ONE OF THE HOTTEST TOPICS among those of us who journal is whether to use a pen and paper or a computer. And, though most of us are willing to let everyone else do whatever they do, we journal writers hold strong opinions about which way is best and why we adhere to it. In fact, I once wanted to register for a journal writing workshop and was told that only pen and paper were allowed and my laptop would not be welcome. I figured that if the method was more important to the presenters than the results, I wasn’t interested after all.
Advocates of the pen and paper claim that the pen has a direct connection to the heart (yes, I read that on someone else’s blog), that typing feels like work and distracts them. For others, the pen slows them down, allows them to marinate in their thoughts. There are authors who insist on writing entire novels longhand and later entering what they’ve written onto the computer, because they feel their creative juices flow more freely when they use pen and paper.
I, on the other hand, have been journaling on my computer since December of 2006 and feel—strongly, of course—that the benefits of keeping my journal on the computer far outweigh any disadvantages. Something I read this afternoon keyed this topic, and I thought it might be helpful for those of you who wonder which way is best to read about some of the advantages of a computer-based journal.
- It’s fast and I don’t have to think. Writing by hand is hard. I’m left-handed, and writing with a pen or pencil has always been a tedious, hand-cramping, ink-smearing affair. I taught myself to type when I was eight years’ old, and have never looked back. I maintain a fairly accurate 85-90 words per minute, which means that my fingers can nearly keep up with my thoughts. This gives a whole new meaning to stream-of-consciousness writing.
- I can write straight from the heart. Because my fingers know where they’re going, I don’t have to keep my eyes open. I can—and often do—close my eyes and write as images, memories, and thoughts come to me. I don’t worry about spelling or grammar, because I know that word processing technology makes them easy to fix. Being able to close my eyes allows me to move deeply into a character or emotion and write from within that emotional space—something I have difficulty doing if I have to track my hand across a lined page.
- I can organize my writing after the fact. I keep several different journals: a writing journal, where I record the ins and outs of my writing life; a daily journal where I whine about my teenage son and talk about not getting enough sleep; a gratitude journal, as an antidote to my daily journal, to help me keep everything in perspective; and a photo/art journal, where I keep drawings and photos that have touched me in some way, are expressions of a particular event or emotion, or have been inspirations for journal writing sessions. Sometimes, these journals tend to overlap. I can cut and paste or move things around as needed after the fact.
- I can easily find key events and patterns in my life. This has got to be the coolest reason for keeping a journal on the computer. Let’s say I’m writing a memoir and want to find all the entries I’ve made about my youngest son, or a particular event in my life. I can perform a simple search, just as I would in a Word document or on web page, and there it is! I did this once and discovered that I wrote about a lack of sleep no fewer than 50 times one year. This discovery motivated me to conduct a personal sleep experiment, write an article that got published, and change my sleep habits (a change that lasted nearly six months).
- It’s way easier to read. I don’t know about you, but my handwriting is no picnic to read. I love the fact that I can print out my journal entries and put them in a binder for later reading. And you know what? I actually do.
- It’s password protected. I password protect my computer-based journal, locking it away from prying eyes. This gives me a level of security and privacy that I can’t get from hiding my journal under my pillow or buying a lock for it. You’re probably wondering why this would even matter, since I print my journal entries and put them in binders. The truth is, it doesn’t—not to me, anyway. I really don’t care if other people read my journals. I figure if they don’t like what they read or feel offended by what I wrote about them, that’s their fault for reading it in the first place. But the point is, I can password protect my journal. For those of you who feel that journal writing is an intensely private affair, password protection is a very real benefit.
- I can back it up. Everything on my computer gets backed up daily to an external hard drive and, once a week, I back everything up to a different external hard drive and put that one in my detached garage (just in case there were ever a fire in my office). This ability to back up my writing and photography gives me a wonderful feeling of security. A hand-written journal can be destroyed easily and can’t be backed up without a great deal of trouble.
- I can upload entries directly to my blog. I change my mind; this is the coolest reason to keep my journal on computer. This article, which started out to be a journal entry and grew into a blog post, was uploaded directly from my journal. I didn’t have to do any additional cutting or pasting or formatting.
- I can still use pen and paper (or my new iPad!) when needed. For the occasional times when I can’t carry or use my laptop, I can still use a pen and paper. I’m a writer, after all, and always have a small notebook in my purse. Of course, now that I have my new iPad, who knows where portable writing technology will take me?
Chime in. This is such a lovely debate and a great journal topic. Which do you prefer—pen and paper, or computer—and why?