thinking on paper

Much of my work occurs in front of a computer. I appreciate being able to do research online and I greatly value collaborating with others over chat, email, video conference or in person. But once a day I like to step away, with pen and paper — and think.

There is something about being alone and writing with an actual pen in a simple paper notebook. Thinking instead of just googling for answers and using old-fashioned writing to express those thoughts. For me, this usually ends up being one of two activities: Explore a question or take notes on reading. Those are very similar activities and I find them both rewarding.

Summarizing in your own words what you recalled from a text is a productive way to support retention. I like doing that. I also like to interrogate a text by asking questions of it, determining how I think about what the authors discuss, whether I can explain it back, or whether I even agree with it. All this of course leads to a much richer experience (and hopefully understanding) of a book, paper or article.

Separate from any particular reading at the time, beginning with a question can be an extremely useful starting point. Quiet time, pen, notebook and one interesting question will usually lead to paragraphs of thinking, hopefully a useful answer and ideally: More questions. Pursuit of those, allows a continuing investigation to discover more nuances and paint an ever-evolving image of understanding in my mind.

I appreciate those times deeply.