user00012-ab 12 days ago

I would love to see a site where people posted stuff they have been doing for over a year and it still works for them.

Seems like all these blog posts are, "I Started doing this yesterday, and I'm going to do it for the rest of my life... or tomorrow when I blog my next big thing I'm going to do forever."

I'm more interested in stuff people have stuck with and actually works for them when the novelty of the medium wears off.

I'm not saying pen and paper isn't great, but I'm more interested in the system that evolves if you actually use something over a long period of time.

  • powersnail 12 days ago

    The tool doesn't matter. What works, is to actually do the stuff consistently.

    One of the most productive people I know, took her lecture notes in the comment panel of PowerPoint in college, simply because _it's there_ when she open a lecture note. UI wise, it's probably worse than any note taking system that has ever showed up on HN. Nevertheless, she was a straight A student juggling 2 majors, 1 minor, and a lot of social life.

    This is what I observed in hyper productive people: some of them have a unique, novel system of organizing their knowledge, but many of them don't. So, having such a system is probably not that important.

    And even though I'm not a hyper productive person, this applies to what I'm good at doing as well. You can take away my favorite text editors/plugins/command line tools, and I can still competently write programs. I can code in notepad.exe if I have to. It won't be as convenient, but I can absolutely be productive.

    It's the same for writing/reading/thinking. If you can already write, it's fine to try to perfect your workflow. If you can't write, it's not because you have the wrong pen.

    • brailsafe 12 days ago

      I've thought about this quite a bit, and I think a lot of the luck that "hyper productive people" have in getting to a state of hyper productivity, is basically like you say, but finding that thing that works for them if there is one earlier than others.

      Now at 30, I'm not that productive, but there are many things I have to deal with regularly that I just haven't found very productive ways of operating with.

      Right now, fwiw, writing my day out on pen and paper before I open my computer has lent me slightly increased levels of focus, but I think that for marginally more successful people, some of these gains were realized early on and happened to work for them, or they didn't need them.

      I do think this extends somewhat to more general life circumstances like stable family life and not being so susceptible to distractions.

      I also think that for some people who have the intellectual capability, juggling 2 majors and 1 minor might be just what they need to deal with the former.

    • syntheweave 12 days ago

      Just today my inner voice was refraining the saying(which I learned online, but appears to be of military origin) "fast is smooth, smooth is slow".

      Many of my most productive workflows have come from finding smoothness. There's a lot of stop/start in digital: something commanding your attention that is not the task, that needs immediate resolution. Often the "proper" way of dealing with it means stopping again, and the "improper" way blows up down the road. Deal with that a few times and suddenly I find myself browsing Twitter, because I've reached a "good stopping place." When that happens, it doesn't matter that it was "fast". I did one part of the actual thing fast, and then I wasted the rest of the time.

    • deepGem 12 days ago

      Wish more people understood this. We spend a lot of time changing tools and it's as bad or worse than context switching. Every tool has a learning curve and if you keep switching tools, you are always stuck in the initial part of the learning curve. I think this greatly hampers learning.

      Hyper productive people who I have seen as well exhibit similar behavior. They just stick to tools that they are comfortable with and focus on the task at hand.

      Also another anecdotal observation - some of the best chefs I have seen don't usually switch tools, be it knives or utensils. They mostly stick to the same tools for a very long time. So they invest in tools that can last and can be maintained. Not sure if the analogy holds true in other fields as well.

      Pen and paper as a form of expressing streaming thoughts works for me as well. It also works because I write a lot slower than I can type. Ever since I have started writing pretty consistently over the last 4-5 months, the format of pen and paper doesn't really matter to me. I can write using any pen and any paper. I have found fountain pens to be particularly cumbersome to maintain and also my kids just take whatever pen is on my table and run off. As a result I just have a 100s pack of the same cheap pen. One went missing, pick up another one.

    • majou 12 days ago

      notepad.exe user reporting in; I neglected my gentoo install one month too long on an FFXIV binge...

      I find that notepad has all the features I need, I generally only work on my own code so I don't need fancy tooling.

  • ljvmiranda 12 days ago

    Hi there, author here! Been using pen and paper (for knowledge work) since 2017. Hope that helps

  • larve 12 days ago

    I have been keeping sketchbooks since 2010, where I decided "this is something I'm going to do forever". I have started another "I'm doing this forever"-project where I started writing daily in 2020, my obsidian vault linked below is the result. Ask me again in 10 years.

    I do a lot of digital notetaking currently, along with more analog index card and sketchbook notetaking. I stopped drawing in 2018 due to work burnout, but hope to pick it back up soon!

    • wcarss 12 days ago

      +1 to sketchbooks. I started using them in ~2014 and have never stopped. The tricks for me were to fold each page in half to get more columns and restrict my wandering handwriting/doodles, to find cheap books (which still have hard covers) at a local art store that serves students, and to make sure I always write the date/time down when I start a new train of thought, with a heading.

      Every few years I go through the last 12-20 notebooks and take pictures, then get rid of them. I don't go back through them that much, really, beyond things more than ~6 months old, but when I do I feel like it's a goldmine.

    • larve 12 days ago

      Digital notes are much more useful for getting long term value out of them, I found. Paper notes are fun, and it's much easier to sketch things freely and just doodle on them.

      Paper sketchbooks are also really useful as temporal artifacts. Looking back at them, I know where I was, I discover things I have forgotten, they have different formats, they mix life with work with hobby. I don't think the digital notes will have the same nostalgia factor.

  • s0rce 12 days ago

    I've used pen and paper for years (since my PhD 15 years ago). Writing it down helps it go into my head, I don't go back and look at the notes.

    • nordsieck 12 days ago

      > Writing it down helps it go into my head

      This is what I've found as well.

      In high school, a gym teacher forced us to copy his slides for sex ed. At the time I thought it was completely stupid. But come test time, it was amazing how much I remembered. Like you, I've never felt the need to re-read my notes - just writing down the information has been enough.

      I've carried the habit with me, and it's continued to work well for me.

      Something about hand writing is just much more effective than typing. I wish it weren't so.

    • kumarvvr 12 days ago

      Yeah. This works for me too.

      Unfortunately, I am in the middle of kicking an internet addiction and I have not had the same concentration as before.

      But things are improving. I have dozens of books with ideas, doodles, solutions, architectures, code and what not, strewn across my house.

  • codazoda 12 days ago

    I’ve been writing stray thoughts in a pocketbook for about 18 months. That also lead me to keep a modified Scanners Daybook (similar to this post). I’m on my second such notebook and have been doing so for nearly a year.

    Finally, I keep a third notebook for travel. The idea being that I don’t want to lose my original, but I probably don’t want to lose my travel one anymore either, so…

    Anyway, this can be a successful long term thing.

  • kstrauser 12 days ago

    Same here. I wrote about my experiences here:

    In summary, I kept reading about people who prefer paper, or why paper is better than digital, but I just can't get into it. I've tried, with nice tools and a daily commitment to using them, but it just doesn't work for me.

    The best compromise I've found is a nice size Rocketbook that I can easily OCR into a notes app later.

  • tenkabuto 12 days ago

    I'm also really interested in hearing more about processes that people have been maintaining or making subtle improvements on over a long period of time.

    I think that there's an issue of people being less likely to talk about their long running projects or processes because over time they forget the what and why behind it and/or their enthusiasm for it fades away. Accordingly, maybe we should pre-register our thoughts about a process or project at the outset and not publish it until later on, when we can retrospectively talk about our success with it.

  • eternityforest 12 days ago

    I've never made a serious attempt to add paper to my life, the only time I did was in the pre-smartphone era.

    But I've definitely had no issue sticking with digital notes. I've changed apps but the process is basically the same. But I'm an outlier in tech, with an extreme high tolerance for complex black box systems, and most techies seem to feel uncomfortable without that 1 to 1 feel paper or DIY coded digital gives.

