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The Solution to Better Writing: Grab a Pen and Paper

The Solution to Better Writing: Grab a Pen and Paper

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Learning Tips

Online students have a symbiotic relationship with their electronic devices. They rely on their laptops, iPads and smartphones to gather information, write class papers, and engage in online forum discussions with their classmates and instructors.

But some professional writers and educators believe that the pen remains mightier than the sword. The pen or pencil, along with an actual notepad of paper, still serve a useful purpose in college writing, even for online students.

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Pen and Paper Survive while the Typewriter Is Now Obsolete

If you think about it, until the advent in the late 19th century of the now obsolete typewriter, all great literature was created by putting pen to paper.

Some famous writers who chose the pen over the typewriter include:

  • Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes
  • Ernest Hemingway, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
  • Graham Greene, English novelist of “The Power and the Glory,” “The Quiet American” and “The Third Man” among other books
  • Dylan Thomas, Welsh writer and poet who penned “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and “Under Milk Wood”
  • Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird”
  • Salmon Rushdie, British-Indian author of “The Satanic Verses” and other novels
  • Stephen King, prolific author of horror novels and short stories

Writing with Paper and Pen Fosters Learning

The Open Education Database (OED) offers numerous suggestions on “How to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better.” Three of its suggestions eschew technology in favor of good old paper and pen:

1. Write, don’t type: Writing by hand stimulates ideas. “The simple act of holding and using a pen or pencil may seem old-fashioned in this day and age, but just think of all the visionaries it’s worked for throughout the years,” the OED notes.

2. Carry a notebook at all times: According to legend, the British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge dreamed the words of his poem “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan….” Upon awakening, he wrote down what he could recall, but he was distracted by a visitor before he could finish.

“On his return to his room, he found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away.”

Many writers keep a pad and pencil on their nightstand, especially when they are working on a new book manuscript, magazine article or poem. Should inspiration strike at 2 a.m., they can quickly jot down the nocturnal thought or solution to a nagging problem. They can then return to sleep, knowing they’ll awake later having on paper what might be a great idea – or maybe not.

3. Keep a journal: This isn’t the same as midnight jottings. “Journaling has to do with tracking experiences over time,” the OED explains.

Depending on the course, some instructors require their online students to keep a journal. By adding visual details to your journal notes — charts, maps and illustrations — journaling can be a much more creative way to keep tabs on what you are learning.

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Also, a small pad and pen are handier than carrying around your laptop. You can always transcribe your journal notes into your laptop later.

Graham Greene, not surprisingly, summed it best when he admitted, “My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does.”

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