Pen & Paper vs. Computer: The Ultimate Grudge Match…Sort of

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

I always wonder how productive I actually am during my writing time. I see words collecting on a page in my journal or in the info bar of a Word Document, so I know my story is at least growing mathematically. But despite hard evidence, I believe there is a difference between truly using my writing time constructively and simply accumulating a word count.

 Hence, the idea to analyze my productivity through observational experiments arose. (That, and I thought it would be fun to write a blog post in the vein of an elementary school science fair report!)

 Like all experiments, half the excitement is seeing if what you predicted actually comes to light. There are so many variables that affect the outcome, and I found that true even in informal experiments, as I intend these to be.

 This is the first in a series of experiments analyzing techniques for staying focused during my writing time. Check out the results. You may be as surprised as I was.

 Question: Will my choice of writing implement affect my ability to stay focused during my daily writing time?

Hypothesis: Over the course of seven (7) days, I predict I will have greater success retaining my focus using pen and paper due to the lack of Internet, which tempts me with window shopping and the rabbit trail of research.


A relatively vintage Mac computer

A trusty ol’ pen and some paper (or journal)

Some quiet


Day 1 (5:30 a.m., Feb. 6, 2014; in bed with computer): Managed to write for 17 minutes without being tempted by ETSY or Bejeweled before my computer died midsentence. (We’ll just round that up to a technical error.)

I confess it was difficult to get back into writing after the “shutdown.” I was tempted to check my email. But, does it really count if the purpose was to send a comment to another writer about her writing? I’ll just chalk that up to a momentary lapse of concentration.

Later that day: Managed to write for another 15 minutes before “needing to look something up.” Sigh.

Day 2 (5:15 a.m., Feb. 7, 2014; in bed with pen and paper): Initially dropped both pen and paper on the floor while attempting to write. It hasn’t been that long since I used either! Perhaps it was that I was up 11:45 p.m.–2:30 a.m. with two of my three children. In the end, I sat up (half asleep) scribbling a paragraph’s worth of words that I can’t really decipher.

Day 3 (9 p.m., Feb. 8, 2014; in chair with computer): Today I changed both location and time for my writing session. (Usually, I get up at 5 a.m. and lounge in bed with a cup of joe.) I managed to write and make notes on my YA novel for 45 uninterrupted minutes! (Might be because Internet was being fuzzy, and I left my incredibly addictive book in the other room.)

Day 4 (Feb. 9, 2014): Too consumed with the day to write a single word on my novel or any other project for that matter. Does a grocery list count?

Day 5: (5:30 a.m., Feb. 10, 2014; in bed with pen and paper): Was very focused today! I penned a first draft of blog post for WriteOwls uninterrupted and without any desire to check email, Anthropologie sale or to play Sudoku online.

Day 6: (6:15 a.m., Feb.11, 2014; in bed with computer):  Woke up rather late today and tried to get a start on my writing. I am way too distracted to stay focused on anything this morning. I have flitted back and forth between several things I am working on (plus my numerous cheats checking email, the weather and Facebook).

Later that morning: Wrote on the back of an envelope while stopped at red lights taking my kids to school. (Pen and Paper strike again.)

Early afternoon: With deadlines looming, I have become a motivated writer. I have written more today than I have all week (even with occasional distractions—but feeding the baby is important, I think).

Day 7 (6:30 a.m., Feb. 12, 2014; on couch with pen and paper):  Slept in due to pending snowstorm and my two older kids being home from school. Managed to write four words (literally) before I heard my son rattling the bars of the crib. Maybe by some miraculous event they will all take a nap, and I will be able to write.

Later that day: Miraculous event never occurs, but we had a fun day doing every puzzle in the house.


When I used pen and paper, I noticed that my time writing was more focused, but more sporadic. I would write for few minutes here or there (the exception being day five). Perhaps the mobility of an object played a part in this. I could write anywhere, but I only wrote when I felt compelled or inspired to do so.

On the days using a computer, I observed over the course of the week that while I might be more distracted when I work, I wrote for a longer consecutive period of time. Perhaps it was the requirement to actually sit. My best days being when accesses to the banes of my writing were unavailable or other people were counting on me to submit my work (always a top motivator for me).

Peppered in the week were various factors that kept me from being more focused (and productive) than I had hoped to be. But it was interesting to find that the results were not black and white. While I did stay more focused minus my computer, in the end, my word count was higher when using my technological arm—approximately 2,000 vs. 600 words!

Curious to see your own results?  I invite you to try the experiment yourself.


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