    Paper lovers seem to stick with paper for decades, very consistently, they'll pick up a pen multiple times a day for years.

    Some don't seem to have any specific process, they have many notebooks and things for different purposes, and they constantly try new things. I almost wonder if people who really value direct experience and experimentation are drawn to paper more than people who value predictability and control.

    I see them make quick notes on napkins, make little areas full of random bits of important information, bullet journal in a nice moleskine, etc.

    It's kind of amazing to watch, since some of these things could cause multi hour inconvenience if lost, and they don't mind not having sync. They must have a pretty good memory.

    It seems like the real "process" and "tool" is a constant state of flow and change that they move with. Paper use looks to me like a totally different lifestyle and way of relating to the world, information, and your own mind, that probably has dozens of subtle effects.

    Like, all my notes are in Obsidian, which makes it almost a second brain.

    Paper notes are stored in specific places and you can only access them if you physically have them, which means the only always-accessible thing is still your own mind, and your notes are a bit more distant from yourself.

  • justajot 12 days ago

    Well, a personal anecdote: I have been using pen and paper in a similar fashion as the author for over 20 years. In fact, the last few years I’ve been using literally the same notebook and pen they mention (albeit with different ink).

    It works because I much prefer to think with pen and paper. I have a tendency to rush through things and this forces me to slow down. I can always take the results and make them digital, which I often do. Lately this has served as a useful way to re-acquaint myself with previous thoughts and connect them with newer thoughts. And I use Bear for that along with a good keyboard.

  • nordsieck 12 days ago

    > I would love to see a site where people posted stuff they have been doing for over a year and it still works for them.

    Here's the one thing that's stuck with me:

    I started carrying earplugs with me in 2002. I was forced into it by the Army, but I've kept it up all these years because of how great it is. They completely disappear into the pocket, and when you want them, you *really* want them.

    But they're great, even when most people wouldn't think they "need" them. Here's some examples:

    * Using power tools like a blender, mixer, or lawn mower. * Sleeping during the day, in a strange place, or around other people (e.g. on an airplane). * Working in a public space like the library, a coffee shop, a bus, or an airplane.

    If you like going to shows or dancing, they're great to have in case you need them.

    I think the benefit of earplugs has decreased for the average person since noise cancelling earbuds are so widely available, but in my experience earplugs both block more sound and they block different things. Of course the downside is, you can't listen to audio with them in. But the upside is you never have to worry about charging them.

    In my experience, the reusable flange style earplugs are fine for light use, but they can sometimes be painful with extended wear (6+ hrs per day for months at a time). I went out and got a bulk pack of foamies, which I assume will last me the rest of my life. The only downside to the foam earplugs is, if you get them wet, you can reuse them.

    I suspect they've worked particularly well for me because I think being bored for some amount of time during the day is healthy, and I find I get distracted by listening to music or podcasts.

    The benefit:weight, volume, and price is absolutely amazing.

    • Slow_Hand 12 days ago


      8 years ago I had impressions made of my ears and invested in some custom-fit earplugs that evenly attenuate the entire frequency spectrum and don't roll off excessive high-end like foam plugs.

      They come in a tiny coin purse that fits anywhere and if I find myself in a public space where I'm at a risk of fatigue or hearing damage (concert, construction site, airplane, etc) I just pop them in.

      That said, I'm a musician and audio engineer and thus highly protective of my hearing. But such events are so much more pleasing and sustainable with a quality pair of earplugs. Reducing the decibel level hitting my nervous system really helps to prevent anxiety and tensions that one might normally experience from the exposure to loud noises. It makes every experience so much more comfortable and I would replace them in a heartbeat, should they go missing.

      I think most of us (especially those living in cities) take for granted just how loud these everyday environments actually are and the effect that it has on our mental well-being. Earplugs may not be a priority for most, but they are a simple, highly underrated remedy to the ambient soundscapes that many of us are exposed to every day.

      • wellthisisgreat 12 days ago

        It’s interesting where did you get them? Have a link?

    • selimthegrim 12 days ago

      You can’t reuse them you mean

      • nordsieck 12 days ago

        > You can’t reuse them you mean

        You mean foam earplugs? You absolutely can reuse them.

        You can't reuse them if they get wet (they don't stay compressed when you roll them up - a necessary step before inserting them). And I throw them out if they get too dirty.

        But I generally get 7-15 uses out of a set of foam plugs before I chuck them. It depends on how much I sweat when I'm using them, and how dirty my ears are.

  • bsima 12 days ago

    I have roughly ten years of notebooks in a box under my desk. They are all some kind of “bullet journal” method: date at the top of the page, items below, index in the back.

    • tevrede 12 days ago

      Do you ever refer back to them?

      • ozzydave 12 days ago

        For me, only occasionally, but when I do it’s often a huge help - can save an immense amount of time not re-doing that work. Most of the value is in helping align my thoughts as I go though.

        • bsima 7 days ago

          Yeah and sometimes I go back to them just for nostalgia. But truly the archiving doesn't matter all that much. I like the Field Notes tagline: "I'm not writing it down to remember it later, I'm writing it down to remember it now."

  • thenerdhead 12 days ago

    I've went through just about every app and I'm back to pencil and journals.

    I do use apple notes for just about everything when I have my phone and no pencil/journal nearby.

    I think most note taking systems being pushed by "productivity gurus" is compelling at first but then comes a realization that's not how we actually think.

    There's merit to things like "building a second brain", but I think it has to start with analog notes.

  • wellthisisgreat 12 days ago

    The only thing that worked for me throughout the life is nested unordered list. It forces you to process the information on the fly and come up with a structure, that you may be urged to revisit if you feel unsatisfied with its hierarchy.

    Learned about it 25 years ago from history professor of all people

flakiness 13 days ago

For me pen and paper being beneficial is a strong signal of an interesting project.

A large part of day-job work doesn't deserve the pen and paper - We just need to track TODOs, links and some other bullet points for them. Digital tools are very good at these because it's optimized for them.

On the other hand, if a problem demands the flexibility and the visual capacity of the pen and paper, it's a good sign of the sufficiently large intellectual problem space it contains.

  • d4rkp4ttern 10 days ago

    Great point here. I recently was fascinated by a new topic and filled two notebooks of 200 pages with my notes written with a fountain pen.

Syzygies 12 days ago

I can remember rolling my eyes at a writer using a mechanical typewriter decades after word processors had taken over. Did they thaw out of a glacier?

At the same time I love physical media. As a math professor I defend a widespread preference for blackboards over soul-sucking whiteboards, imagining that musicians will still play grand pianos in a century, and they'll still snicker over Ryan Gosling playing a toy piano under the spotlight in that classic movie "La La Land".

I've hoarded Hagoromo chalk; I'm the one with the chalk attaché case in [1]. I've always carried multiple grades of drawing paper, and I've worked through many hundreds of artist grade felt tip pens, scanning all my math notes for thirty years.

Then, pandemic. Just as World War 2 accelerated women in the workplace, the pandemic has accelerated the uptake of digital tools for visual presentation. To teach over Zoom, we needed to embrace drawing on a tablet. I understand that the pandemic radically accelerated similar trends in architecture.

The algorithmic possibilities of drawing on a tablet are truly addictive; returning to paper feels like returning to a mechanical typewriter. For my purposes, Concepts offers the most involving algorithmic experience; I wrote [2] to support my note taking and diagrams for papers. However, Notability offers the least friction. I can have the same psychological relationship to taking notes on my tablet as I had with phyical paper, with the benefits of algorithmic reuse. (Pushing the envelope exposes how inconsistently Notability handles implicit layers, but one learns to draw around this.)

