As I was trying to think of something wildly interesting and exciting to write about today, I found myself scribbling nonsense phrases and words that look pretty when written all over the little pad of paper I have at my desk. It wasn’t until the paper was nearly full that I even noticed really what I’d done and I realized how much I like the simple act of writing. I’m not talking about writing in the creative sense or even practically, with a purpose or drive to it. I don’t mean as an exercise or project or anything constructive in any way—I mean solely putting a pen to paper and drawing words.

I’m a terrible artist, but I love scribbling and writing. In school and college, I worked hard during class, hardly ever putting my pen down. This did result in pages and pages of copious notes, but I also had intricate and, might I say, beautiful margins to show for it as well. I found that I was able to concentrate better and follow a lecture more closely if I was moving my pen across paper at all times. Obviously, not every word spoken is worthy of noting, so a lot of the time I spent creating intricate designs in the margins of my notebooks. Listening to someone speak, I often write in flowy cursive or bold, scratchy letters the words I’m hearing that are the most fun to write. What results at the end of a conversation are a bunch of words written every which way and in a multitude of styles that seemingly have nothing to do with one another, but are still connected clearly in my mind. Sometimes I’ll just write the alphabet over and over in every form and format I can come up with, but I like it best when I can get the whole thing on one row written in cursive lowercase letters.

I know that when it comes to actual novel-writing or really anything of importance, typing is nowadays the only real option—for both speed and clarity, but one can hardly deny the pleasure of opening a new notebook, or an old favorite one to a fresh page and just putting pen to paper, whatever the purpose. Me, I prefer to write solely in pens with blue ink and find I write better when I use them. I like paper that’s not bright white with college-ruled lines in a softer color as well. Preferably, there are wide top margins and the pen is one that has a cap I’m able to stick on its end as I write.

Whether it’s journaling or writing solely for the sake of the words or lines themselves, there’s just something about moving across a blank page and leaving it marked in a new way that is wholly satisfying. What are your writing preferences: pen? Pencil? 80-cent notebook or fancy leather-bound journal? Does it matter to you at all?

6 Responses to Scribbling.

  1. Donn says:

    I’d never thought of that – the significance of the physical act of how you transmit your thoughts. There can be something empowering in a sort of meditative sense about writing on paper that doesn’t come about when typing.
    Is it just because of those 12-odd years of apprenticeship at school, or is there just something just essentially different about holding a pen, controlling the lettering and doodling and revelation of thought exactly as you want?

    Good post.

  2. Susanna says:

    I type faster than I write (not to mention more legibly) — but I tend to be more intuitive when I write, by hand, with a pen. I too have very specific ink and paper preferences, although my favorites are pricey gel pen or cheap Bic ballpoint. I write by hand for deep revision and crafting the details. This is one of those great survey-of-writers questions that I always find interesting.

  3. I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing by hand. The biggest challenge and reason I prefer typing most of the time is not just I can’t keep up with my brain while writing by hand, but that I tend to jump back and forth within a story, even within a scene. I’ll remember some detail I had wanted to put in the preceding paragraph, and it’s easier to go back and figure out how to do that on a computer than to try to squeeze the text into the space left on one line in a journal.

    I am finding writing by hand can really help me create outlines (for stories or characters) and story bibles, though. Perhaps it’s because I’m not writing these as solid blocks of text, or because I might arrange ideas more graphically. My preferences aren’t too exact. I like the composition books with the black and white covers, although I recently received a cute journal with cherries on the front and haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. I always write in black pen, though.

  4. Laura T says:

    Hi Rachel,

    I love this blog. While in college I would write down everything the professor had to say… the borders of the pages would be covered with doodles, flowers, spirals… anything. Words and letters became different sizes, surrounded by whatever came out. Sometimes the art would act out a history lesson, other times, not having anything to do with what the professor was saying at all…

    One time I noticed classmate staring at me and my notes. He asked to look at them after class, and wanted to know if I learned anything at all during class. When I beat him (my A to his B) on a paper, he actually stopped talking to me all together.

    Another time a friend asked me to borrow notes for another class she missed, and she copied them off, saying they were the pretiest and best notes she had ever seen haha. I used blank white paper only with a black pen.

    So I totally get where you are coming from with this blog. When I am working on a manusript I type it, but then I end up printing it out, and it’s covered with the same kind of doodles and notes I’m so used to.

  5. I type fast, and like being able to keep up with the flow of words in my head as I’m composing … but there’s nothing that compares to the feel of ink unspooling onto a page. I feel my way into a character or a story or a chapter with a ballpoint pen and a notebook. I have dozens of spiral-bound notebooks on my shelves, but switched to Moleskine journals a bit over a year ago. I have a favorite pen too: the manufacturer is Zebra, the model is the F402. It’s thick, well balanced, has a grip that’s just right for my hand, and the smoothest flow of any prêt-à-écrire ballpoint I’ve ever used.

  6. Monica says:

    I type fast and it’s the only way to keep up with my thoughts as I pound out a first draft. But afterward, I love a red ballpoint pen to edit the hard copy. An edited draft with arrows and underlines, crossed out words, new scenes written in the margins, and notes in a shorthand I’ve developed over the years is a truly beautiful thing.

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