Writing

Writing on Paper VS Writing Digitally — Which is More Productive?

Writing any type of content (a novel, academic essay, blog post, etc) requires a great deal of concentration and discipline. In fact, when you’re writing, the slightest distraction or inconvenience can adversely affect your productivity and workflow.

So it’s no wonder that the writing medium you use is very important, especially when you consider that while each medium helps you eliminate certain distractions, each medium also has its own distractions and drawbacks.

Thanks to the advancement of technology, many writers prefer to write with the computer. Others, however, prefer to do things the old-fashioned way — they prefer to first write with a pen and paper, and then transfer their work to the computer.

Both writing media, in their own way, are effective. But you’d be wise to integrate the one that works better for you into your personal workflow. Have in mind that the medium which is more productive for another writer may not work the same way for you. And you don’t want to make the mistake of adopting a writing medium simply because it’s what works for the majority.

How then do you know which writing medium is the better option for you?

Well, to begin with, let’s take a look at some of the perks and pitfalls of both writing media.


Traditional Writing

Advantages

1. It has fewer hitches.

When you’re writing with a pen and paper, you don’t have to worry about a page or an app taking too long to load — and you also don’t have to worry about your system crashing. The writing process usually begins the moment you place the nib of your pen onto a blank sheet of paper. And since writing with the pen is a skill that you learnt at an early age, this writing medium usually feels more natural than the other one.

2. It has fewer distractions.

Writing with a pen and paper has relatively minimal distractions compared to writing digitally. Unlike digital writing, writing on paper discourages multitasking, and thus ensures that you have a seamless workflow and a pristine, completed (or nearly completed) article on your desk by the end of the day.

3. It allows you the opportunity to put down your thoughts quickly and creatively.

Have you ever experienced a sudden rush of ideas — something similar to a vicious case of information overload — and you feared that if you don’t put down these ideas immediately, your brain might implode from processing all that information? And that you might forget all of those interesting ideas almost as quickly as you got them?

If you’ve ever been in such situation, then you’d know just how difficult it is for your hand to keep up with your fleeting thoughts in the middle of an idea rush. This is why I always carry a pen and a notepad with me wherever I go. In situations like this, I find putting down my ideas in my notepad in form of shorthand, charts and diagrams so much faster, easier and more convenient than writing digitally in plain text.

Typing in shorthand can be quite the challenge, especially when your computer’s auto-correct feature keeps “correcting” your abbreviations every now and again.

4. Rewriting is so much easier when you first write on paper.

Editing is an integral part of the writing process, and one highly effective way to edit your content is to rewrite it. Although the conventional way to edit is to read the content thoroughly from beginning to end while correcting any mistakes that you find on the go. The fault in this conventional style is that of all the areas of writing that can be improved, this style focuses more on grammar than other areas.

When you’re rewriting your content, you’re simply writing it all over again. But you’re not rewriting it word-for-word — rather, you’re modifying it; you’re making tiny adjustments to its sentence structure, tone, pacing, word choice, grammar and the like. (If you figured this one out ahead of time, go ahead and pat yourself on the back.)

The rewriting process has so many benefits that can’t be contained in this article. And it is most effective when you first write on paper, and then type all over with the computer.

Disadvantages

1. You can easily lose your work.

The fact that paper can easily get damaged or lost makes it one of the least secure places to store your content. Imagine spending so much time drafting a blog post in your blog journal, only to forget that journal in a cab on your way back home from work. Can you imagine how frustrating that is?

Unfortunately, unlike most writing apps, blog journals don’t have a backup feature that lets you regain your content after losing it. Sucks, doesn’t it?

2. It’s difficult to write under poor lighting conditions.

If humans were nocturnal beings, like owls, bats, and… werewolves, then perhaps we would be able write on paper in complete darkness or under poor lighting conditions with little difficulty — that is, after overcoming the challenge of learning to properly hold the pen with our wings and claws. But as we aren’t nocturnal beings, we need a bright source of light to see whatever we’re writing on before we can even think of writing anything.

