It’s clear we’re living in a very “digital” age. That doesn’t mean that we’ve completely abandoned the pen and paper (see our recent discovery that handwriting is still thriving even for business professionals; or two examples of tech bloggers who confess to loving paper notebooks: “Pen and Paper: Better Than All Things Digital” and “This year’s killer app — pen and paper”). But it’s very clear that things are shifting as our computer devices are getting smaller and more portable and user-friendly.

And we’re not going to even try pretending that computers don’t have clear advantages over notebooks and paper. Just for a simple list, writing with a computer and keyboard allows for the following advantages:

  • Editing is infinitely easier (delete, find-&-replace, formatting, cut-&-paste, re-organizing information), which, in turn, saves the writer time
  • Your work can be searchable
  • Your work is always readable. Some of us have terrible handwriting, making it difficult for others (or let’s be honest, even ourselves!) to read what we’ve written
  • Your work is easily sharable
  • Text on paper isn’t very convertible to other formats
  • Computers are better for the environment (Jotting down information doesn’t require the destruction of an endless amount of trees…)

But, those advantages aside, it’s important to keep in mind just why the pen and paper endure – and why it will to continue to endure! The following is a list of the five advantages the pen and paper have over computer devices.

Fewer Distractions

  • Let’s face it: when you’re trying to be productive or creative you want as few obstructions as possible. But with word processors and other devices you’re constantly being distracted by such things as formatting (bold this, italicize that) or the spell-checker. (And all confessions aside: I typed that last sentence and I stopped twice to check the spelling for both “device” and “italicize.”) With a notebook, there are no such obstructions to the writing process.
  • On a computer it’s much easier to click away to something else (Open another document; reference something on the web; check your email again…) With a notebook it’s just you, a pen, and the paper – no excuses and no distractions!
  • You don’t have to wait for a notebook to start up and it will never shut down on you. Again: Just grab the notebook or sheet of paper and start writing.

More Reliable

  • As stated above, you don’t have to wait for a notebook to start up and you never have to fear that it will shut down on you – or worse, die and destroy all your work! No electricity or batteries required.
  • Unlike some of the devices (we have to exclude smart phones in this example!), a notebook can be carried everywhere. Easy to open it up and jot down any in-the-moment stray thoughts.
  • If you’ve written it down you’ll always have a hard copy of the information on hand. In the situation of your computer dying, the information could be lost to you forever.

The “Doodling” Limitation

  • Sure we’ve mastered word processing on electronic devices – but we haven’t yet been able to find a computer program or app that can, in any significant way, replace how we can doodle or sketch or create a mind-map on a sheet of paper. If we’re on a computer and we need to switch from writing to sketching out an idea, we have very few options outside of the pen and paper.

It’s More Personal

  • This one’s completely subjective: We asked Paperblanks fans on Facebook and Twitter about there on this topic and more than a few said a variation on this idea: “It’s more personal.” For some, it’s just more special or private to write something down in a notebook or on paper.
  • And why not? More and more these days we associate computers with being “connected” (to the Internet, to a server, etc.) or to the scare of information “getting out” (an email read by the wrong people; a personal video or document being leaked, etc.), that a personal book without all those “connections” or vulnerabilities just feels – more personal!

It Just Feels More Natural

  • Nothing in a computer or smart phone or tablet can replicate the feeling of holding a pen and gliding it on a piece of paper (Unless you’re talking about a stylus-and-tablet set-up, but how many of us use those?) It just feels good in your hands.
  • Inputting information into a device is still just not as natural as writing it down. As a Detroit-based web developer is quoted as saying in this article, “The input of information [on a computer device] is still a little strange … It doesn’t feel right.”
  • Put simply: There’s a simplicity to the pen and paper!

Our Conclusion: Use Both!

Our belief is that, just like the study about business professionals still relying on paper – both options should be utilized. They both have clear advantages. Some people do creative and rough work with pen and paper and then professional and share-able work with a computer and keyboard. No matter your process or personal preferences, we feel it’s advantageous to take advantage of the benefits of both mediums!

Have We Missed Anything?

If we’ve missed anything important feel free to tell us in the comments section below!

