For a while I moved away from pen and paper, my handwriting was bad, it was sloppy, digital was the future. I barely write anything now, I don't even have notebooks or nice pens. But writing by hand helped me get the ideas out. I want to get back in that state of being able to produce.

After years of all-digital all the time, how can I get back into the habit of writing on paper again? I don't care what I write, I just want it to feel comfortable and natural again. Do I need comfortable pens, nice notebooks? Should I write everything down before I transcribe it on the computer? Should I just write things every day to make it a natural habit again?

  • 1
    What's keeping you from writing on paper now? "I just want it to feel comfortable and natural again" - does it feel uncomfortable/unnatural now? Have you tried just writing on paper on some of the occasions when you'd normally write digitally, and run into concrete problems? Or is this still at the "New Year's resolution" stage?
    – Standback
    Feb 24, 2012 at 8:46
  • @Standback currently I write down todo/idea notes at work but I find I want to keep them digital. When writing anything I need to communicate to someone else (email, design decision, any idea at all) I usually go straight to digital, in part so I can get to it at work or at home. I don't carry a notebook with me.
    – Ben Brocka
    Feb 24, 2012 at 14:50
  • @Standback - Why the "habits" tag? Looks like a tag that would encourage chatty answers. This looks like more of a tools question to me. Mar 3, 2012 at 21:23
  • @NeilFein Because it's about establishing a new habit. It's particular to the tool, but the focus is on establishing a routine. IMHO, anyhow.
    – Standback
    Mar 3, 2012 at 21:25
  • @Standback - Okay, I see your reasoning. "Habits" seems like a very "soft" name for a tag, but on the other hand, so much about being a writer is about habits. Mar 3, 2012 at 21:31

5 Answers 5


Probably by making it useful for you again. If you say that it helps you think, then make it easier for you to write by hand and let the results reward/condition you to write more often by hand. Thus, if you are asking for specific tips for writing with pen and paper, you might find the following aspects useful (mostly paraphrased from my blog/a book I'm working on at the moment):

In General

  • Don't worry about brand (Moleskine, Clairefontaine, Fisher, etc.) -- it must work for you. Each brand has adherents, make up your own mind.
  • Use writing by hand to get ideas, to capture them. Then digitize them. Personally I use a textfile first and type them in as soon as possible, then use DEVONthink to organize my ideas. This removes the stress of having slopping handwriting. It's not about beauty, it's about capturing ideas. Ideas rot if they are not used, and I think it's easier if they are available digital.


  • Pens with pressurized mines or other ways to ensure that you can write against gravity are helpful (e.g., Fisher Space Pens, uni PowerTanks). You can not only writing while lying on your back (e.g., in bed), but also against the wall.
  • Lightpens (have a small light bulb inside) are helpful to be able to write in the dark (e.g., if you wake up in the middle of the night).
  • Collapsible pens (e.g., Fisher Bullet Pen) are small enough to fit in a wallet.
  • Ballpoint pens are way faster than anything with a cap -- and can be used with only one hand.
  • There are digital pens (e.g., from Livescribe, Wacom) which can be used like normal pens but which also digitalize whatever you write.


  • Find paper with a texture you like. Writing is also a very ... touch-based activity.
  • "Rite in the Rain" notepads are unaffected by water -- you can write in the rain or in the shower (essentially the same thing).
  • Spiral bounds will stay open by themselves. If the spiral is in the way, turn it around.
  • Use cheap quality that does not intimidate you. Personally I cannot use Moleskine or leather bound notebooks because I'm scared of ruining it with 'worthless' ramblings.
  • Use plain paper unless you really need lined or checkered paper. Plain paper is more flexible and does not influence you.
  • As paper is hard to backup, use something where you can tear out pages.
  • If you want to do concept work, MagicCharts (Legamaster) are thin foils that stick to walls due to static electricity. You can easily transform a wall into a huge Whiteboard. Very useful.


  • Keep something to write with you at all times and also store it where you spend some time (e.g., bathroom, next to bed, car).
  • You can write while walking if you bend a notepad a little.
  • Photographing the text with a cellphone camera or your webcam (Apple: Use Photobooth and removing the mirroring option in the settings) can be used to digitize your sketches/notes.
  • Learn to sketch -- it's a killer feature of paper. There's a book called "Sketching at work" (by Eppler & Pfister) which might be of interest.

I'm sure what's keeping you from writing is your question of 'How'. It's exactly like insomnia caused by worrying about not being able to fall asleep. I know, I've seen that.

No, you don't need good pen and paper, not the least, good things to write about. Keep just about any usable article handy at all times; write on any surface around you.

Especially important, keep them close to your keyboard and every time you reach out for the keyboard, pause, pick up the pen/ pencil and write that down on paper/whatever.