This could be a major problem for you if you’re a traditional writer who wants to write, but it’s nighttime — and even worse, there’s no power supply or a bright source of light. When this happens, there’s basically nothing you can do to change the situation apart from finding a source of light or watching your inspiration dwindle away to nothing while you patiently wait for the power to come back on.

3. It can be exhausting.

The rewriting process has a lot of benefits, but it can often be a daunting task, especially when you’re writing a lengthy piece — like this blog post you’re reading that contains 2,000-plus words. This is why most writers and bloggers prefer to write digitally and edit conventionally. Many don’t find the idea of writing a lengthy article on paper and then typing it all over again very appealing.


Digital Writing

Advantages

1. It saves you time and energy.

Perhaps the most important benefit of digital writing is that it delivers content faster than would be the case if you were writing traditionally. This is largely because it skips the rewriting process which, as you know, can be exhausting and time consuming.

If you’re writing a lengthy piece within the constraints of a deadline, you may find it easier to write digitally and edit conventionally since it saves you a lot of time and the stress of typing your content all over again.

2. It has quick and easy access to the dictionary.

The dictionary is every writer’s most trusted companion. It’s the one friend you know you can always count on anytime you’re having trouble remembering the meaning, usage, spelling, synonym or antonym of a word or phrase.

Like many writers, I use the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary because it’s very detailed — so much more than the dictionary apps I have installed on my phone. But I’m forced to rely entirely on these dictionary apps whenever I’m writing anywhere outside my house, reason being that my preferred dictionary isn’t exactly portable.

Digital dictionaries aren’t as bad as I make them seem, though. They have their perks: For instance, you’re less likely to get sidetracked while looking for the meaning of a word in a digital dictionary. And it takes less time and effort to search for the meaning of a word. While this might not seem like much, it’s an advantage nonetheless.

3. You can easily share your content with others.

Every writing app has share buttons that allow you to share your work with other people via social media, email, instant messaging and the like. Some others, like Google Keep and Evernote, give you the option to assign collaborator roles to anyone of your choice.

I find this helpful whenever I’m having a writer’s block while writing a story, and I need my friends to help me come up with ideas. If I wrote my stories in a journal instead of a writing app, and I needed the help or services of someone who lives very far away, I would first have to go through the stress of typing the entire story before I can send it to the person. For this reason, the digital medium is your best bet if you know you’re going to be sharing your work with others.

4. It has a backup and restore feature.

The last thing a writer wants is to lose his content after putting so much effort into creating and perfecting it. When that happens, it can be a devastating and demoralising experience for the writer. Unlike the traditional writing medium, the digital medium is tremendously effective at protecting your content and guaranteeing that it can be recovered if you ever lose it.

This is because nearly every writing app today has a backup and restore feature that allows you to save a copy of your original work to the internal memory of your device, an external storage device, or an online storage platform, like Google Drive, for example. You might want to keep this in mind the next time you decide to write your manuscript in a book without having a digital copy.

Disadvantages

1. It is VERY distracting.

From social media notifications to Candy Crush Saga, the digital writing medium has a universe of distractions so enticing, the mere thought of them makes you want to lie to yourself that you’ve done enough writing for one day.

It’s usually when you’re writing digitally that you’d stumble upon your eBook Reader and remember that you’re yet to finish that novel you started reading weeks ago — or that you still haven’t checked out that video that’s been trending on Twitter for a while now.

Many of us would want to procrastinate and yield to these tempting distractions, especially if we’re having a writer’s block or just feeling lazy. But if we’re going to call ourselves writers, we need to be disciplined enough to resist these temptations, no matter how enticing they may be. If you feel you don’t have what it takes to resist them, well, then you’d best stick with the traditional writing medium as it has fewer distractions.

2. It lacks the personal touch.

Many writers claim that writing digitally robs your content of its personal touch and originality. I couldn’t agree more. Every writer has a unique writing voice that manifests itself naturally in their writing. But this only happens when they’re writing with a medium that doesn’t try to silence that voice every now and then.

