I got my first Mac, a big clunky tan block, back in the early 1980s. Way back then, to copy a file, you had to do a little dane with the floppy discs, swapping them over and over — a digital Hokey Pokey (put your new disc in, pull your new disc out…). So yeah, I was ushered in the the age of digital writing very early on. It wasn’t until my adult years that I bought an actual typewriter, and then only for its aesthetic value (it resides in my hallway as an object d’art).
Yet I kept being drawn back to writing by hand. I had mounds of yellow legal pads where I would scribble out ideas. The efficiency expert in me wanted to be able to transfer this writing more quickly into the digital domains.
One Christmas, I splurged on a special notebook and digital pen (I can’t recall the brand, comment if you’ve tried this process). In essence, the pen recorded what I wrote and uploaded it to a proprietary website linked with Google Drive. But the process was so clumsy and complex that I could never fully embrace it.
Fast forward to this year and I received, as a birthday present, a new iPad complete with an Apple Pencil. At first I launched into Autodesk’s drawing program, which felt so much like Photoshop. But it still didn’t have the sensation of touching an actual pen or pencil to paper. That tactile feel.
So, as I meandered through my reading of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, I slammed to a full stop when he showed a photo of his workspace. He had it divided: one part digital and the other analog.
This resonated with me and the same day, I reorganized my desk. I don’t think I’ll ever go back. What you see below is the split of the creative brain. On the left is the digital area (monitor, keyboard, mouse). Mentally, I equate this to the publishing side. How to make the finished art look good. But the right side is pure analog (a little messier). I have journals for scribbling ideas and sketchbooks for drawing. Scraps of paper holding morsels of ideas proliferate.
And I couldn’t be happier.
I notice that I’m more accepting of critique when I do the revisions on paper rather than on screen. Thus I often print out the chapter in question and scribble in the margins, or more often than not, on the backs of pages. I love the freedom of a white page. It allows me to jot words, draw arrows, circle text.
The final step is bringing it over to the digital side to type it in. Often I’ll print it out again and read it on the analog side.
Art works this way too. I often sketch or paint on the digital side and then use my phone to drag the illustration onto the screen for a few tweaks (mostly the whites).
The next time you’re stuck with writer’s block (or artist’s block) consider how you might switch to a more analog method of creation. One where you can put your hands on the art and get a little messy.