Paper-phobia and the Modern Writer

Crimson Filofax Malden BinderI’ve been noticing a curious habit in young writers that, quite frankly, baffles me. I call it paper-phobia. I first noticed it when someone asked for alternates of a word choice at a coffeehouse write-in. Trying to be helpful, I pulled out my soft cover pocket thesaurus and attempted to hand it to the writer. I was met with a puzzled stare.

“What is that?” I was asked.

“A thesaurus,” I replied casually, expecting a thank you. Instead, the young woman exchanged amused glances with two other college aged writers in the group. She did not take the book.

A second writer quipped, “Go to” The first writer nodded and started to type quickly on her laptop. I sat there dumbfounded with my book in hand. I’ve used the search engine thesaurus before, but I’ve always found it to have fewer choices than the book bound version and since it is a search engine, you lose the added benefit of seeing other words near your choice, which often sparks other ideas. Not to mention, many times the wifi connection at coffeehouses are not the best and tends to drop out at the most inopportune time. I attempted to explain this to the young writer, knowing that the book was better, but I was met with resistance and amusement. I ended up tucking my book back into my book bag and returning to my writing.

Other incidents occurred. A writer would not take a referral from me because I had put it on my phone. It did not occur to her to write the information on a piece of paper. I even provided the paper and pen and she would not write it down. Another time, I was mocked at a write-in for bringing my outline on a sheet of paper instead of putting it on my phone and calling it up electronically. When I decided to be “modern” and put my notes on my ipod touch, I found that I could not access the information at a write-in and ended up losing more than one evening of work because the outline was not accessible. At a writer’s critique group I once belonged to, all of the writers read their stories off of laptops. When someone brought their story on a sheet of paper, they were looked down upon. I listened to other writers complain about how their laptops were constantly breaking down or worse, losing all their data because they had forgotten to back it up on a thumb drive. Finally, while at the post office, I spoke about an article that I had published while waiting to mail my package. The young woman I was talking to returned to me after concluding her business the with clerk and asked for the name of the magazine. I told her the name of the online publication, but said that I didn’t have the link available to write it down for her. She shrugged, “Oh, I’ll just google it,” she smiled and walked away. Now, while I’m glad to have a new reader for the magazine, I was baffled how she would find it since it had a common name. Yet, this young woman seemed confident that it would not be a problem.

This got me to thinking, when had people stopped using paper? Why was it considered old-fashioned to the point of embarrassment? I don’t view these young people as evil or even that their use of technology is wrong, but I don’t believe that cutting away everything from the past is right either. I started to view my own movement away from paper with a new eye.

In college, I used a paper planner to keep track of my schedule. All my class notes were written in notebooks, and most of my term papers and stories were typed on typewriters. White-out was my friend! If I published a story, it was to a limited print edition in a bound book or printed magazine. Gradually over the years my calender moved to my computer and synced with my phone, most of my writing was done on a computer and published on-line. My personal books went from scores of paperback novels to ebooks on my reader. My notes and recipes for cooking all became digital memos that I moved from one device to another via wifi. My paper organizer got lost in a box somewhere.

Technology is not a bad thing. In some ways the new methods of transferring and retaining information are superior to what went on before. However, I am becoming of a mind that losing the old ways of doing things is not necessarily a good thing. I’ve been taking a long look at what is needed to be a modern writer and I’ve concluded that it is a mixture of the old and the new.

My New Year’s Resolution to this end is to re-introduce paper into my life. I have purchased a new filofax organizer. In it will be all the notes, outlines and character sketches that I use as I work on my novels. I have set up a tracking system to write down each day my approximate word count, where I was writing and what I was writing. The act of putting it down on paper and seeing the marks when I open up the organizer helps to keep me on track. I will no longer be at the mercy of a wifi connection, a battery or a phone app when I wish to write in a coffeehouse, on my patio or at the park. I am looking forward to the day when not only will I come prepared with a paper bound thesaurus to my write-in, but all my research information will be written down on paper as well. That, combined with my Alphasmart Neo will make my writing desk truly portable and independent.