It’s so easy to lose your writing voice and sound (or write) differently when you’re writing digitally, thanks to your keyboard’s prediction feature always telling you what to write. This isn’t always a bad thing, though. It’s nice to write differently once in a while and note how your readers respond to the change — if they even notice the change, that is.

Nonetheless, your writing will always be better when you sound like yourself rather than someone else. And while it’s difficult to be consistent with your writing voice when you’re writing digitally, it’s not impossible. It takes practice to master the art — lots and lots of practice.

3. It isn’t healthy.

Staring at the computer screen for hours is bad for your eyes, even if you observe the 20/20/20 rule. This rule states that you should take a twenty-second break to stare at an object 20 metres away once every twenty minutes when you’re writing digitally — this helps the muscles in your eyes to relax after being tense for so long.

When you work behind the computer screen for several hours, inevitably, you would suffer from a headache, dizzy spells or, in the worst-case scenario, you would drop with fatigue. The headache becomes twice as painful when you have an eye defect that makes it difficult for you to see clearly — story of my life.

Conclusion

I started blogging using the traditional writing medium, and it worked perfectly for me. Later on when I wanted to explore, I tried out the digital medium and, even though it got the job done, I still preferred writing traditionally to writing digitally.

Today, I combine both mediums, regardless of the length of the article I’m writing. My writing process starts with me writing a very detailed outline and first draft for my article with the pen and paper. When I’m done writing, I rewrite the article with my phone.

Writing tradigitally (yes, it’s a made-up word) is what works for me. And if you’ve been struggling to decide which style would work for you, I hope that this article has helped you with that.


Which writing medium do you use? Why?

Please feel free to add any advantage or disadvantage I may have forgotten to add to this list.

36 thoughts on “Writing on Paper VS Writing Digitally — Which is More Productive?”

  1. You’ve laid out some interesting points here, Obinna. I bet your country’s internet quality also influences you to write more by hand.

    I used to write stories by hand when I was younger. With new technology, I began to write on the computer. I have a disability that causes me to barely be able to write anything by hand, so I have to use digital mediums now. I think I would write more personal things by hand if I could, just for the fun of having a cool writer’s journal. Btw, good to see you back, Obinna! Hope you had a fun summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Lily! It’s been a long while! How was your summer?
      Mine was anything but fun for health related reasons.

      Funny how you’re sure my country’s internet quality influences me to write more by hand, because you’re absolutely right. It IS a contributing factor.

      I think I’m getting the hang of writing with the computer. I wrote this blog post with the computer, although I’m not sure if I wrote it with my writing voice. In my eyes, I did, but everyone’s a biased critic when they’re critiquing their blog posts, am I right?

      Seems like the population of people who write by hand is drastically reducing. I fear that I’m even forgetting how to write detailed articles by hand. It’s why I just write outlines and rough sketches.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A detailed, lengthy post. Woohoo!

    I was recently asked if I write my posts in WP directly, or if I write in a Word document first and then transfer. I’ve heard plenty of people do it that way. I’m not sure why, because WP checks your spelling like Word does. I think some people might be worried about losing their progress, but my drafts auto save every few seconds, so I find that sufficient. The blogger who asked me about this mentioned that writing directly in WP can lead to distractions (reading other people’s posts when you’re “supposed to” write). I can understand that, but to me it makes no difference.

    Last year, when I wrote 50k words in a month I considered writing on paper, but I quickly realized that transcribing all of that onto my computer was going to kill me. Plus, I have word count built into Word. I cannot count words on paper as easily.

    To me, it’s about the length and the purpose. If I’m writing a short poem or story, I might write it on paper, because it’s easier/ faster/ less distracting. When I write just for myself (something I do not think I will publish anywhere), I write on paper. Otherwise, computer.

    Advantage no.4 under traditional writing is golden. Sometimes I write a story in my notebook and then want to post it on my blog at a later time. Like you said – I do not re-type it word for word (well, at least not most of the time), instead, I edit it as I go, publishing a hopefully better piece. I would not have that luxury if I wrote the story on the computer in the first place. (I get quite bored of re-reading my stuff).

