I was an hour late to work this morning. Why? Because while getting dressed I got an interesting idea.

Which I had to write down.

And which, an hour later, had become seven handwritten pages describing a fictional universe and its central SF gimmick, exploring a number of social and political-economy consequences of that gimmick, and a handful of short story ideas and interesting conflicts that could become the premises of longer stories. (Imagine a mix of the Barrayar universe, Augustan Rome, Victorian Britain,  A Handmaid’s Tale, Marcus Aurelius, The Mote in God’s Eye, and the eugenics movement.)

Rand Simberg started an interesting discussion yesterday about handwriting and the obsolescence of cursive. As I noted there, my handwriting is a peculiar but not-unattractive evolution of mechanical drafting script (unless I’m rushed or working on an airplane tray table, in which case it can look like the vibratory scribblings of a new-to-the-pencil first-grader after a feedbag of Skittles and a bucket of Coke). Naturally the keyboard is useful for composing and organizing material, especially material Carl and I need to share with each other on the new book or short stories or whatever, but handwriting is indispensable to me.

For one thing, I think I can write just as fast as I can type, and I like the feel of handwriting, particularly since I discovered gel pens about ten years ago. Consequently, I do a lot of it:

  • Notebooks: I am never without a notebook close by, typically a Cambridge 7″ x 4-3/8″ 140-page spiral-bound notebook — forget goofy, overpriced, under-large Moleskines, these guys are ideal in size and quality. Not so thick your wrist cramps from the elevation (and being spiral bound, the thickness is always the same), not so big that you waste paper on short items, perfect size to fit into the small pouches in a book/computer bag or to carry around in your hand. Bonus: a pen stores perfectly in the spiral binding. The only way to perfect them would be to make them in the same green-on-green combo used for engineering pads. Speaking of…
  • Notepads: I wrote up this morning’s ideas on a half-sized legal pad, simply because there was one on top of my dresser for some reason. I generally hate legal pads (not even sure where this one came from) because the yellow is hard on the eyes. In college, I came to prefer engineering computation pads (pale green paper with green graph ruling on the back side, so that it shows through faintly on the otherwise blank front) for this reason. They’re also better (even than notebooks) for “digit multimedia”, or combined writing and sketching/doodling, since the paper doesn’t have hard, visible lines to disrupt or confuse the images. The downside is that unless you make an effort to stick them into a binder, the loose sheets make for clutter or (worse) can get separated or lost. Being composed of full-sized sheets of paper, pads are more clumsy and cumbersome to use away from a desk environment than are small notebooks.
  • Index Cards: This came from an attempt to re-implement as an engineer an organizing technique I developed for myself when I worked in customer service. It didn’t work in the different environment, but it did spawn a useful means of capturing ideas. I mostly use it at work, where I have a stack of blank 3″ x 5″ cards sitting on the base of one of my monitors. If some observation or idea strikes me, and it’s a fairly short or simple thing, I’ll grab a card and write it down on the spot before I forget it (if it’s something more detailed, I’ll grab the notebook instead), and then stick the card away into a pocket in my bookbag. Periodically, usually when I’m on a plane or sitting in a dull meeting, I’ll pull the cards out, sort them, and copy them over into the notebook, usually with some elaboration. I find it a useful complement to the notebook because I tend not to overthink or overwork these little kernels, since I know I’m going to rewrite them at some point.

I think I produce on average about 2-3 index cards per day (often in runs of 8-10 in a single day), and my use of notebooks is running at about one every three months and accelerating.

It’s a lot of handwriting, some but not all of which at some point gets typed up. Why not just type it in the first place? Simple: if I find notepads too cumbersome, imagine what a pain I must find dragging around a laptop. When tablets are as comfortable to use as a paper notebook, and can replicate the feel of handwriting and not merely “recognize” it, who knows, I might just get one.

(Oh, and this, a little more blocky, is kind of what my peculiar handwriting looks like.)