Writing Tips: The Moleskine Method, Part 2

In the previous entry, I introduced the Moleskine, describing its features and plugging it to writers who are on the go or need help with organization. In this entry I explain why I think writers should get comfortable with writing in longhand—a skill that’s required if you’re to make use of what I will now call “The Moleskine method.”

In the digital age, writing in longhand is a lost art. Right up through college I wrote mostly in longhand and payed a fellow student (invariably a girl who interested me) to type for me. It never seemed inconvenient to me, certainly not in comparison with typing. (And, as I hinted without much subtlety, it had a social benefit.) Even after I received a Brother electronic typewriter for Christmas, I wrote drafts in longhand before typing them myself (or loaning my typewriter to “hired help.”)

macse

The Mac SE

It wasn’t until I was preparing my Ph.D. dissertation that I had a personal computer—the vaunted Mac SE. Easy access to this technology gradually weaned me from my habit of longhand writing. And I noticed a difference in my writing experience. It wasn’t as fluid; it was mechanical. It wasn’t as graceful; it was clunky. It wasn’t as personal; it was manufactured. My plight wasn’t simply a matter of adapting to the digital world (for example, learning to trust that what was no longer on the screen was still “there”).

I’ve never overcome the sense that what I actually put on the page while writing would be different if instead I had composed with a word processor. Not only the words, but the concepts and thoughts would vary. And they would suffer when relying on a word processor in a way they would not in longhand. Other writers testify to the same thing. And some won’t go near a keyboard.

Whatever the creative advantages of writing by hand, there is the unequivocal benefit of convenience under very common conditions. Neither my laptop nor my iPhone serve on all occasions—or even most occasions. Because of our obsession with technological “advances,” we expect our writing needs to be simplified by turning to these devices. But then complications arise. “I’m here and my laptop is somewhere else. I guess I can’t write.” “I can’t see all my pages at once, and rearrange them by sight. I guess I’ll have to print a hard copy . . . again.” “Whose document is this? Did I write it? I can’t tell; everybody uses the same font.” And so on. Paper is (thanks to the computer!) ubiquitous. The living room floor, or the bedroom wall, is expansive enough to place drafts side-by-side and to reorganize sections within view of each other. And my handwriting is unique and uniquely recognizable by me (and possibly only legible for me).

OK—some of these are at best unconscious concerns.

Still, there’s no denying the advantage of paper when your computer is tucked away (in your bag or in another state), or takes too long to boot up for you to remember what you were thinking, or doesn’t serve for bedside writing in the middle of the night (a time of particularly fruitful thinking for writers). Unfortunately, resorting to paper is generally regarded as the “next best thing,” and way down on the scale of utility when compared with the computer. I maintain that actual “writing” is the best thing, perhaps most of the time.

Unless you don’t know how.

Knowing how has two aspects. First, there’s being able to get things from mind to paper, a different process than word processing. Second, there’s having a technique for exploiting the full advantages of the “writing” habit. Part 3 in this series will introduce a few guidelines for using “The Moleskine Method.”

Previously in this series:

Next in this series:

Note: For value, I suggest purchasing the Moleskine from Amazon. I’ve linked here to the version of Moleskine I use for writing. This is the “ruled cahier journal x-large” (black). Three journals are included in one set.

Related articles Doug has written:

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking.

7 Responses to Writing Tips: The Moleskine Method, Part 2

  1. Samuel says:

    You got a surely informative website. I have been here reading for about five minutes. I am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me.

  2. GCooper says:

    Reading the first two sections of this topic, it sounds as if you use only one Moleskine at a time no matter what the topic or idea. That you start at the beginning of the book and go to the end, then start a new book.

    Just curious. If this above is true, then do you have any tips for making information retrieval easier once you have a full book, or even a half full book?

    Are they’re ever any times when you have a Moleskine devoted to any one topic?

    Thanks for your blog. Like you, I love my Moleskine.

  3. Doug Geivett says:

    Thanks, JCR. Today I bought the blue version of the Moleskine. The red looks pretty good, too. I use the larger format for my writing and what-not. Until I got my iPhone, I used the small format to keep simple notes throughout the day. But I can do that with my iPhone now.

  4. JCR says:

    I still use my Mac SE… I find it impossible to not write on my Moleskine first… random stuff that later may or may not translate. At any rate, you have a keen and sharp view about all of this… thanks for sharing it, really.

  5. Doug Geivett says:

    I understand the issue with speed. As I see it, one advantage of longhand writing is that it slows down the process of getting words into sentences. I know this sounds counter-productive. But pacing makes a difference to the writing experience and what actually gets written. If I’m anxious—literally—about getting a jumble of thoughts written down, it may all come out. But it often turns out to be a comparatively unproductive mind dump. It’s the same jumble on the page as it was in my mind. Longhand slows me down and allows me to organize my thoughts as they go onto the page. The result is more of a composition that has unity, flow, etc.

    I can’t develop the point in this comment, but I believe that mind and brain interact in the writing process in a way that can “shape” the brain, hampering the mind when the brain takes over the process of “shifting the gears” as happens during the progression of writing. Brain does its thing through the writing act, leaving the mind to trundle after it. With practice over time, the mind can, in effect, “re-train” the brain to work more cooperatively with the mind in accomplishing what the mind desires. Writing in longhand can be a useful tool.

    But all this is for another post at another time!

    -Doug

  6. Fran Szarejko says:

    I’ve gone back and forth between writing first drafts on a computer and by longhand. I have to agree with Dr. Geivett as I’ve found that the writing flows much easier when I use a pen than when I use a keyboard. Additionally, I have used Dragon Naturally Speaking and will usually dictate (revising as I go) the material I originally composed in longhand. This seems to be a good compromise. The writing is better and the software speeds the process of turning it into type.

  7. bethyada says:

    I have not written enough longhand to compare typing. I will say that some of the difference may be a speed issue. I can type relatively quickly and thus type what I am thinking in a reasonable time.

    Recently I have switched to a new keyboard layout which significantly slowed my typing down. I have noticed how this has an effect on what I write, which I blame on the fact I cannot get my thoughts down quick enough which alters my subsequent thoughts because I am forced to slow my thinking.

    I wonder the difference with using voice to text, or dictation.

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