    You retype it on your phone? Insanity. Isn’t there an app you can download, which scans your written document and tries to transcribe it? It wouldn’t be 100% accurate, but it might save you a lot of time.

    I have this fantasy that once I’m famous, I will publish a handwritten book…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Phew! It’s a “Woohoo!” and not an “Ugh!” Thank goodness. I finished writing this blog post last Friday, but I was hesitant to publish it. I kept thinking — to post or not to post? Not everyone likes reading long blog posts like we do.

      Oh, I’m scared to write my posts in WP directly. I remember the time I wrote my third blog post (or was it my fourth?). It was a list of ten books I’d recently read. (You can imagine how long and detailed that blog post would be.) I wrote it in WP directly and published it when I was done writing. After that, I had my then blogging mentor review the blog post. She pointed out SO MANY mistakes that I panicked and clicked on the button that lets you “unpublish” the post. I don’t know what happened next. All I know is that I couldn’t find the blog post again. Not in my drafts, not in my trash, not on the blog. It disappeared — just like that! Ever since then, I write OUTSIDE WP, and when I’m done, I copy and paste to WP. I do this to avoid telling stories that touch the heart.

      You wrote 50K words in a month!? Wow! I have a long way to go. I think my word count for the whole of 2018 was 35K-plus. Ouch. 😂 😂

      I agree! No. 4 IS golden. I can easily tell the difference between my rewritten posts and the ones I didn’t rewrite. The former is usually better.

      Hmm, about that app… I don’t know if such an app presently exists, but I’d love to try out something that cool. It would solve so many problems. It would save me a great deal of time and, since I’m good at drawing illustrations with my hand, I’d add some spice to my blog posts.

      You should give your fantasy a go, Goldie. Until now, I’d never really thought about reading an actual handwritten book. But have you read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid? I fell in love with that book even before reading it just because it looks like a handwritten diary. My love for it grew even stronger when I read the book. It’s now my second favourite book.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You do bring up a good argument. I try to back up the blog’s data periodically, but I haven’t done it in a while. If I was to lose it all…

        Yea, the novel writing challenge. It was fun.

        I never read the book, but I’ve seen the movie. I think.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. 🙂 My fingers tend to cramp whenever I write for long periods with a pen or pencil.

    It is much easier for me to type things out in a text editor.

    It is also easier for me to edit my work using a text editor. If I have to edit my work via pen and paper, it would require placing a line through the word and writing the replacement word on top of it.

    Writing digitally is so much easier for me.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There is some truth to all that.
      When I start my writing notebook, I write slowly and carefully. My handwriting is neat. Then my hand starts cramping and my handwriting gets messy. Then, I start writing faster, because ideas pour out and I make mistakes. Then I scratch things and write the correct words. It makes it look terrible. A notebook ruined.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I remember you being the person who made me consider writing digitally. I wasn’t really a fan of the digital medium when I first tried it out, but now, I can’t do without it. (So thank you!)

      About that cramp, I get it too — really nasty feeling. Also, I get why you’d prefer the digital medium when you’re writing. Things can get messy when you’re writing with the other medium. And I tend to lose interest in writing when my desk or the article I’m writing looks rough.

      Thanks a bunch for reading and sharing your thoughts, Renard! Enjoy the rest of your day!

      Liked by 1 person

    3. I, too, cannot write by hand for long before my fingers begin to rebel. I used to be a two-finger typist, but that’s very bad for the posture. Some years ago, I taught myself to touch-type (I use the Dvorak keyboard layout, which is much more ergonomically sound than QWERTY). Touch-typing lets me think with my fingers; I can type fast enough that I can keep up with my thoughts. Just. Of course that gets easier as time goes on, because my thoughts are slowing down 😉

      And as for trying to compose on a dumbphone, well, that, for me, is a complete non-starter. Predictive text doesn’t help the words flow; it hinders!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. To answer your question, yes, it’s so much better.
      I take it you’ve written a good number of blog posts. 😂
      The ones you’ve published are safe. But maybe you can try backing up the ones you haven’t published yet? It’s as they say, “Better safe than sorry.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I compose all my blog posts within WordPress (on a desktop computer, not on a dumbphone app). It auto-saves my drafts every few minutes, and it hasn’t yet let me down (yes, there’s always a first time for everything!).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. This is yet another reason why I need to invest in a desktop computer.

