Notepads versus Trackpads: Should Writers Use Pen-and-Paper or Modern Writing Software?

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

In today’s world, nearly every writer uses some form of writing software.  In fact, I’m using Microsoft Word – a word processing software – to type this right now.    But for people who are professional writers, word processors are just the beginning.  There is an entire world of software aimed to make writers’ jobs easier by helping to organize notes, link ideas, track characters and plot lines, and the like.  Scrivener is one of the most popular currently, but many options exist.

However, is there something being lost when we transfer from old-school note cards and handwritten outlines to hyperlinked files and being able to make changes with one flick on your computer’s trackpad?

Today, I’m going to compare the benefits of going fingers-to-keyboard versus those of the traditional pencil-to-page method.

First, physical (hardcopy) methods:

Let’s start with the old-school method of plotting, writing, and revising, which includes anything non-electronic: things like handwritten drafts, charting plots with note-cards on the floor or wall, binders and notebooks filled with notes and outlines, etc.   Technically, we could probably include using a typewriter in here, but let’s stay focused on what could be done with a good ol’ paper and pen/pencil.

Benefits of Paper and Pen/Pencil:

  1. Paper and pencil can be easily transported for convenient writing anywhere (they can even fit in a pocket!)

  2. Cheap and easy to access

  3. Hard copies are not subject to accidental deletion, computer crashes, or other technological disasters

  4. Handwriting forces the brain to slow down, which can mean deeper thought, better connection with your words, and greater recollection of what has been written

  5. Simplicity and a very shallow learning curve. While some software – like Microsoft Word – is fairly simple, others require quite a bit of manual-reading and/or large time investments to master (like Scrivener).  But pencil and paper requires only that you know how to form letters, and