Going Analog

January 9, 2018 § 25 Comments

Photo of stationery store, three aisles of pens.

Just pens.

In Taiwan, there are historic shophouses, cliffs crumbling into the Pacific Ocean, and a glorious day where gods are processed through the streets, heralded by firecrackers and bands.

There are also huge stationery stores. The first one I saw–9X9 Stationery Expert–I walked right into four aisles of pens. Just pens. Not erasers or pencils–those have their own aisles, thank you very much. Upstairs were rows of stickers, file folders, calendars, art supplies, and shelf after shelf of notebooks, lined and squared and blank and ready for absolutely brilliant and world-changing writing.

That’s my secret hope for every blank page I buy. But usually new notebooks end up on a shelf, because they’re “too nice to use” or I’m on a kick where I only write in composition books or hotel notepads or primary school tablets from Austria. I finally solved that quandary by buying the same notebook every time, in packs of three, so I can write on nice paper without feeling like I’m committing desecration.

Still, I wanted the cute notebook that said “Everything Is Going to Be OK” on the cover. Or the one with the old-fashioned folded pages, to be slit apart with a paper knife. Maybe the one lined vertically for kanji writing, with anime pandas on every page. Before my husband hauled me out of the store (after waiting patiently for almost an hour), I’d bought gifts for friends and paper clips shaped like the Eiffel Tower.

I got sucked into an artsy independent store in Kaohsiung. In Tainan, going alone at night to 101 Stationary Paradise felt like meeting a lover. On my birthday, my husband indulged me. We walked almost five miles to hit every stationery store in Hualien for the right set of rubber-stamp letters.

It’s the promise of the blank page–not only are we going to write something on a fresh, clean space free of previous failure, we’ll do it with the joy and abandon of an eight-year-old with a brand-new box of still-pointy crayons that haven’t yet been forcibly shared with siblings.

I’ve moved away from paper. I have a habit-tracker and a list app and a calendar and everything syncs with my phone. It’s too easy. Every idea gets put in a digital list and forgotten immediately. Perhaps twenty projects have been broken into steps and abandoned. I dutifully tick off exercise and birthdays and groceries. Meanwhile, my notebooks sit half-filled, pulled out for a workshop when I’m doing “real” writing.

But I wanted those Taiwanese notebooks and pens, and I didn’t want them sitting on a shelf. There had to be a plan. I found the Bullet Journal. Beautiful, hand-lettered calendars, habit trackers and moon charts sprawled across Instagram and Pinterest, hashtagged with the notebooks and art pens used to create them. It was way more than I could handle. (If you’re interested but easily overwhelmed, start with #minimalistbujo)

Instead, I resurrected an idea from Lynda Barry’s marvelous book Syllabus: use the same notebook for everything. Class notes and errand lists. Brainstorming and doodling. Real assignments and rough drafts and fresh ideas. Barry proposes that putting everything in one place sparks connections from proximity, even among unrelated items. And really, what more relationship do they need than all coming from the same head?

I stuck with the same notebook because I had a new one with me. I’m not sure I love the pens. I bought the wrong color stamp pad. I’m not a great visual designer, my pages bleed through and my handwriting is shitty. But so far it’s working. Everything in one book, the joy of playing with colored pencils and a cute sharpener and washi tape. If an idea is worth keeping, it’s worth writing down, flipping back to when I need something to write (like this blog post). If a job is worth doing, it’s worth copying to next week’s list–or let it go un-copied and undone, instead of popping up as an automatically scheduled “priority.”

When I first workshopped with Brevity’s Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore, he required all in-class writing to be done on paper, because (paraphrasing) the veins in the hand connect to the heart, and we can write more truly and deeply without the mediation of the keyboard. I do feel more connected to what I’m writing, even “cancel credit card,” and I’m finding things easier to remember (science!).

I probably won’t go completely analog, because typing is fast. But I’ve woken up five days in a row eager to get to the page, to color and write and make things. I’ve felt more focused, and the paper page doesn’t let me click through to Facebook.

New year, new notebook. Maybe it’s a gimmick. But for now, sign me up.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor.

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§ 25 Responses to Going Analog

  • ccbarr says:

    I LOVED to go to stationary stores. The smells,the feel of the paper…I am going to put Taiwan store on my bucket list!