          What I love most about working with a phone is that phones are mobile, in contrast to desktop computers and laptops, which are relatively larger. Although I suppose this must be balanced against the fact that desktop computers are much easier to work with: Not only in the case of automatic and regular backups; I’ve also heard that desktop computers are much better for resizing photos and editing the HTML coding of a blog or website.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. First off, hope your health is okay now. I’d been thinking about the reason behind your conspicuous absence for a while now, so I am glad to see you’re back.
    Regarding your post which I consider another classic rendition of intellectual innovation,
    I prefer ‘digital writing’. Its a lot more convenient for me. There are workarounds for the valid associated disadvantages you identified.
    In terms of productivity, digital writing wins the race depending on the perspective of comparison. A major advantage of digital writing is the cost effectiveness on the long term and as the scale of the team of writers increases from a single person. You don’t spend money on paper, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, paper clips, staplers, files, file cabinets and all the accessories and manpower requirements it takes to deliver and manage paper writings. A single PC can handle all that. It is a lot more efficient to manage a team of writers working on a digital platform or indeed a single person.
    As an instance, think about what it takes to manage the Records department of your school which probably keeps a record of the files of all the students that ever attended your university in written format (considering we are in Nigeria). Think about the infrastructure and manpower deployed to manage this system and compare it to a fully functional digital equivalent. This is the primary reason behind the global relevance, growth and acceptance of the digital innovation. For me, the list of advantages between the two means of writing are incomparable.
    This humble contribution does not in anyway remove the shine on the impeccable justice you have done on the subject. It is intended to broaden your horizon of reason as you continue your journey to greatness.
    Welcome back m’brother and keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, my friend, I’m doing so much better now. Thank you so much for your concern.

      Oh, wow! Not only has your comment inspired a blog post idea, it has also broadened my mind!

      I must confess, I didn’t think of how more efficient the digital medium makes it to manage a team of writers. You make a valid point about the purpose of technology’s advancement and digital innovation. It’s purpose is aimed at sustaining growth and development.

      Thank you for reading, commenting, and for the nice compliments you paid me.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. With Discipline, digital writing is more productive cos of the easy tools you get to use. But that comes along with covering all basis of distractions… As there are tons of it on our digital devices.
    However, the oldie in me still love a good traditional writing time on paper. It’s a love affair for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you, Sharon. Technology is dedicated to making life easier, so the digital medium is arguably the more productive of the two.

      Do you write your blog posts on paper before typing them all over on the computer?

      Like

  6. I do both often, including jotting down things on note apps. I grew up in the 90s doing everything by hand, then moved on to typing, so I guess I’m used to both. What I use totally depends on my goals (journaling or uploading?) and where I am (home in bed or at my desk?).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can relate to your methods, Yari. Even for me, my goals, location, AND mood often determines which medium I use.

      I wonder, can you tell the difference between the blog posts you first wrote by hand and the ones you typed right from the start? Or have you become so good at writing with both mediums that there’s very little difference with which one you use?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Steve! I apologise for the delayed response. I went on a long break from blogging.

      And, hey, I can relate! It’s the same with me and most writers I know, in fact! I scribble so fast that typing suddenly seems awfully slow and unproductive.

      I’m curious, though. This style you use, is it the same when you’re writing lengthy articles? Or do you improvise?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It seems to me that you’ve disabled the comments feature on your blog. So even after I read your blog post about planning a good business strategy, I couldn’t leave a comment.
      But I enjoyed reading the article. Frankly, I didn’t think I’d read it to the end, but I did. As much as I’m ashamed to admit it, I’m quite illiterate when it comes to the business world. So, naturally, I usually find articles about business quite complex and boring. But the simplicity of your writing style and word choices made reading your post a fun and educating experience.
      Also, I love your grammar. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

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