About Paperblanks: We have been producing superb writing journals for nearly twenty years. We are book people, and we believe that the written word matters and that our blank books have a critical role to play in the art and continued practice of writing itself. For more about Paperblanks, go to our website at


  1. I actually have to make myself get off the computer. I write stories, and my mind is too fast for my fingers to keep up with, not to mention I have terrible short term memory, so I write stories/manuscripts on the computer exclusively – but I so love journals and the act of writing. I do keep a daily journal, and now I find myself organizing my notes for my stories after the fact. I’m actually finding more plot holes and things that don’t make sense when I take the time to write the rules/limitations of the world/plot by hand.

  2. This site is really helpful for debating. People reading my comment though are probably going to go ‘it doesn’t help me!’ and now they’re either thinking this person understands me or they are a complete and utter psycho!

  3. I think computers because it is easier that a pencil because it tells us if the word is wrong, it is faster to use and you won’t tier out as easy

  4. What a time for me to see this artcile! The same week I officially switched Back, from computer to paper, and paperblanks at that! Perfect!

    I have to say after writing on computers only for the last 3 years straight, I prefer paper personally.

    I write Alot, literally I spend between 1/3rd to 1/2 of my day just on writing, and I need it for personal and work. So the four things that were most important to me were; comfort of writing, speed of writing, ease of storage, and ease of looking up something I have written.

    As far as comfort, I thought clicking away would be more comfortable than my hand cramping. Well even after 3 years and being able to type as fast as I can think, it’s not. It makes my hands hurt alot, and no matter which position I try to sit in, it isn’t comfortable. Even now on smartphones, I hate the little thumb clicking method.

    As far as speed, I can type as fast as I can think, which I thought was pretty fast, well apparently not! 😉 I measured myself using the WPM method, and turns out I’m pretty slow after all…and as far as hand printing, it only takes me 2 more seconds per minute to finish the same text. However, I found that slowing down was good. I actually remember what I write when I write on paper, the slower pace and having to fully print out each letter really engraves the words in me rather than blindly dashing away, my fingers flying on the keyboard.

    Which brings me up to my next point, looking up something, I thought would be much easier on the computer. After all, I can search a word! Looking something up was never hard for me, even through piles of journals. However, looking something up on the computer was easier with digital books vs physical ones. I thought journaling would be the same. I was wrong!

    I write in a different way than I read (i later found out) As I mentioned I remember almost all of it, and even when I don’t, the site of the page and seeing my own writing immediately makes me recall exactly, that day, that mood, the feel when I was writing and what was going on then in my heart and mind. My way of writing and my actual hand written words are what makes all the difference in remembering it. It just…kind of like a picture, freezes that moment in time. And every single time I look at it, even years later, I can recall how I felt writing it and what was going on. I thought before it was just because of my words, I thought a computer would be the same. I was shocked it wasn’t, at first I thought something was wrong with me! I had never, never in my life not recalled a moment before when looking at my own writing. But looking back at computer written documents, it is just blank. This freaked me out and got me to think for year long and hard what the differences were and why it was happening, I am so glad I figured it out!

    Flipping through a journal, even an undated journal, I can find anything within seconds, because of the ease of recalling. However now I am even more organized, with dates on the journal covers and colour coded dates and titles for different things at the too of each page. As I flip, when the page top colours change from red to pink I know what it means, and I can re locate a sentence within seconds.

    On the computer the story is different, as in order to be able to recall a specific topic, you have to BE specific. If I type a general subject word in my search, like goldfish, I will get Every article, on goldfish I have, and often mu point of recalling is that I am looking for a specific sentence, yet I can’t remember exactly how I wrote it.

    I can only remember the appromate subject, which leaves me searching through documents for such a long time…, longer than journals! So I started doing digitally what I did on paper, categorize by date. Then I simply look things up by months. While I sort of find something that way, I am STILL faster looking through journals. Because I remember what I did so well. I really think it 1, has to do with experience, when you love it and you are all emersed in it, you feel and remember it more. And I just love the feel of writing. And 2, literal muscle memory. My fingers have to print out each full letter, and I have to think, see, and print it all clearly, accurately, no spell check to correct me, etc. so I truly think the muscle memory if literally printing out each letter like that, does engrave it in your memory better, and ultimately, you remember more.

    With books, if I want to recall something, I often remember the sentence or word that I need almost excatly. In fact, that usually is what prompts a search, a phrase comes to me head from a book, which excites me to try to find it. On the computer this Really is easier, as when you type the actual sentence you get the book instantly, rather than flipping through a library.