  • I love rubber-stamp letters. You remind me to use them. Maybe they do not connect to the heart, but they allow text another sort of power.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I agree! I got ones that snap together to make the line straight, but I ended up thinking the spacing was too wide and just doing my best one by one 🙂

  • Nora Pace says:

    Friends and I are talking about our notebooks this New Year, sending each other pictures of our pages. I do this too… everything in one notebook. The current one has avocados on it. My students notice when I switch to a new one every 6 weeks or so. It’s messy…. but there are always fresh pages. Thanks for this validating post!

  • You are speaking my language. The first time I went into a Japanese stationery shop (in San Francisco), I went into total blissed-out paralysis.

    Fun fact: Books designed for accounting are great for writing poetry, because you can line up new drafts of lines in the next column.

  • floatinggold says:

    Typing into a computer has indeed become a habit for me when it comes to blogging. Why would I want to write out my lengthy posts on paper and then retype them? However, when it comes to random thoughts, poetry or creative writing, I like to go back to the basics. Like your mentor said – somehow the heart and the hand connect easier.

    A few months ago I was on a crusade to start writing letters again. Not emails. Old fashioned pen and paper letters. What is the most important part? Fitting stationery. And so I cruised a big part of my huge city, google mapped, etc and couldn’t actually find a store with creative stationery. They only had the fancy/ personalized letterheads you could order. The store you describe sounds absolutely fantastic.

  • Shelley Blanton-Stroud says:

    So glad for the nudge to use one notebook. I’ve divided up my notebooks by their topics/uses and can never find the one I need.

  • Relax... says:

    A great (and fun, and now, enticing) read!

  • Oh, yeah. Because I only get to Seattle and the Kinokuniya book and stationery store (inside Uwajimaya) once or twice a year, I just ordered me two more Maruman Sept Couleur A4 notebooks from JetPens. I like to think various kinds of drug habits would be more expensive. Probably. Thanks for the encouragement to put everything in one notebook—I think this helps my tendency to over-compartmentalize things in lots of ways.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Kinokuniya!!!! We have one in Dubai! I’m only a few days in, but I kinda like my grocery list, to-do list and Brevity blog ideas sharing a two-page spread 🙂

  • oh, no. a new obsession. bujo. another distraction from writing!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I had five days of goo-goo eyes but the reality of my terrible handwriting is setting in 🙂 That said, it’s soothing to look at bujo pics before bed!

  • This blog made me so happy. I was just contemplating which decomposition notebook I want to get. Oh, and the crayons. It made me think of my cranky old first grade teacher, Mrs Trowbaugh. She only gave you new crayons if yours were broken. Every week, I would slide my fingers into my desk and crack every one of those crayons so I could get new ones with the fresh, pointy tips.

  • Thanks for this…I love the idea of one notebook for everything. I also love your writing teacher’s idea that the veins in the hand connect to the heart. I think just having a thought like that in my head while writing could fire up the old creative ignition light.

  • Anna says:

    I love notebooks! The idea of writing everything down in one book is so brilliant! I also have stacks of notebooks which are only half-used. And I can relate to not being able to go into a stationary store (or and office supply store) without going bananas over everything available to me. It is intoxicating to see all the pens and notebooks that are for sale. I also do strongly believe that our bodies connect in so many different ways. It is a connection with the universe.

  • Thanks for the post. I was born and raised in Taiwan. In Hualien, actually. Growing up, I took the Taiwanese stationery superstores for granted. After immigrating to the U.S., one of the things I’m homesick for is the cute stationery.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Hualien is so delightful! We spent a few days there just relaxing, and everyone was so kind and nice (true over all of Taiwan, but especially Hualien!)

      I’d be homesick for stationery too – I have to say between stationery and pineapple buns (melon buns) I’m suddenly a huge Taiwan fan.

  • I love paper too! And I moved to one journal/notebook for most meetings, classes, notes, events because it was easier than keeping track of several dedicated, but half-filled notebooks. But I keep a supply, just in case…

  • herheadache says:

    I love this post, though it brings up wistful feelings. The hand and heart connected, but a workshop where I had to only write in a notebook wouldn’t be possible, being blind and no longer able to see my own handwriting.

    I always did and still do love stationary stores though. I miss having a notebook and all that. This post is a lovely one.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      That is such a good thing to point out…I wonder if there’s a way to find that connection while maintaining access for writers with vision disabilities? Gotta do some research…

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