In a few decades, after all living mathematicians have drawn on tablets since birth, math will be far more visual, conveying ideas with far more immediacy. Math communication is now still largely constrained by its resemblance to typeset prose. Ever leave a startup because reading your coworkers' code put you in "Just kill me now!" territory? I did. Mathematicians write the equivalent of bad code, rarely actually machine-checked, to formalize their ideas. Other mathematicians try to decipher this code, to reverse-engineer the ideas. We declare people who can actually do this as having a gift for mathematics. As I learn to teach combinatorics more visually, my classes swell with students who share my frustration.

I've come to realize this summer that I pretty much despise mathematics. I can't wait for the visual revolution. This revolution didn't take hold on physical paper; one needs a digital accelerant.

[1] [2]

  • Archelaos 12 days ago

    > I defend a widespread preference for blackboards over soul-sucking whiteboards

    To this day it is a real mystery to me why people would prefer whiteboards over blackboards.

    • nordsieck 12 days ago

      > To this day it is a real mystery to me why people would prefer whiteboards over blackboards.

      I vastly prefer whiteboards over blackboards. It's the physical sensation of writing for me.

      Using markers is smooth, a bit like writing with a pen on paper. Writing with chalk is rough and technically difficult - there is a component of pressure one needs to master.

      It's not obvious to me how the finished product is any better with a blackboard or a whiteboard (although I've heard several people try). Or how whiteboards are "soul-sucking". People who prefer blackboards seem like those who prefer vinyl over CDs, but with even fewer coherent arguments. Which is fine - everyone has a hobby - but maybe be a little less vitriolic about it?

      Whiteboards do have the downside of staining over time, but using glass is a foolproof solution to that particular problem. It's amazing how inexpensively one can find very large, used, glass-covered picture or art frames.

      • Archelaos 11 days ago

        > Using markers is smooth, a bit like writing with a pen on paper.

        What I personally like least about whiteboards is that I cannot use the whiteboard markers sideways like a chalk, which is the best writing position to avoid contact with the board. When I write with a pen on paper, I can put my arm on the paper, but this is not advisable with a whiteboard. The pointed ends of the markers lead to a very uncomfortable position where the hand needs to be turned as far out as possible to bring the tip of the pen as perpenticular as possible onto the board. In this position it is quite difficult to achieve good quality handwriting. I myself know only one person whose whiteboard writing is genuinely visually appealing. However, I also agree with other commentators here: You need a good blackboard and good chalk to really have fun writing on it.

    • Syzygies 12 days ago

      Most of the objections to blackboards or whiteboards can be mitigated by carrying one's own tools. For blackboards, I bring my own Hagoromo chalk [1,2] which has a wonderful touch and is radically less dusty, and several Korean microfiber auto detailing cloths [3]. I use a damp cloth to wipe the board before and after teaching, and a dry cloth as an erasor while teaching. Every month or so, I do a laundry load of all my cloths. I see colleagues in stages I've passed through, such as carrying a sponge, pail, and squeegee, and I've learned to say nothing. If there's a stage I haven't reached yet, however, I'm all ears.

      Blackboards themselves also vary in quality; some ceramic surfaces can rival traditional slate. One can't really judge the experience starting with a cheap, dirty board and using institutional chalk and erasers.

      I've enjoyed whiteboards in well-funded companies. In academics, it is profoundly embarrassing how often a speaker will have traveled for a lecture, only to find a dirty whiteboard and the local markers dried out. This is why speakers would rather lip-sync to PowerPoint slides. Were I using a whiteboard, I'd also bring my own tools.

      Pad and paper is certainly easy, but artists brave serious messes to produce oil pastels for sale. In my case, students are carrying student loans half their lives. I prefer chalk over slides because it forces a live performance. I then share my Notability drawn notes, because they're better.




      • tsg 11 days ago

        What would you be bringing for a whiteboard? I also use microfiber cloths for cleaning these, but I don't know any other tricks.

        • nordsieck 11 days ago

          * Isopropyl alcohol is one of the most effective cleaners along with being readily available almost everywhere, and very inexpensive.

          * If you want to erase permanent marker from a white board, it sometimes works to color over it with dry erase marker, and then erase it like normal. Often you need multiple passes for the full effect.

          * Always bring an emergency pen with you.

    • sockaddr 12 days ago

      For me, the tactile sensation of chalk on a blackboard is deeply irritating. Something about the noise it makes, the dust and vibration it just repulses me. A whiteboard has none of these drawbacks and it also requires less effort to make a mark on the board.

    • dijit 12 days ago

      I am not kidding when I say this although it sounds absurd to adult me: I was told when I was a kid it was due to racism.

      I suspect actually it was simply more economical, and probably something to do with chalk dust. I don’t miss chalk dust.

      • Archelaos 12 days ago

        > probably something to do with chalk dust. I don’t miss chalk dust.

        However, the chalk dust has been replaced by synthetic colours that can ruin any cloth they come in contact with and are much harder to remove from the skin than chalk.

    • InitialLastName 10 days ago

      For me:

      - writing left-handed, whiteboards are somewhat easier to write on legibly without both erasing some of what you wrote and covering yourself with residue (which then transfers less to your clothing).

      - The sound and feeling of chalk on a chalkboard makes my skin crawl.

  • wrp 12 days ago

    I've wondered why I hear so much about chalk but not about mechanical pencil leads. I'm so picky about mine that whenever I find some I really like, I lay up a hoard in case it gets discontinued.

    • ycombinete 12 days ago

      Which ones do you like?

      • wrp 11 days ago

        If you have no special requirement in mind, the Pentel lead that is available practically everywhere is nothing to sneeze at. I probably use more of Pentel than anything else. The benefit in choosing other brands mainly comes when you want a particular effect or want to optimize for a particular situation.

        For example, Pentel leads run a bit harder than other Japanese brands. This makes them a bit more brittle. For a 0.3 mm pencil without a sliding sleeve to support the extended lead, I would choose a Pilot or Mitsubishi lead to reduce breakage.

        Sometimes you want to make really bold and dark lines, so you go for a 0.7 or 0.9 mm with the darkest lead you can find. Those sizes are only made as soft as 2B, but the Pilot Neox Graphite 0.7 & 0.9 mm 2B is actually more like a 4B. It's the darkest lead currently on the market in those sizes. (I have some long-discontinued 6B that I use sparingly.)

        When I'm writing on index cards, I usually want a harder than usual lead, writing with a sharp edge to make clean lines that won't smudge. I like Faber-Castell HB in 0.9 mm for this because their harder leads don't feel as gritty as other brands.

        I have a variety of other graphite leads that I use for specific situations.

        Getting into color, for its variety of hues, the Mitsubishi Uni Nano Dia Color in 0.7 mm is usually my first choice. It makes bolder lines than the same brand in 0.5 mm, because the greater thickness allows a lower percentage of structural polymer in the mix.

        A big problem with the Nano Dia, though, is that it's not lightfast. Most of the colors will fade away after a month on the bulletin board. The most lightfast colored lead is the Staedtler 0.5 mm in red/green/blue. It is extremely brittle, though, so you need to use it with a sliding-sleeve pencil like the Pentel Orenz. (

        Aside from situation, people have different preferences in how the tip feels on the paper. Pentel feels rather slick, Pilot has a more chalky feel, and Mitsubishi to me feels rather gritty. I like a chalky feel when writing on really smooth paper and doing math, but the slicker Pentel suits me better when writing longhand on cheap office paper.

        • ycombinete 10 days ago

          wow, that was far more thorough an answer than I expected, thank you!

          I'll bet you have favourite pencil/s as well?

          • wrp 9 days ago

            Wood-cased pencils have lead that is darker and less smudgy than MP lead, because wood-cased use a graphite+clay mix while MPs use graphite+polymer. Some people even prefer the feel of wood-cased pencils in hand, but I personally prefer the convenience of MPs.

