Inspiration, Pro Tips

Putting Pen to Paper: Tap Your Inner Voice With Old-School Tools


Two important tools for any creator to possess are among the most basic — a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Whether you work in pictures, sound, or any other media, I highly recommend you purchase a journal or sketchbook and pull yourself away from your screen for a moment to illustrate your creative processes on paper. Keeping a journal demonstrates how you think and, in turn, keeps a tap on your inner voice.

Frank Gehry’s sketch for the Guggenheim Bilbao

Keeping a journal or a sketchbook close at hand is a must for a few reasons. Besides the convenience of being able to sketch your ideas and scribble your notes at anytime and anywhere, your handwritten journal puts your projects in context and allows you to see the progression of your from the beginning to the end in an extremely unique and original way. Ignore the impulse that tells you that your ideas need to be represented or presented with academic precision.

Paul McCartney’s film script for the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour film (1968)

Thinking in the Moment

Writing down your observations and thoughts on anything that’s available could be crucial, especially if that idea has the potential to shape culture. Some of the best ideas have been written on a napkin, even on toilet paper. Take for instance, David Bowie’s concept for Ziggy Stardust or J. K. Rowling’s idea for the character of Harry Potter — both originated on cocktail napkins.

Graphic Notation: Composer Sylvano Bussotti: The Rara Requiem (1969)

The Power of Visual Thinking

As Doodle Institute founder Diane Bleck has said, “Start drawing with anything you have. A pencil, paper, the back of a receipt. You don’t need fancy markers or tools. Just put pen to paper. When you put pen to paper, you open your heart to ideas, insight, and inspiration. I believe visual learning is a powerful tool for strategic thinking, brainstorming, and business planning, for real life applications like math and science, or even in your personal life to help you imagine your hopes and dreams.”

Recently, it was discovered that a doodle by Leonardo Da Vinci created in 1493 (above) and dismissed as irrelevant a century ago actually demonstrated the laws of friction.

Pages from one of Derek Jarman’s sketchbooks

Size Doesn’t Matter

Notebooks and journals come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. In fact, I’m positive that you can purchase a notebook that matches the size of your mobile phone at a fraction of the cost. With that said, it’s possible that you will use that notebook nearly as much as you use your phone. You may even discover that keeping a notebook triggers your muscle memory to reach for a pencil rather than the keypad of your phone.

Mozart’s Sketchbook

Improvise to Improve

Scribbling or drawing your ideas down in a notebook can be a fun exercise to illustrate a complex theory or display what you see and observe. But more importantly, it can be an essential roadmap to your next big idea. I like to think that writing and or drawing in a journal is similar to a musician improvising on an instrument — which has the potential to unleash brilliant bits of untapped insight. We’re all aware that working on a computer can be a soulless exercise. Making an occasional analog shift from a digital environment to pen and paper can be a refreshing alternative.

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Top image: Paper With Scribble on It by Image Source