The power of paper

DSC_0313_editMillions of businesses around the world have paper free offices, and more are making the switch every day. And it makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider how deforestation contributes to climate change. Most of us also type a lot faster than we write by hand–I know I certainly do. So we write on our computers, we work on our computers, we socialize on our computers. We do virtually everything with our computers, and while they do have limitations, scientists are pushing against those limitations every day.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. Computers are a tool. They are one of the most useful tools humanity’s ever invented. We can do thousands of things with them. Most of those things can be done in a matter of minutes. And there are tools for almost every task you can imagine, especially creative tasks. Want to brainstorm? You can use Scrivener, or you can get a dedicated brainstorming app. Want to write a book? There are dozens of software options. Want to write a BETTER book? There are tools that will assess your manuscript for overused words, misspelled words, and poor grammar.

But there is also power in paper. It forces us to think differently, to take our time. Not only do most of us write slower by hand, but we also don’t want to cross things out and “ruin” our paper. Nor do we want to take up more space than absolutely necessary. Paper might be affordable, but most of us still don’t like wasting it.

I use a lot of paper for my own writing, and I use it for many different things. Today I’d like to share what those things are–and why I prefer paper for each one.

My Many Uses of Paper

There are probably more I’m not thinking about, but here are the most common ways I use paper:

1. Brainstorming

Today there are many programs that feature brainstorming technology–and some designed solely for brainstorming. I honestly haven’t even tried any of these programs. I don’t think I ever will. I simply love brainstorming on paper too much.

Why do I like brainstorming on paper so much? Part of it is that paper opens a different part of my brain. It takes me into Idea Land, the mythical place where all writers (and other creative people) find our ideas. I can also make the brainstorm any shape I want. Sometimes I like doing traditional mind maps. Other times I write a simple list. Every once in a while I’ll attach things from other places. It’s all up to me.

I know today’s programs offer more customization options than ever before, but I still feel most in control brainstorming on paper. And you might too–you never know until you try.

2. Worldbuilding

I also do most of my worldbuilding on paper. Each of my worlds has its own binder, containing maps, histories, mythologies, and rules of magic. These binders also contain related brainstorming and character sheets. I use graph paper (or blank printer paper in a pinch) for maps and lined paper for everything else.

I’m about to embark on the adventure of typing these all up and creating series bibles for each world, but I know future worldbuilding will still happen on paper. I love my collection of binders, and I love filling them. Writing additions in the margins of old histories makes me feel like a student of my own worlds. And that’s a pretty cool feeling!

Doing my worldbuilding in a binder also gets me away from the computer. This forces me to focus purely on the worldbuilding, instead of the millions of distractions online.

3. Journaling

Until recently, I journaled sporadically. Usually I only bothered in my worst depressive states. Many of my journals are filled with dark poetry. All are filled with dark thoughts. They are all also paper notebooks.

A lot of writers I know actually journal on their computers–or even their phones–now. Most of them use Evernote, which allows them to sync up their phone and their computer.

To be honest, my journals are filled with such dark thoughts that having them on the cloud sounds terrifying. Everything is supposed to be secure, of course, but remember all those leaked celebrity nudes? A little paranoia in this realm can’t hurt.

4. Editing

The final big thing I use paper for is editing. Any time I’m editing fiction over 1,000 words long, I print it out and go over it with a red pen. Depending on length, I may also read it out loud. Either way, printing it out lets me see my work in a new light. It provides another layer of distance between me and the story I wrote. It also allows me to keep the paper notes in my lap while working on my computer, a handy thing since I don’t have room for two monitors.

Printing novels definitely makes me feel guilty about my environmental impact, but there’s no better way to edit. So I use recycled paper (or paper gifted to me by friends/family). I print double sided when possible–my printer’s kind of finicky. When I’m done, I recycle my drafts. If I’m going camping soon I might even save a couple for camping.

Is paper a regular part of your writing practice? How do you use it? Let me know in the comments section below!

6 thoughts on “The power of paper

  • I use paper to write quick notes and random thoughts I have about my WIP (work in progress) when I am doing other things. It is amazing how many ideas I come up with when washing dishes or folding laundry!

  • dlgunn

    Chores are a great way to distract yourself while still leaving room for your brain to have ideas. I know I’m really stuck when I start cleaning the house 😉

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Carol Browne

    I tend to agree with all of the above, Dianna. I use the computer merely to type out the actual text.

    • dlgunn

      Exactly! I now do a lot of my character exercises on the computer too, because they’ve started turning into fairly significant short stories, but that’s about it.

      Although I am determined to get it all onto my computer as well, even if it takes me three years to type up all of those notes… So many binders in this house!

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