water.

    2) Said glass of water was knocked over and spilled on the page wiping out all of my words.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Ah, the transience of the written word @TheJackB:disqus :)