You will find this disruptive to your work and to concentration, but do it all the same. :) Then don't forget to post an image of it here; all the best.


I would suggest that you discover your personal writing quirks. I will try to illustrate this with my own experience.

Since high school, I had developed this habit to put aside a notebook (maybe an extra one left over from the school-work books) or a diary (maybe some complimentary office gift given to my parents) and use it to record my thoughts. It was a journal of sorts. I liked to write, and I wrote down all sorts of things, random thoughts, quotes that especially struck me, reminders, tasks, plans, records of my video gaming achievements, etc.

Then somewhere around college, I fully embraced the prevailing digital paradigm, and most of my writing, be it academic, assignments, fiction, journal, all migrated to the keyboard and screen. But very soon I felt the need for something else, another writing medium which allowed me to do things that I could not do (at least with any degree of fluency) on the keyboard.

This was because while writing in those notebooks/diaries, I had developed a host of quirks that allowed me to express myself more fully. These may include anything from abbreviations, variations in font size (sometimes in the middle of a sentence) to represent the importance of something etc., arrows, floating text, boxes, diagrams (which I thought represented my thoughts to the highest degree of accuracy that would be immediately apparent to me when I later read them), silly little inside jokes e.g. I had created some recurring abbreviations/symbols to remind myself of the significance of something, like if something was drastically important, I put a big 'IMP EXT' (important in the extreme) next to it with a 'TM' on top of it to signify that this was one of my 'trademark' recurring signs, and so on.

It was these quirks which I could not recreate while typing that made me put aside a special notebook which I have had for quite a few years now. I don't write very regularly because most of my writing is nevertheless dominantly on the keyboard, but once in a week or two I do find myself returning to the notebook to just write and express some thoughts which I feel the keyboard won't do justice to.

So maybe you need to find some similar and deeply personal relationship with pencil and paper-writing in order to make yourself do it naturally once again.


For communicating with others, as you mentioned in your comment, you should continue to use digital. It isn't fair to everyone else that they should have to suffer through your handwriting (assuming it is as bad as mine) just because you decided to abandon digital.

I went through a similar situation recently myself. I found myself struggling to complete my stories or to finish my books, and it was becoming increasingly frustrating. Then I read an article that stated that handwriting involved the same side of your brain that controlled the creative processes, while typing was controlled by the other side of the rbain. The article suggested that by writing out your ideas by hand, you were more likely to continue to develop your creative interests. (If I can find the article I'll come back and add a link.)

I sat down with a notebook and a pen and started writing out the remaining chapters of the book I was writing, and I was stunned to find that the words were suddenly flowing! I ended up finishing the book in short order and then started copying everything over to my computer. I found that this alsow worked really well in another manner. As I was typing the content, I was also able to edit it as I went along. I still went back and did another round of editing, but this helped me get the editing done faster.

Now I keep a notebook with me at all times, and I leave it on my nightstand in case I wake up with an idea. Just find notebook you like and a pen (or pencil) that isn comfortable, and make a point of keeping them with you. Use them specifically for writing your stories or ideas, and I think you'll be surprised to find the creative juices flowing again!


I believe many people stop drawing as children when their preconceptions of what a drawing ought to look like (something like marvel comics?) doesn't agree with their ability to draw. I think that many people stop writing by hand when, at some point in school, they become disenchanted with their handwriting, because they never learned to master a style that is worth imitating. So they just think their handwriting looks bad and they are ashamed of it. It takes away all motivation to write. My advice is therefore that you choose a style that you want to learn, and then use some time to practice. Don't just use a random writing book for children, but find good examples by good calligraphers.

Most calligraphers use as their personal handwriting a style derived from Cancelersca Coursiva, whitely used in the renaissance. It is the style that italic in classic bookfornts is based on. This style got a renaissance in the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the efforts of Alfred Fairbanks who wrote an instruction on how to adopt it for modern use. Most school writing material teach a dumped down version of it, but do not advance to better examples. As an adult it is maybe better to find a good book on calligraphy.

The font designer Hermann Zapf has a beautiful handwriting worth imitating, his font Zapfino is based on an elaborate version of it. Adobe's chief font designer Robert Slimbach has made a font, Poetica, that is very good for as model for learning to write in a controlled manner.

When you have learned to write in a formal manner that pleases your eye, a good fluid handwriting will follow naturally. A little effort goes a long way. It is easier than you might think, far easier than to learn to draw well.

Yes, I think tools matter. I avoid ballpoint pens; they are too slippery. A pencil and a fiber pen is better, and, most of all when you when you are learning, a broad point pen is good.

  • "Most calligraphers use as their personal handwriting a style derived from Cancelersca Coursiva" - Can you back this up? Mar 3, 2012 at 18:24

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