“Why on earth would you use a pencil and paper?”

Where do you start writing a blog about pencils and such? I guess the best place to start is with the question I get most often: why?

Supposedly, wood-cased pencils and notebooks are obsolete. We don’t need a planner anymore, because it can go in our phone. We don’t need a notepad anymore, because our notes can go in our phone. We don’t need a diary anymore, because we can journal or tweet or Facebook on our phone.

We don’t need to live in the real world anymore. We can just live on our phones.

I’m an environmental engineer. I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And I’ve discovered that a good old fashioned pencil and a paper notebook is exactly what I need to keep my life from going off the rails.

I spend all day at work staring at a computer, and I’m as addicted to my device as anyone else. The last thing I need is another reason to stare at a screen.

Our devices can do a lot of things. Maybe they can do too much. How many “useful” apps have you downloaded and forgotten to start using? Or started, and fell out of the habit with a few weeks? I’ve had Google Calendar on my phone for years. Never used it on more than a sporadic basis. Almost all of the handy apps I download get lost in a sea of icons sooner or later.

And despite the fact that my phone can do everything, it can’t do many things the way I want them done. I’m confined to someone else’s interface, the features someone else thought were feasible and important, and so on.

Give me a piece of paper, and I can make whatever interface I want. Give me a notebook, and I’ll have something tangible to build a habit around. Give me an app, and I’ll forget about within a month or two.

Pencils and paper have also been amazingly helpful to my messed up brain. Writing helps me process and work through my anxiety. Whenever I’m feeling vulnerable, I always have my journal to vent to, and to help me make sense of things. Writing also helps me to stay focused despite my ADHD. Processing a narrative helps me stay locked on to a task, make sense of it, and leave behind a record of what’s been done that can’t slip my mind.

The fact is that I need to write to live my life happily. And until I discovered that quality woodcase pencils still exist, I had a hard time enjoying writing. Writing with pens was an exercise in frustration. Finding one that wrote satisfactorily seemed like an insurmountable task.

Then I picked up a Ticonderoga pencil and I could tell I was onto something. It didn’t write as dark as ink, sure. And it wasn’t as smooth, obviously. But it just felt right. And I had tangible evidence of the work I had done as I watched it grind down to a stub. Like a progress bar for real life.

And THEN, I found the Blackwing pencil. It WAS as smooth as a pen. It WAS as dark as ink. Everything changed.

So, here I am. I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and I’m completely, hopelessly addicted to office supplies in general, and wood-cased pencils in particular. And you know what? I love it. I’m more productive, more thoughtful, more focused. All because of a pencil and paper. Perhaps I spend too much money on office supplies. But hey, it beats crack.

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