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I am a professional blogger, and in many ways I live up to the least flattering stereotypes of the job. I spend most of the day on the couch in my underwear. I am wildly unhealthy. I’m a disappointment to my friends and family. But I defy the stereotypes in at least one respect: I write most of my blog posts out by hand before I publish them.
My editors at Slate were surprised when they learned about my antediluvian working methods. After briefly threatening to heave me off a bridge, they let me explain this seemingly anachronistic, superfluous affectation. Writing things out longhand is the best way I know to get my job done quickly and effectively. Here’s why.
Twenty years’ worth of sustained Internet use has left me with a head full of random trivia and a profound inability to concentrate. Every time I sit down in front of my computer to write a post, I end up browsing the IMDb page for the movie Cool Runnings or the career stats for underrated outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. I’m just as distractible when my computer isn’t connected to the Internet: I’ve wasted weeks of my life playing this stupid baseball simulation game that I downloaded years ago and can’t bring myself to delete.
When I’m working on a computer, it takes me three times as long as it should to write a post. When I’m putting pen to paper, though, there are no distractions. It’s just me and the ink, and I can’t tab over to something more immediately gratifying. Not only do I finish my posts faster, I’m more likely to just sit and think before I write a sentence or a paragraph—something I don’t always do while composing in Microsoft Word. (All of my dumbest posts were written directly to the computer. See if you can guess which ones! The answer “all of them” will receive only partial credit.)
I’ve always enjoyed writing things by hand, but I didn’t formalize the process until I started blogging daily for Slate. Almost every morning, before the day starts and I start drowning in emails, I go to a coffee shop with a pen and a small Moleskine notebook. There, I try to conceive and write drafts of two separate posts before 10:30 a.m. Then, it’s back to my apartment, where I shed my pants, transcribe, and refine what I’ve written. (One of the nice things about writing my posts by hand is that it allows for a built-in revision process.)
I can write in my notebook anywhere and everywhere. I will frequently bring it with me and dash off a rough draft while in transit—waiting for the subway, sitting on a bus. This is very convenient, as it allows me to be productive on the go without having to own a smartphone. (My current cellphone is at least 10 years old … but that’s a story for another time.)
Sometimes, of course, I am forced to compose directly to the computer. I can make this work, but I don’t prefer it. I write faster and better when I write by hand. More importantly, I just enjoy writing more when I’m not staring at a screen. When I write with a pen rather than a keyboard, it feels like I’m writing, like literate men and women have done for centuries before me. (That’s how George Eliot did all of her “Dumb Criminal of the Week” posts, I’m sure.)
As a disgustingly sentimental person, I like that feeling of being connected to those who came before me. Now, I’m off to the computer to transcribe this mess …