Paper-phobes….beware!!! I am on a mission!

25 thoughts on “Paper-phobia and the Modern Writer”

  1. I enjoyed this post! I agree with you, using paper and pen isn’t a bad thing at all. I’m 29, and I’ve been writing all my stories in individual notebooks that I buy at the bookstore. I’ll continue to do this because you never know when a story idea will pop up, so i always want to be prepared.

    After editing and editing some more, I type my story on a computer (oh how I miss my word processor I had in my pre-teens).

    Keep smiling,

      1. To be honest, I can’t remember the brand name. But, I had it from ages 13 to 18 (until my parents thought I should have a computer for college). My word processor was so cool because the screen was black with white letters. It had a monitor and a separate keyboard, but the keyboard was sort of like a typewriter where the margins were painted on type of it. All you could save were word documents–there was no internet, games, etc.

        And, I had my own printer to go along with it. It was the best.
        I’ve tried looking in Radio Shack and Best Buy but they don’t have old school word processors. If they did, I would definitely buy one.

        Keep smiling,

      2. Wow, that is an interesting no-distraction machine. I can see why you loved it so much. I have trouble writing when I can’t remove internet distractions too. Have you ever looked into alphasmarts? Either a AS 3000 or a Neo? You can find a used alphasmart 3000 for around $30 on eBay these days. Used Neos go for around $100. They are similar to your old word processor. I’m not a employee of RenLearn, the company that makes them, just a satisfied writer that uses them. Anyway, thanks for the reply. πŸ™‚

  2. This post is so interesting — I feel (as a younger academic) that I am stuck in this label of having to do everything digitally, but I still have a love of writing things down on paper! It is so much easier to visual what I am organising/writing/doing when I can SEE it in front of me. There is only so much information which my computer screen can show me at a time. And although, yes, I am trying to consume less paper in the next year or two of writing, it doesn’t mean I will rule it out altogether. There is nothing more satisfying than reading an article with a highlighter and pen in hand, or editing a paper with a red pen πŸ™‚

  3. @wini Thank you for your kind words about my post. I’m glad to know that there are still younger academics out there that still use paper on occasion. I agree with you that seeing it on paper in front of me helps me retain the information in a more visual manner that a computer screen often doesn’t compare to. There is a place for technology, but there is a place for paper too. If you worry about consuming paper, there is always recycled.

  4. Hey Indigoskye,
    I’ll have to check those suggestions out. Whenever I bring it up to a cashier at an electronic store, they look at me like I’m crazy LOL.

    Keep smiling,

  5. Thanks for this piece, I can totally identify with this savvy techi generation:) I still love paper and constantly use notepads and such for writing random story & article ideas and even use snail mail for submissions still!

    And thanks following my clara54 blog… I’ve visitedf your jelwery site & would luv to host you at clara54. email me?

    Peace & blessings,


    1. You have a beautiful looking blog, Clara. I’m glad to follow you. I’d love to talk to you further about being hosted. For some reason wordpress doesn’t have a contact widget on either of our sites…I just noticed! I’d like to PM you over on facebook if I may? I have a No Wasted Ink Facebook Page that you could use to private message me, the link is in the upper corner of this blog.

  6. Love your observations, Wendy. Can’t believe some younger writers are actually snooty about paper (e.g. the thesaurus anecdote you shared – incredible! sheesh!). Found you via WordPress and your AlphaSmart Neo. I’m a fan, too! But only for composing; not for editing. πŸ™‚
    I’ll be following! πŸ™‚

    1. Nice to meet you Natalie. I’m always glad to learn of new fans for the Alphasmart Neo. I really love mine. I write so much more when I do my drafting on it! I hope you stop by again. Have a great day! πŸ™‚

    1. I love my Crimson Personal Malden. Its become a wonderful writing journal for me. I did a post about it later in the blog, in fact. πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by, LJ, and for leaving a comment. πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Wendy

