Want to Write Better? Try This Nifty Trick

I’ve done some of the best writing of my entire life over the past few weeks.

Things I’d never thought about, never written about. The pages are just whizzing right by, the words shooting out, unstoppable, like oil from a well in There Will Be Blood.

This period of pronounced activity started after the holidays, when I decided to do something I hadn’t done in many years, something I really hadn’t done since I was a child, since I was in school.

It’s such a silly thing, really. This thing I’ve been doing. So simple, so overlooked. It’s so ridiculous I actually feel a little weird talking about.

But you want to know what I’ve been doing? Here, I’ll tell you.

I’m writing with a pen. And paper.

That’s it.

Nothing fancy, either. Really, the complete opposite of that.

I bought the notebooks for 50 cents a piece from a guy who sells office supplies at a little stand in front of an overpriced office/art supplies store. The pen is a — gee, I don’t even know what it is — a BIC? I think I found it in the street or accidentally stole it from the bank. No idea.

But these two tools — pen and paper — have been phenomenal, really great additions to my life. Again, I feel weird even talking about this, because they’re such obvious things, yet so overlooked.

In fact, when I first started using them, I hadn’t written by hand in so long that I didn’t even know if I could still do that. I thought my hand might get tired, or I’d forget how to spell or something.

Yet, that wasn’t the case at all. I still remembered how to write; I even wrote in script.

How this has made things better — the one giant upside has been, really, that I have no distractions. There are no other windows in a notebook. No other articles to look at. No chats going on. No notifications. No social media. No Medium! It’s just me and my thoughts, alone — which is how it should be. It’s awesome.

Another upside is speed. I would wager that I type about 60–80 words-per-minute, and I’m pretty fast even on a touchscreen phone. By and large, I’ve felt, for most of my adult life, that working on a computer was as good as it got.

But the mind to hand to pen to paper transition is so much faster — at least for me — than typing. Even while I’m typing this, I notice myself stopping, starting, stopping, starting.

Punctuation, too. Em dashes, for example — the annoying things that break up sentences, like this one — I write with them far less frequently on paper, because they look weird on paper. And also, the hand is more apt to just finish a thought when you’re writing it, whereas when you’re typing it, you go back and futz with the sentence again, fix it up, etc.

Of course you can do these things with paper, too. But it’s odd, going back and using white-out or crossing things out and rewriting. It doesn’t sound like thinking, doesn’t sound like speaking — it sounds like writing. Writing sounds like writing. Which is, it sounds boring.

Anyway, if you’re stuck, try it out. Ditch the computer and all the stupid shit that happens on it, and just get primitive with it. Pen and paper, heck maybe even a pencil — old school. You might find it opens something up in you that has been locked away for too long, trying to get out.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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