            The all-round best line of wood-cased pencils is the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. The Tombow Mono 100 series was a consistent second, but I heard quality changed after moving production out of Japan. Some people like the Faber-Castell 9000 series because its hardest grades are smoother than other brands. The Staedtler Mars Lumograph series is known to give a particularly rich black with the softest grades. That may not be relevant to you if you just want them for writing, because I find it practically impossible to write with a wood-cased softer than 4B.

            Some fanatics claim that the discontinued Sanford Blackwing 602 was the greatest pencil ever. The lead hardness was about 4B and was unusual for including wax with the graphite and clay. The point wore down quickly, but the lead was particularly resistant to crumbling and it was very slippery on the paper. The line on paper was not as dark as you would expect from a 4B. I would say that the best current pencils give a better line but aren't as slippery. There have been a couple attempts at reproducing the Blackwing, but I've heard mixed reports of how successful they were.

            My philosophy of buying pencils is that since there is so little absolute difference in cost between the best and the mediocre, there is no sense in trying to economize there.

            • ycombinete 9 days ago

              This is all fascinating! I have been using Faber-Castell 1320 HB for my D&D games, and they've been great. They're not exactly rich in colour, but a single sharpen is more than enough for a whole day's session. I don't have anything to compare them to though.

              I'm going to have to research what you mean by grades.

              You mentioned preferring mechanical, but didn't say what kind you like. I've always heard that Rotring's are the grail there, but never looked into it.

              • wrp 9 days ago

                If you have never tried using different hardness grades, just find an art supply shop with a display of drawing pencils and try a little scribble with each grade. Note that since every brand is a bit different, you can't use your experience with one to exactly predict the quality of another, even more so when comparing wood-cased with mechanical pencil leads.

                As for MPs, if you really get into it, you could end up with many different ones for different situations, sort of like with paint brushes or golf clubs. Even cheap ones can be comfortable and durable. Some people like the Rotring because of the heft, but they are a bit sharp and the weight can get tiring, rather like with using metal polyhedral dice.

yawnxyz 12 days ago

Articles like this worship the act of writing on paper, not the process of iteratively putting down thoughts and shaping them.

I use Notion. I also use paper.

I tried using "fancy writing equipment" that ended up too nice for me to scribble on. Because any momentary idea is garbage and not worthy of this nice acid-free, leather bound notebook.

So no I have a stack of very cheap legal notepads that I just put whatever I want on. Sometimes I'll rip the pages out. Sometimes I'll trash them. Eventually the good ideas take shape, and I'll move them to Notion

  • noir_lord 12 days ago

    I do the same, 5mm square a4 and a good biro.

    For everything else there is markdown.

mikeholler 12 days ago

I started bullet journaling with pen and paper and it has changed my life. Intentionality -- that's exactly right. When I write I feel intentional.

I've also dove into the world of nice paper and fountain pens. I've always had hand cramps when writing, whether using a cheap Bic or a Pilot G7. With fountain pens, that's all gone, and writing is effortless. You can get started with this cheaply by getting a platinum preppy fine or extra-fine pen ($4), and a bottle of ink ($10). You want a fine or extra-fine nib, because anything else will feather and bleed on cheap paper, but fine or extra-fine works just fine on cheap paper.

Your pen can be converted into an "eye dropper" pen with a little bit of silicon grease and a small rubber gasket, and you'll rarely need to refill it.

  • foldedcornice 12 days ago

    Gel pens can arguably be as enjoyable to use as fountain pens, with easier refills and less to no need for maintenance. Gel pens also work on all types of paper, with no concerns about smudging due to drying.

    Pentel Energel refills are very smooth, much more so than Pilot G7 cartridges (but not water-resistant). Zebra Sarasa refills are almost as smooth (and are water-resistant, which can be useful if you get caught in the rain).

    I use both gel pens and fountain pens, with gel pens for quick notes and writing while on transit. I could comfortably get by with only gel pens—many people have, as I've seen forum posts by former mathematics and physics students who posted photographs of dozens of refills used up over their degrees. I still prefer fountain pens when I'm at a desk, though it's a pleasant luxury for the smoothness—any significant strain when handwriting for many pages went away when upgrading to higher-end gel pens.

  • pca006132 12 days ago

    I am trying to use my tablet for writing down notes while thinking, it kind of works, but I really miss the sound and feeling of writing with a fountain pen. Somehow writing with a fountain pen in a quiet room makes me feel patient, and less stressed by problems.

  • vladvasiliu 12 days ago

    > You want a fine or extra-fine nib, because anything else will feather and bleed on cheap paper, but fine or extra-fine works just fine on cheap paper.

    It does depend on the ink, too. I have a Parker XF nib that will absolutely bleed through my notebook, which wasn't exactly cheap either. Not sure if it's supposed to be actually "good paper", though (Leichtturm), but I'm quite disappointed.

    Diamine ink will take forever to dry on that paper and will be seen from the other side. And it's not even a particularly dark shade of blue. Regular supermarket-bought Parker ink (Quink washable blue) works much better.

    • rkallos 12 days ago

      I, too, was disappointed using Leightturm notebooks with fountain pens. They're nice notebooks, but you're right; the paper isn't very good.

      I'm no expert, but my understanding is that more denser of paper (80 g/m^2 and up) take much better to fountain pen inks.

      I swear by Clairefontaine and Rhodia notebooks and paper.

      • vladvasiliu 12 days ago

        This particular notebook pretends it's 80 gm/m^2.

        I agree, Clairefontaine and Rhodia (even cheap ones) work much better. The Diamine ink still needs some time to dry, but at least it stays on its side.

    • bch 12 days ago

      > Not sure if it's supposed to be actually "good paper", though (Leichtturm), but I'm quite disappointed.

      I don’t think I had bleed-through problems w Leichtturm (do recall drying/smudging issues though (Mont Blanc Royal Blue ink)), but my Midori “md notebook” has been treating me well.

    • wrp 12 days ago

      Notebooks from Japan usually take FP ink well. Notebooks from American/European companies (usually made in China) usually don't. Clairefontaine/Rhodia is the main exception, though I think the paper is actually made in France.

    • drekipus 12 days ago

      As a Leichtturm convert, I think they've degraded a little bit. I have an old and new notebook from them and to me it seems night and day difference.

      It's a real shame

  • tartoran 12 days ago

    > Your pen can be converted into an "eye dropper" pen with a little bit of silicon grease and a small rubber gasket, and you'll rarely need to refill it.

    Please expand on this. I’m utterly confused as to what you mean and why you’d need it.

    • dumpsterlid 12 days ago

      The first thing you have to understand about fountain pens is that the ink basically has the viscosity of water, it isn't like other "ink" in ballpoint pens or gel pens. A fountain pen has to essentially function as a controlled leak to write... while not leaking.

      When ballpoints came into the picture and steamrolled fountain pens (as the utilitarian writing tool) the methods of creating a vessel to hold ink inside a fountain pen without creating a mess/leaking were pretty primitive/unreliable by todays standards. A common solution was to just fill the hollow body of the pen entirely up with ink and then put silicon grease on the threads where the nib screws in (it could leak out). The easiest way to fill a narrow, light cylinder with ink you REALLY dont want to spill is with an eyedropper type device, hence the name eyedropper.

      People still do this with fountain pens, apparently fountain pens are decently popular in india and a lot of indian fountain pens are eyedropper pens.

      Most fountain pens these days are what are called "cartridge converter" pens. The name is weird, but the original innovation over crude rubber sacs that you would squeeze to suck up ink (itself an improvement over eyedropper style filling) was to make plastic cartridges that could be filled with ink, sealed with wax and then inserted into the pen.

