I have made notes when reporting news, interviewing people, or drafting outlines for most of my life. In the early days, it was shorthand. Later, it became a weird blend of English, symbols, and old shorthand. I eventually got a tape recorder and began recording my interviews, but mostly as a backup. More often than not, I’ve kept just a reporter’s notepad, a bunch of HB pencils, and a fountain pen on my writer’s desk.
My approach has been contrary to that of most of my peers, who by now almost all take notes by typing directly on the computer. Most of them draft their pieces on the computer as well. As a non-native English speaker, I always found (and still do) that writing things down by hand, and then bringing them into the digital realm, allowed me to create better drafts.
In this age of visual communications, I do much of my work on Zoom. I find that, when used sparingly, Zoom is quite handy. It is one click to save the conversation using its internal recording features. I have it integrated with Otter.ai, which does a passable job of transcribing those conversations. Still, the recordings are just a backup to make sure I am not making any mistakes.
I still take notes in an old-fashioned notebook, even though I am no longer a reporter. I still use the old HB pencils. I love drafting my longer pieces using one of my many fountain pens. I normally use a trusted old Montblanc 149. When I am traveling, I switch to a decade-old Lamy Rollerball pen I bought in Munich.
Why do I do this? Because I find that writing before typing helps me contextualize and remember information better. I was doing some research for an essay and ended up on a website called, Drawright, which had a nice piece on why handwriting trumps typing. Here are my favorite five reasons.
1. By feeling the writing surface, holding the writing instrument, and directing precise movement with thought, you give your brain a full workout! In contrast, typing is a simple, memory-based movement. Executing keystrokes is just a repetitive movement.
2. Research shows that children who practice their handwriting have higher levels of literacy and cognitive development. This is likely because as children learn how to quickly translate mental images of letters into a physical form, they begin to understand how letters form sentences and meaning.
3. Boosts reading comprehension: Strong writing skills also improve reading comprehension.
4. Retains knowledge: Handwriting notes (such as in a class) helps you retain knowledge more than typing on a keyboard.
5. Increases creativity: Writing and drawing by hand increases creativity because we are forced to slow down, consider the big picture, and come up with creative ideas. You use the right side of your brain!Drawright
That said, there is one thing I would argue that digital does better: spelling. I know you are theoretically supposed to get better at spelling by writing out words, but that has not been my experience. For some odd reason, as time passes, spellcheck and I seem to become increasingly good friends.
April 29, 2021, San Francisco.