Essays on Technology and Culture

Why I’m Eschewing the Analog Workflow

A few of the writers I follow online, such as Patrick Rhone, and Harry C. Marks have started to use a more analog workflow [1] when they write. Patrick has switched to writing with pen and paper, Harry is using a vintage Smith-Corona typewriter to work on his novel. They claim that these writing methods allow them to work better, put themselves in another mindspace, and free themselves from distraction. They’re all absolutely right. But, it’s not right for me.

I’ve tried doing the disconnection thing, switching to pen and paper, or a typewriter to work. [2] I’ve carried every sort of notebook you can think of, from 8.5“ by 11” school notebooks to Pocket Moleskines, to Field Notes. They rarely get used. I lust over a good pen—my favorite being the Zebra Sarassa, but pens do me little good just clipped to the inside of my pants pocket. If I want to write, and if I want to do sustained writing, I have to do it in the digital space. Otherwise, I just shut down after too short of a time.

My iPad, actually, has become the best place for me to write. With the Apple Aluminum Bluetooth keyboard, and Drafts, I can plop down on any flat surface, and get right to work. I’m typing this up in my neighborhood coffee shop, on a lovely, warm Saturday afternoon. Here, I’m able to go into a different mental state, free from the distractions of home. My mind goes entirely into my writing the text on the screen in front of me. Even better is that when it’s done, I can read it. Six years of Catholic school education and daily handwriting classes did me no good. My scrawl is often illegible to anyone except me, and sometimes even me.

The analog methods have their advantages. A mechanical typewriter can’t run out of battery power. A notepad and pen won’t shatter if you drop it. What you write on them is permanent, or as close to permanent as is possible with paper. There is a very real, though very small chance, that any second the screen in front of me will die, taking my words with it. The worst that can happen to Patrick is that his pen will leak, and some of the ink will spill over a few words. Every method we use has its tradeoffs.

When Nietzsche got a typewriter, he noticed that writing on it changed what he wrote. He wasn’t sure if it was for the better, or for the worse, but it was a difference. For those of us who are trying to decide between digital writing and analog writing, this is something to consider. Whatever works best for you, whatever allows you to produce the work you want is what you should use, whether it’s Microsoft Word, a mechanical typewriter, pen and paper, or a stylus and wax tablet. I’ve found what works best for me is to use technology, and to use it on my own terms. More on that another time.

  1. I apologize a bit for the douchey terminology, but it’s a concise term.  ↩

  2. My typewriter is a vintage one as well, a portable typewriter from Montgomery Ward, circa 1959. Sadly, it’s in storage, but once I can get it out, I plan to have it cleaned up and fixed up.  ↩