    I’m not a (creative) writer but a businessman and an accountant (CPA in US parlance), and I absolutely share your frustration concerning the way paper s looked down on as a recording and reference medium. More than that, what worries me is the way any innovation is adopted without thought by many people, and without giving it a chance to prove/disprove that it is actually an improvement on the old (and what is an improvement in some areas may not be in others). Over the last 20 years or so I think I’ve used most of the technological innovations – although I do not, nor will I ever, own a Kindle – and have found most of them useful in some areas and less so in others. I’m firmly committed to the Filofax way of life for my personal organisation, lists, notes, diary etc, and I am actively trying to be discerning about where technology will, and will not, provide benefits.

    Clearly technology has benefits (anyone who’s waited for a cheque to arrive by post will know this!), but in many areas it is a poor substitute for paper or ‘old’ technology. My Filofax isn’t platform-dependent, won’t run out of battery, won’t duplicate/triplicate my data, won’t delete important information overnight (or any other time), and with the exception of my contacts book, which lives permanently on my BlackBerry, is an altogether superior medium.

    Good luck on your mission! If you need any support, let me know!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, David. I appreciate the comment! Like you, I also keep my contacts on my phone. However, I find that having all my writing information in the filofax works better for me. There is something comfortable about flipping the pages for the information, knowing that it will always be there if I need it. I like taking notes at seminars in it as well. I still keep a small paperback thesaurus with me at every write-in I attend.

      I feel that we’ve been forced to change in radical ways due to this craze for tech. Sometimes the tried and true ways are still better. I’ve been noticing that there has started to be a shift back to paper for notes and for organizing your data on the go. I’m glad to see it!

  8. I’m in my early 20s. I use a Filofax, took all my class notes on paper, and journal by hand. I even write in cursive. I would have taken your thesaurus. Paper and the act of writing are not the same as a computer screen and typing!

      1. Sadly I hadn’t discovered Filofax in college – but I used paper planners, some looseleaf some bound, and I took notes in spiral bound notebooks. If I decided to go back to school now I would get myself an A5 Filofax and lots of paper for notes! πŸ™‚

      2. I’ve often been tempted by the A5 size myself. However, due to its better portability, the personal size seems to be working out well for me. I did not have a Filofax for college either. I used a plain generic Dayrunner. I love the quality of my leather bound Filofax much better.

  9. Wendy I loved this post!!! I could not write without my well-worn paperback thesaurus! It was my constant companion in undergrad and grad school.

    I prefer to write on the computer for the word processing and editing, and I certainly look things up online, but for most everything else I’m paper all the way. Even when I was in grad school it wasn’t yet common to look things up online and I still had to go to the library to find things in books and professional journals. I worry about what students today consider to be “sources.” Anyone can post anything on the internet. Things published in books and journals have checks to go through first!

    I had a similar experience recently talking to someone younger about paper planners vs electronic devices, which you can read here if you are interested:

    I’m so glad I found your blog! Many thanks to Steve for posting your link on Philofaxy!!

    1. One of the nice things about this post is that I’m learning that I’m not alone with my comfort with paper. I only learned about Filofax a few months ago, but my personal malden has become like an additional arm. It goes to all my writing functions and stays beside my desk. It is where I plan my blog posts, keep character sketches and story outlines. I had a Dayrunner before, but the vinyl cover and stiff rings did not lend themselves well to use. Once I made the switch to the more quality product, things began to work much better.

      I also wanted to thank you for stopping by. I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time and it is one that I follow on my rss reader. And yes, Steve was very kind to offer me a link to my post. I love Philofaxy and read it regularly. πŸ™‚

  10. Great post. Please post a link to where we can purchase the “soft cover pocket thesaurus” you mentioned.

    1. The thesaurus was a standard one that I purchased at my local bookstore for a few dollars. It is pocket sized and quite portable. It sits in my writing bag to this day. πŸ™‚ I keep a larger one near my writing desk when I work in my studio/office.

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