    The difference is the same way I often discover so much more on Pinterest than on Google, because I don’t have to know what word to type in in advance, I can discover things I never even dreamed of and learn more by not being specifc. I guess certain things that seem the same really are differnet, and I guess I assumed looking up writing would be the same as books, but it is wasn’t..

    I did have to type out on computers back when I worked in an office as it was a policy, but all my co-workers too, wrote faster and better and remembered more when writing on paper. So we used paper whenever we were allowed to for any task.

    (And by the way, we are ages ranging 18-39, so it’s not like we are an older senior generation that grew up only on paper. Most of us grew up on computers, or used them heavily in school for courses, We were just fortunate to have teachers and families who cared about writing well and taught us well, and it got engraved in us. We have all always preferred it more, and I truly think it is a personal preference. My sister grew up the same way, yet she prefers computers for writing, and she writes alot too)

    I also like to feel very…involved in my wiring. It’s a really personal thing for me and the computer…I just can’t connect with the experience on the same level as I do slightly hunched over my paper with a pencil or pen. It just feels more involved, more like I go into my own writing. On the computers it just…floats there. If that makes sense…

    And ease of storage…well…this may be the one category the computer may surpass, as no matter how much I write (and, as you can see I write alot) it all fits in a small package. Whereas with journals over many years boxes turn to bookshelves. However, that truly does take many years.

    I have to say the storage of journals is certainly a more attractive one, and for me that is going to win. 😉

    When I first switched, from journals to computers, I was really excited about switching. Everyone said how much better it was, faster, smoother, newer, better, I really thought that writing full time would be even more new and fun. Especially since I had written so many school assignments on the computer and greatly enjoyed it. But even after the first little while of writing… I didn’t like it. I thought it would grow on me, but it didn’t. I guess writing personal stuff full time is very different than writing a typed, dry school assignment once in a while (we were given a choice between computer and paper for assignments, I always chose paper. The once in a while are when we weren’t given a choice)

    I am truly happy to have found paperblanks, and to be coming back full circle with my writing. Now that I know what I like, I’ll be even more confident staying in my ‘home zone’ 🙂

    And by the way I also tried for a long time using a digital pen for writing. Some people said it makes the experience better so I tried it. It didn’t. 😉 but now you can really say I tried all the digital options! 😉

    Thank you paperblanks for a nice article. And sorry about my novel 😉 hopefully though, (since I found this article through just google and anyone else who is looking at this topic may too), my experience will help anyone who may be trying to decide for themselves in a similar situation.

    Happy writing!

    • One thing I forgot to mention is the radiation and screen time. Limiting computer use is an all around healthy idea, for your eyes, brain, and body. The kind of light emitted from screens is bad for the eyes, and worsens them over the years. So anytime we can reduce their use by doing an activity away from them is good. Also, for those who write alot before bed, research has shown that the light waves from screens send disrupting signals to the brain which makes it very hard for it to sleep afterward. That, with low light night situations, makes it not so ideal for you, and your eyes, to be using it for writing at night.

      And every electronic device emits electromagnetic radiation, and computers and smartphones and tablets are generally right on us. Which makes us almost drink up what they emit. Prolonged use is not the best idea, especially when it is connected to the Internet, because then you have one more type of radiation right on you, RF.

      Most poeple have to use computers and smartphones for work anyway, so if we can drastically reduce our time on them by moving some activities elsewhere, like writing, it is better for our health in the long run.

      It is not the best idea to curl up by a reading light with your phone at night so close to you, so you can write before bed.

      But there is no harm in doing that with your journal. 😉

      • Welcome back to paper, Sharon!

        You’ve raised a number of great points here and the effects of the small screen and artificial light of a computer or smart phone are not ones we had thought about. It definitely seems like the key here is a healthy balance between the digital and the analog.

        Wishing you lots of happy and healthy writing experiences for the new year!
        The Paperblanks® Team

  5. Is writing on a tablet with a stylus such as the iPad Pro and a pencil considered the same as writing on a piece of paper with a pencil as far as studies and memory retention and go

    • Hi Andrew,

      That’s a great question. We haven’t found many studies about this yet, but there are a few that suggest that writing with a stylus would have similar benefits to using traditional pen and paper. Either way, you are taking the time to draw each letter, thereby integrating your visual, motor and cognitive skills. This study, published in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, does suggest that writing with a stylus may offer the best of both words: the active engagement that handwriting encourages while also providing a digital record of your notes.

      The Paperblanks Team


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