      Another big innovation was piston filler fountain pens that have a piston on the inside of the pen body that can be moved in or out by rotating a knob at the end of the pen. Not only is this an improvement because you can stick the pen directly into the ink and just suck it up through the nib by retracting the piston, ink can be manually advanced out into the nib/feed if the pen was writing dry, and in the opposite sense there is always a bit of suction keeping the ink in that you can adjust. A fountain pen's "feed" is basically a big capillary force engine, and it is nice to have a counterforce with the piston that can be adjusted to either aid or inhibit it.

      So then someone took the whole piston filler idea and minituarized it so it could slot into pens designed for cartridges, hence the name "cartridge converter" pens because these self contained piston fillers were called converters.

      Eyedroppering pens is something people do for fun still, its an ok way to fill a pen if you dont care about the pen heating up as you hold it, creating a pressure differential and "burping" ink out onto the paper occasionally.... its actually far safer to keep an eyedropper pen mostly full so that there is less of bubble of air to heat up and cause this.

      • bch 12 days ago

        > its actually far safer to keep an eyedropper pen mostly full so that there is less of bubble of air to heat up and cause this.

        This tip as well for any fountain pen you’re air-traveling with. Pressurization changes affect the air volume, not the liquid volume, so make the pen pressure-change resistant by having it full of ink.

    • bbonamici 12 days ago

      idk op's specifics, but some pens use ink cartridges; by sealing the body of the pen, you can fill it with ink, have way more capacity and you can refill it.

      • ljvmiranda 12 days ago

        My daily driver (Lamy 2000) has a piston converter and I find its capacity quite large, i.e., I need to refill it every week or so.

        Cartridges are great too, but I seem stuck with a few options. Lany cartridges are great but it's the only decent one I can find here.

        • bch 12 days ago

          > has a piston converter

          The 2000 is natively a piston filler as far as I know. When you say “converter”, are you saying you’ve modified your 2000?

          • ljvmiranda 12 days ago

            Yes :) The Lamy 2000's been with me after grad. Even had a pen craftsman resharpen my nib!

      • ubermonkey 12 days ago

        Why tho?

        Sure, there are some converters that are notably, notoriously small (Namiki Vanishing Point converters are infamous for this), but in those cases it's simple to use carts instead. (In the Namiki case, the carts last weeks and weeks.)

        • soogwoog 12 days ago

          So you can use different inks other than compatible carts?

          • dakr 12 days ago

            I use a syringe to refill cartridges from whatever bottle of ink I want to use. The cartridges can be reused many many times.

            edit: lol, if I had reloaded the page before commenting, I would have seen all of these people saying the same thing!

            • dwringer 12 days ago

              > edit: [...]

              Every time fountain pens come up on HN I'm amazed how active the discussion gets.

              • dumpsterlid 12 days ago

                I mean, how important is the pen as a tool to human history? The pen is one of the most important human inventions and the fountain pen is by far the coolest version of it :P

              • ubermonkey 11 days ago

                I am similarly surprised at the number of technical people who prefer one or more of the following:

                * Fountain pens * Mechanical watches * Cars with clutches

          • dwringer 12 days ago

            A lot of people just reuse empty cartridges a few times by refilling them with a blunt tip syringe (sold by most online pen/ink shops), using whatever ink they want.

          • dumpsterlid 12 days ago

            It is far easier to get a blunt nosed syringe for $0.10 (not sharpened for medical use) and use it to quickly and cleanly refill cartridges with whatever ink you want.

            • ubermonkey 12 days ago

              Isn't it even EASIER to get a converter?

        • BeetleB 12 days ago

          > Why tho?

          Just to expand on the time before refills. Most converters are under 1 ml. Having, say, 3-4 ml in your pen means you fill it a lot less frequently.

          The thing keeping me away from eyedropping my pen is the inevitable burps.

          • ubermonkey 12 days ago

            As I said, the only converter of mine that seems to have a capacity problem is the Namiki, but for practical reasons I also almost always run carts in that pen anyway.

            I don't need a project, and I'm not super interested in locking a pen into a single mode of operation. The beauty of most pens is that you can go with carts OR with a converter, depending on mood. (Obviously some, like Pelikans and TWSBI, are bottle-fill only, but you know that going in.)

            • BeetleB 12 days ago

              Yeah, I don't do cartridges for the same reason as others: I change the ink often, and the selection with cartridges is almost non-existent (and much more expensive per ml).

              For a lot of pens, there is no "locking". You just remove the cartridge/converter, and add silicone, and you're good to go. You can always revert back.

              • ubermonkey 11 days ago


                I ran carts only in my Vanishing Point(s) for years, but largely because it was easier for travel and I found the ink color and consistency very pleasant.

                Once I stopped traveling so much I started using more bottled ink, which is fun, but then you get to a point where you have a mental matrix about which inks work best with which paper in which nibs…

    • iancmceachern 12 days ago

      It allows for more volume. The converters or cartridges take up real estate in the pen with their mechanisms. This alternate approach takes up all that space with ink.

  • huimang 12 days ago

    Uniball vision rollerball pens basically glide on the page, and they're portable unlike fountain pens. They're also significantly cheaper than buying a fountain pen + ink(s). As much as I love writing with my Sailor ProGear Slim F/EF nib fountain pens, inks + traveling = a nice mess waiting to happen.

    I had a pelikan souveran r800 that was refillable, but sadly I lost it on one of my return trips. Now I just travel with 3 leuchtturm notebooks (A6-grid, A5-grid, B5-lines-softcover) and a bunch of uniball pens.

ubermonkey 12 days ago

I do the same thing -- TO START.

Initial notes are almost always on paper, in a good notebook, written with a fountain pen. I also almost always have a small notebook and pen on my person.

BUT once something becomes a real project I need to track, or if the notes are important enough that I want them searchable later, I transcribe and summarize into the appropriate Orgmode buffer.

I retain things written longhand better, but this act of review & summarization is like a turbocharger for that recollection. (Not for nothing, but one old-school study hack I read about back in the 80s was "type up your class notes". It dated from an era before computers, so it wasn't about search or indexing. It was about the act of review inherent in the transcription.)

jxy 12 days ago

People thinking pen and paper is simple have intentionally made it simple. Have you considered how many different kinds of paper/notebooks/slides/cards, kinds of pen/pencil/brush? Soon you'll start fiddling with your pens and papers, as some comments here have already started suggesting their personal favorite, including making your custom "eye dropper" pen.

Taking the same approach to pen and paper, digital interface is extremely simple, a keyboard and a display. Your system: text files. It's liberating. You open your note.txt,

  ed note.txt
  my previous notes
  more notes
  my last notes
  now just write you new notes down
  don't worry about anything
  don't even worry about editing previous lines
  just write
  and done
And that's it.
  • JadeNB 12 days ago

    > People thinking pen and paper is simple have intentionally made it simple.

    > Taking the same approach to pen and paper, digital interface is extremely simple, a keyboard and a display. Your system: text files. It's liberating. You open your note.txt, <ed session snipped> And that's it.

    Surely that's also intentionally making a digital interface simple? I mean, both kinds—all kinds—of interfaces can be made simpler or made more complex depending on the user's tastes. That fact itself doesn't, I think, speak to any virtue or lack thereof on the part of any interface paradigm.

  • wainstead 12 days ago

    Line editors for the win.

  • ontouchstart 12 days ago

    cat > note.txt <<EOF


    • CRConrad 12 hours ago

         cat > note.txt <<EOF
      cat >> notes.txt <<EOF
      • ontouchstart 11 hours ago

        Yes. If we also add

            date >> notes.txt
        it would be a great immutable ledger .
iammjm 12 days ago

Last year i went in the other direction: analog to digital. Onenote is my tool of choice - it's basically a really awesome piece of paper: you can write per hand on your tablet, you can type to text, you can create lists, tables, convert handwriting to text, insert audio, photos, shapes, screenshots, first text, copy text to and from other apps, tag information, hyperlink other pages and notebooks and even pieces of text; you can host in in cloud or locally, the page is unlimited and you can cluster notebooks into sections and notebooks, move and copy pages around and even collaborate with other people in real time. It's on all devices you use, synced. It's everything your notebook is plus so much more. Hands down best room I've ever used.

rasengan0 12 days ago

"I remember in my college chemistry classes, we were instructed never to tear off or hide any error we made in our lab notebooks. Instead, we should mark it with a strikethrough. "

+1 OMG Chemistry notebooks FTW. I was always a pencil person and when the professor literally made us cross out our mistakes it felt gross to see the wasted space for 'nonsense', so inefficient. Only later I come to realize that all creation is not for naught. Observations made and recorded for the record are invaluable when seen from a different time perspective. If DNA can have built in redundancy, then evolution is revealing a good lesson to replicate for note taking as well.

People's time horizons are too short when thinking about so called 'ultimate' note taking/brainstorming/productivity solutions. What system did Grace Hopper use? Feynmann?

I can take a trip to Mom's and fetch that chemistry notebook to retrieve that 1980s information. No retro hardware, searching for encryption keys, old floppy disk/zip drive media players, no defunct internet companies to contact about 'my' data, proprietary formats to parse, etc. Open that 40 year old notebook and read it.

To be sure, I own the iPads/android tablets, note apps, desktop apps, wikis, cloud services and other digital debris that in the end is/was wasted friction, $$$ and energy. Too many dependencies.

I stick with a low-end laptop with plain text on vim and emacs -nox and (mobile) self-made paper notebooks and enjoyable wonderful fountain pens [1] I'm really trying to look back toward memory like the ancients but that is the ultimate practice.[2]

Life is too short to conform to digital tools. Enjoy both! There is much forgotten freedom to be rediscovered with the analog hand.

[1] [2]

  • detaro 12 days ago

    In chemistry etc the properly-kept lab notebook is also an almost chain of evidence thing, both for scientific (integrity) and commercial (patents and such) reasons. I.e. never erase, only strike-through so previous error is still readable, numbered pages, each section dated and signed, properly kept index, ... all make it a lot harder to falsify things after the fact. (Nowadays there are also digital record-keeping tools that do timestamped signatures and such instead)

    • GoodbyeMrChips 12 days ago

      > almost chain of evidence

      It is, and was a chain of evidence for me. One that saved my arse.

      Type up your reports and spreadsheets, but raw data should always be kept in a proper hardbound paper lab notebook.... one that references the filenames of your typed up electronic data.

Cupertino95014 12 days ago

Sigh. I really sympathize with this, and I totally think that analog is not dead and will never die. And vinyl records!

Despite that, I find that in own writing, I always think I'm going to initiate it on paper, but then I start writing fragments on the computer, thinking about them, revising, etc. etc. I lay it aside & think about it, and then revise some more. In the end, I think it's about as creative as pen-and-paper.

I hope. I should try the pen again just to make sure.

  • foldedcornice 12 days ago

    I've had similar experiences where I didn't need any paper to plan out and write shorter articles. However, screenwriter Thomas Schnauz provided a great example of how handwriting was useful when writing scripts for Better Call Saul. He posted a photo of a cork board with dozens of pinned index cards with handwritten ideas for scenes. It looks like the cards can then be rearranged or substituted out without losing the past drafts:

    Handwriting has also been useful for taking notes where diagrams and imagery was important, such as when researching what a good user interface could look like, for a web application. You could give it a try if you decide to write an article that analyzes or incorporates a significant amount of imagery, or has a lot of parts, like a lengthy script, fictional story, or in-depth report.

coldblues 12 days ago

For me, what feels like quicksand, is writing on paper. I type very fast on my keyboard 120+ WPM. I want to get my thoughts out of my head as soon as possible, and shape them fast with immediate feedback. My notes are very random and they're all over the place, yet all easily interconnected and searchable because of backlinks and some minimal organization. If I were taking physical notes, I would not have as many notes as I have now, and would be less motivated. The computer is an extension of myself at this point, and it feels more natural than writing on paper.

I think the author might have chosen the traditional way of note-taking, because he just doesn't have the patience or the particular obsession to tailor the note-taking system. Which is fair, but it might do him a disservice if he ends up impatient with the system he is building now. There is a reason, after all, that so many people switched to digital. Even if the author prefers the romanticized way of old note-taking, it is undoubtedly inefficient. It's an experience akin to using ${Editor} over Vim.

  • CRConrad 9 hours ago

    > I want to get my thoughts out of my head as soon as possible

    Why, is there something wrong with them?

    > I think the author might have chosen the traditional way of note-taking, because he just doesn't have the patience or the particular obsession to tailor the note-taking system.

    Because nothing says "This is naturally the best way for humans to do something" as clearly as it requiring patience or a "particular obsession", right?

  • tomtheelder 12 days ago

    It depends what you're optimizing for. I'm not sure I'd consider volume of notes to be a positive metric. I'm not convinced motivation is either.

    When I handwrite I absolutely write less. It's harder and slower. But for the types of things I use handwriting for I think that's a plus. I tend to put more thought into what I'm recording. In my personal experience the outcomes are better.

    I type notes as well, very frequently, but for archival content. Things I want to be able to reference in the future.

  • emadabdulrahim 12 days ago

    Efficiency is good but not the most important thing when it comes to thinking, idea generation, journaling, etc.

jmull 12 days ago

Interesting how the tool integrates with the mind.

I used to strictly be a pencil and notebook person... to be mentally engaged fully (whether that is thinking, problem solving, planning, recalling, etc.) I had to use pencil and paper.

But improvements in text editors, and their convenience, lead to me using them more and more to capture ideas, lists, etc., and one day I realized I had switched.

Now I need to use sublime text to be mentally fully engaged.

If I could find something better I'd try switching again. Needs top-notch text editing integrated well with something like Apple Pencil. (Apple notes app is subpar when it comes to text, doesn't integrate text and pencil drawing/writing very well, and although I just want basic drawing/writing tools, it doesn't do that very well either.)

  • criddell 12 days ago

    On my iPad I use GoodNotes and it's pretty good. I've also tried Notability and it's quite good as well but GoodNotes is what I started with and it's what I'm most efficient in.

    One of my kids uses OneNote from Microsoft. Their notebook / section / page metaphor seems too fiddly for me although I know some people like it.

Snitch-Thursday 12 days ago

I was recently reading Steal Like an Artist and one of the sections referenced having an analog desk and a digital desk, the former for ideation and creativity modes, the latter for editing and revising modes, and I found that salient.

I love my fountain pens and paper, but for permanence and immediacy reasons. It's really hard to put a file attachment for safe-keeping on your hardcover journal.

I love OneNote, but for ease of dumping screenshots, digital ink annotations, file attachments, and generally building up context around a bit of specific information reasons. It's really hard to put your sticker from your family-member's letter on your OneNote notebook.

And those are two different tasks, just like the desks example above.

eevilspock 12 days ago

I prefer thinking on paper. But I like the compact storage and backup, organizability and most importantly searchability of digital notes.

What I really need is a great open source OCR and hand diagram to SVG tool.

I hunted to no avail. Anyone got good recs?

thenoblesquid 12 days ago

Even a simple to-do list. Crossing an item off with pen on paper provides a much more satisfying feeling of accomplishment than deleting the task or striking through the text in an app.

iancmceachern 12 days ago

I started buying custom printed notebooks from the scientific journal companies. For $10 a journal you can get a very niche hard cover journal, with page numbers (if you like), plain, ruled or grid paper, and embossed with your name (or whatever). It's so satisfying. Combine that with a nice fountain pen and ink and it's quite the experience.

It's my proffered way to take notes, think through problems.

JonChesterfield 12 days ago

I wrote code on paper occasionally. Anyone else? Don't see an existing comment about it.

Notebook, multicoloured pen, usually C or lisp syntax. Tends to be thinking through data structures. Kills the temptation to check my work by running it which forces me to think harder about the intended execution.

edit: used to use whiteboards for the same purpose but sadly don't have one at present

  • Tcepsa 12 days ago

    I still do. Generally data structures and flow more than actual code these days, but sometimes I'll also sketch out an API or something by hand. I find it tremendously helpful for cultivating understanding, designing systems, and solving problems!

  • a9h74j 12 days ago

    I once commented to use one color for code and another for everything else (when learning a programming language). It got more upvotes than I would have expected, so others must be coding on paper as well.

  • wrp 12 days ago

    Idea -> diagram -> pseudocode -> code. All on paper. Prefer loose sheets so I can spread them out. Mentally run through it and "printf" to the margins. Concise languages only.

egypturnash 12 days ago

Is Zettelkasten the new Getting Things Done yet? I feel like I'm seeing essays about How I Zettel with the same frequency I used to see essays about How I GTD back when 43folders was pioneering the genre of "productivity influencer".

(edit: amusingly enough, I find this near the end: "I also mentioned Zettelkasten many times in this post, but I don’t do that anymore–I just did a 1-month dry run and it felt tiring.")

  • vavooom 12 days ago

    I've come to the limited experience conclusion that Zettelkasten is a great tool if you are doing detailed non-fiction writing, blogging, or research, and plan to for more than a year. Outside of these scenarios its just storing information that you may/ may not ever refer to or recall.

    • kstrauser 12 days ago

      Nailed it. I've used "Linking Your Thinking" much more successfully for organizing notes in Obsidian when I want to be able to quickly access them. Here's the summary:

      Make lots of indexes, or "Maps Of Content".

      An index can point to a other pages, including other MOCs. It can also have its own text.

      There, that's 95% of it. I have a top-level "Index MOC" page that links to my "Work MOC" (which links to projects I'm working on), "Orders MOC" (that links to a bunch of pages for local restaurants and what my wife likes ordering from them), "Diablo MOC" (because I play a lot of Diablo 3 and keep notes on how to optimize characters), etc.

      In short, it's a way to turn a mess of pages into a web of links that I can easily click through if I want to.

      • larve 12 days ago

        I combine both freely. I have a "wiki" part that's mostly starting pages for individual topics, a structure notes part that are a cross between a draft article and an index page. They're concepts I'm trying to work out. A Zettelkasten part with linked "claims" where I put original thoughts. And tons of free form logs and blog post drafts and topic driven writing. It's all linked together and it's a lot of fun. here's the public part:

  • ubermonkey 12 days ago

    Yeah, I think it is.

    I never went all in on GTD, but some principles stuck with me: key is having a trusted system where I can capture things that will then SHOW me those things when I need to see them.

    I used Omnifocus for a while, but eventually migrated to OrgMode as a better fit for my life (even though I'm not really an emacs person overall).

    • euroderf 12 days ago

      > a trusted system where I can capture things that will then SHOW me those things when I need to see them.

      The related principle that sticks with me is, your mind is more for processing/doing things than for simply storing them.

  • ticviking 12 days ago

    It seems to me that it is.

    I find it productive, probably because it helps me collect the various ideas and notes from things I've read into a single place, and is a good mindfulness practice.

runjake 12 days ago

A few gripes about the post:

1. It appears the author hasn’t been doing this long, judging by their Twitter feed. I’m more interested when somebody’s been at something for a year or two. The whole “I’ve switched to $thing and it’s changed everything!” is always fun when it was written soon after the switch. Even funnier when you visit it a few months after and they’re back on the old thing. See also operating system switch posts.

2. “Most” notes systems aren’t using Zettelkasten. Most note takers don’t even know what it is.

3. I take handwritten notes and drawings all the time. Then I scan and OCR them into a PDF with my iPhone that goes into Obsidian via Shortcuts automations. This way it’s searchable and I always have them. I don’t have to remember to carry a handcrafted Midori/Moleskine around everywhere.

  • ljvmiranda 12 days ago

    Hi runjake, author here!

    Not sure what you meant by the Twitter feed? Doing this since 2017 and it's still fun so far! Hope that helps :)

  • tomtheelder 12 days ago

    I think these are fair gripes. Would love to add my perspective:

    1. I've been handwriting notes for about 2 years now, after typing all my notes before that. I generally agree with the author's points. My take on it, which I think they sort of had their own spin on, is that "notes" is an unhelpfully broad category. You record different things for different reasons. A todo is very different from jotting down a novel idea. So I have an Obsidian vault and a notebook.

    The notebook is for my ephemeral notes. That includes any information whose lifespan is less than ~1 week, so usually quick thoughts about imminent meetings or todos for the next day or so. It also includes any time I'm taking notes strictly for my sake when the information can be referenced later. For example, my own personal thoughts during a meeting that has shared notes. In my opinion handwriting is better for that sort of stuff: I think it focuses you, it slows down your thinking a little, and it makes you more likely to remember what you wrote.

    Obsidian is for archival notes. Things I may need to reference in the future. That's where I keep any longer running todos/projects, as well as any more detailed/complex info that I might not remember but want to reference in the future. Not infrequently I'll take something I jotted down in my notebook and add it to Obsidian if it seems like it might be useful in the future.

    I find this split to be very effective for me personally. YMMV!

    2. Totally agree. I doubt most people need or benefit from actually getting into Zettelkasten.

    3. That seems very reasonable. I think for me personally it would be a bit of a hassle given how rarely I have a need to go back through my written notes.

    So yeah tl;dr would be: I think handwritten notes are the ideal way to record information that you're not going to need for more than a few days tops, but I'd hate to have to dig through my old notebooks looking for something.

nonoesp 12 days ago

I've noticed I write for longer and with greater focus when writing by hand on the reMarkable 2 tablet.

Writing in the reMarkable feels as analog as writing on paper does. I can convert my handwriting into digital text and email it to myself for editing and digital archiving right from the tablet.

I've also tried handwriting with ink in Moleskine notebooks and transcribing pages with the Google Translate API, which works surprisingly well.

I love the analog method. Yet I want to document my writing digitally for easy retrieval when editing and looking for content to publish.

What other methods are people using to digitize, transcribe, and archive "analog" handwriting?

senegoid 12 days ago

I feel people (myself included) are drawn to notetaking/PKM topics because there's a fear that others have unlocked a secret to learning the layperson hasn't yet discovered.

In my experience observing my peers, aside from intellectual horsepower, thinking about topics from first principles is the best way to learn. This has nothing to do with Logseq, Obsidian, Zettels, paper, workflows, Literature notes, or any other fad.

Don't understand something? Go back a step and understand that. Even better if you have to explain it to someone else. Then see how you structure it into a latticework of knowledge, as Charlie Munger would say.

Tomte 12 days ago

Does anyone have a good video for hand position with fountain pens?

My handwriting is bad, because my hand doesn't "hover", it's firmly planted on the table, and I need to lift it and reposition it every few words.

All the videos I've seen make it seem so easy, but when I try to emulate those hand positions, my pen's nib doesn't even reach the paper. They glide effortlessly with the smallest two fingers lightly touching the table. I need to lower my hand so three fingers and the wrist are again very much on the table.

  • egypturnash 12 days ago

    Here is a trick for learning how to make your hand “hover” that I was taught by the old pros when I joined the animation industry.

    Take a pencil. A wooden one, not a mechanical one. Sharpen it. Then hold it so that the entire side of the exposed cone of graphite touches the paper, rather than the tip. Your thumb will be on one side of the pencil, with all four fingers in a row on the opposite side, rather than sort of clustered around the front of the pencil.

    Now try to draw some lines. You will get very broad lines and probably have little control, because this grip forces you to keep your wrist still, and gives you very little room for your fingers to move the pencil either. It will feel very weird and awkward at first! You’ll have to make a bunch of big, broad motions because you’ve probably never tried to make fine motions like this with your arm in your entire life. It’s okay, you’ll get better!

    A great way to get better: take a piece of paper, and draw a circle in the upper left corner, just barely touching the edges of the paper. Don’t worry about making a nice circle, don’t go over it multiple times, just make one simple sorta-circular gesture. Now move to the right and draw another circle, just touching the first one and the tip of the paper. Repeat for a whole row, then do another row that just touches the bottom of the previous row, until you’ve filled the whole page.

    Your circles will probably look better by the end of the page. I did this every morning as a warm-up for one of my first animation jobs, and the circles got a lot better, and tighter, over the course of not much time.

    Once you have learnt this, you can easily transfer this new control of your arm motions to tools held in other grips. I mostly work digitally, and have to address the tablet with the stylus’ tip for it to register, but I still move my arm with the fluidity learnt from this exercise.

    As a bonus this is also a lot better for your arm. Keeping the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fairy away is very much a thing grizzled old animators wanted to teach the new kids coming in, they’d seen great careers cut short by injuries.

    (You could also probably keep holding the pen in a more vertical fashion and use a wrist brace to keep your wrist from moving, if this is all too damn weird for you.)

    • wrycoder 12 days ago

      That's the way artists hold a pencil. I don't think that calligraphers use that method.

      As an unusual example, here[0] is something like Palmer script being written by an Indian. It's unique, the hand is positioned almost directly below the letter being written! The author claims they are using a 0.9 mm pencil, even though the writing looks like it was written with a pen. I think they flatten the lead to a bevel edge and use that for the downstrokes, while sliding the edge sideways for the thins. Exceptional motor control, I'm jealous.


      • egypturnash 11 days ago

        It’s a way artists hold a pencil; I don’t hold my stylus anything like that on a day-to-day basis. It’s a useful grip that I’d be constantly using if I was still working with a pencil, and more importantly, it’s a grip that forces you to learn how to draw from your shoulder, rather than resting the weight of the hand on the paper and pivoting from there. This changes everything about how you write and draw, once you get used to it.

        And damn, that’s a heck of a video! It feels more to me like the pencil tip is left normal, with the line weight variance coming from very controlled variation of the pressure; you’ll notice that all the fat lines are coming when they’re pulling down. All the upstrokes are pale and thin, if they put the same pressure into those they’d probably be gouging holes in the paper. A .9mm mechanical pencil is surprisingly expressive compared to a .5 or thinner!

        Edit: I just took a .7mm mechanical out and tried some similar writing; pressure can indeed do most of the line weight variety seen there.

    • Tomte 12 days ago

      Thanks! The circle exercise is still being done with the "sideways pencil", right?

      • egypturnash 12 days ago


        You could probably do other shapes too, penmanship manuals have a lot of swoopy curves to practice if you want to develop nice handwriting. I just did circles because animators really love roughing stuff out with circles.

lbriner 12 days ago

I think OP touches on it but even with a graphics tablet, there is no way I can create simple drawings and sketches on the computer compared to pen and paper. Even a simple box in powerpoint is:

1) Check if you are on the correct ribbon 2) Click the box icon (unless you have millions of shortcuts setup) 3) Drag and drop it 4) Maybe change the defaults which you don't like (colour, thickness etc) 5) If you are typing text in it, that rarely works out well without clicking other buttons

On paper: draw box and write text - simples.

  • galleywest200 12 days ago

    I am not sure why it needs to be this complicated for a graphics tablet.

    Open paint software -> use stylus to draw square.

chadash 12 days ago

in general, I use my computer for taking notes. But I recently started using pencil and paper for designing quick low-fidelity mockups for things that my team is going to implement and it's wildly better than working on the computer for several reasons:

- pencil/paper is just so much quicker

- if you think it, you can draw it... quickly. It's more flexible.

- key advantage: when non-engineers (or even engineers) see higher fidelity mockups, it's very easy to get caught up on some of the details like where a button goes or how big the font is. With pencil/paper, everyone realizes that it's a rough sketch and that the final product isn't going to look this way.

After I write things up, I scan them with an app to a PDF file and then email that out (or attach to a ticket). Of course, pen/pencil isn't great for final designs... there's no substitute for a high-fidelity mockup of what somethings is supposed to look like. But I find it very useful to start with the UX and then work on things like CSS last.

Some key tools I use:

notepad: $5

pencil: $7 (I really splurged here for the pentel Orenz, my favorite mechanical pencil, but a $1-2 pencil will be 95% as good)

6" ruler: $1.76

1/2" binder (I like to keep my drawings): $4

I've thought about investing in a ReMarkable tablet, but I find it hard to justify the cost since pen/pencil work so well.

galleywest200 12 days ago

I love pen and paper. I have chronically sweaty hands so an iPad + stylus + note app works best for me currently, but its the same idea.

YeBanKo 12 days ago

Tangentially related question, maybe someone can explain why graph/quad/grid ruled notepads are harder to find and way more expensive. I can easily get college ruled notepad for $.50-$1 almost in any department store, but graph ruled are significantly more expensive ($4-$5) and less common.

  • drekipus 12 days ago

    Market forces. Grid is in less supply because it's not as demanded

    • YeBanKo 12 days ago

      It could be the opposite, it is not as demanded because it is not as available. If it were, I thunk people might have preferred it more often.

      • euroderf 12 days ago

        Some MBA middle manager decided a grid provides more value to buyers, ergo segment the market for el-cheapo notebooks by boosting the price ?

JustSomeNobody 12 days ago

Walmart sells wirebound grid paper notebooks for cheap. I love them. I use them as my development notebook.

megamix 12 days ago

Great write up! I use pen and paper to off load my mind

lr1970 12 days ago

iPad Pro (12.9 inch) + iPencil + GoodNotes (with zip-file backup) gives me best of two worlds. I scribble my notes with iPencil in GoodNotes. GoodNotes does OCR and its search functionality is good. It allows for backups in a form of zip archives (cloud backup option also available). Unlike Notability (subscription), GoodNotes app is one-time-fee.

waspight 12 days ago

Anyone using any e-ink tablet tool for taking notes instead of pen and paper? Is there any good solutions there yet?

  • goerz 12 days ago

    The Remarkable tablet is pretty good (although I prefer the iPad, except for in direct sunlight)

stereoradonc 12 days ago

Another productivity rabbit hole on HN

  • euroderf 12 days ago

    How about a browser extension that runs a timer until you're done reading all those links that got opened up from a productivity article ? Elapsed time: "Yikes!"

account-5 12 days ago

Pencil, for me a pencil is much better than any pen. Pencil and paper, square paper A4 or A5.

  • CRConrad 8 hours ago

    > square paper A4 or A5.

    You mean paper with a grid of squares on it, right? Because all the DIN A-series paper formats are rectangular, not square (as I first misread your meaning).

sleightofmind 12 days ago

What a beautiful site. So easy on the eyes.


tunesmith 12 days ago

Any favorite pens with LEDs attached so you can write in poor lighting conditions?

  • foldedcornice 12 days ago

    I recommend a separate clip-on book light (or clip-on LED light) that is bright, lightweight, and USB-rechargable.

    If the LED is attached to the pen, the weight (of both the battery and light) will be significant and can tire you out for long writing periods. You would also have a better experience for the light to not move too much while writing, which will happen as you move the pen along the paper.

nunodonato 12 days ago

Would love to read the author's thoughts after using a Supernote for a month

douglaswlance 12 days ago

How do you ingest the data for inspection over time?

mt_ 12 days ago

This how humans have been taking notes for most of the time. Why did the author thought this would be a noteworthy topic for a blog post?