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Why You Need to Start Writing Things Down by Hand

Now that we’re all used to banging out emails on our laptops and thumbing text messages on our phones, the art of putting pen to paper seems practically Dickensian. Still, in the digital age, sometimes it feels more meditative to take out a piece of nice paper and a comfortable pen to put down our thoughts. Sure we can use high-tech products like Moleskine’s Pen + Ellipse or Montblanc’s Augmented Paper, combining high-tech, high-touch (and high prices), but for now, we prefer the simple life. You can always download a scanner app to your phone to keep a digital copy of any letters or notes you feel are necessary to keep.

man handwriting in notebook

To get some guidance on when to put down the electronics, pick up an elegant writing instrument, and get to work on neatly putting your thoughts down on some fine paper, we had a conversation with Montblanc Creative Director Zaim Kamal. Kamal was in New York recently to debut a collaboration between the venerable accessories brand and über-chic Miami-based boutique The Webster. Needless to say, the partnership resulted in some flamingo-inflected accessories that were hot as a Miami Beach sunburn. 

So when is it time to put aside the electronics and actually write something by hand? 

Kamal says, “Gestures should be answered with gestures. When wanting to convey a strong emotion like love or gratitude, it makes a big difference if the thought is handwritten or digital. Nowadays, response times are much shorter, so if you write via email or text, the gesture sometimes can get a bit lost. Writing a thank you note is timeless … much more personal because of its tactile aspect.”

handwritten note

“The digital age frees people to say what they feel at any time without the burden of an uncomfortable silence or an awkward interaction. It can be positive, but also impersonal. There is a preciousness held towards handwritten notes. They convey emotion, motive, and tactility. For those reasons, they hold a longer impact; their physical aspect and the fact that they cannot be easily ‘edited’ or get lost in a sea of messages make them timeless memorabilia for one to keep for a long period of time.”

That all sounds good, but how can we focus on writing something personal and — dare we say it, poetic — when we’re mostly used to banging out concise memos or terse text messages? 

“Writing is an action that should be perceived to be as natural as thinking,” says Kamal. “Writing, no matter how good or bad, is one of the purest forms of self-expression. So my only advice on how to write is to write, write, write. Just like drawing, the more you do it, the easier it gets, the better it flows and then becomes second nature.”

What are Kamal’s favorite writing tools?

“My go-to writing instrument constantly varies, but I have to say through the years the Meisterstuck has always been a fierce companion,” says Kamal. “Every decade I would buy myself a new one, and I still have all of them. Of course, in my position, I have the privilege to try all our great pieces, but the MST is our maison’s iconic piece and the one I will always closely associate with Montblanc.”

Meisterstück Le Petit Prince Classique Rollerball
Meisterstück Le Petit Prince Classique Rollerball Montblanc

Of course, once you’ve finally invested in a good pen, it’d be a shame to just put your lofty thoughts down on just any surface. 

“The right paper will give you the right gesture. If the paper texture is scratchy or uneven it will diminish your desire to write and that can be perceived in the handwriting of the letter. In designing (Montblanc’s) stationery, I made sure that the paper quality was perfect so it could be a key process to enable inspiration. I pay attention to the paper’s thickness, the texture, the sound it makes when I write onto it … there are a lot of factors that can greatly benefit the writing experience and help inspiration flow.

“That said, I come from a generation where we used to write aerograms. I am not sure if you remember them; they were very thin pieces of paper that would fold into an envelope. I used to write many of them to my grandmother who, at the time, was based in Pakistan. In return, I loved receiving those from her and (even though she was not supposed to) she would include a small rose petal in it. Those were some of my fondest memories of her.”

“I think as long as the paper feels good to you and you enjoy the texture and feel of it, writing will always be an enjoyable experience.”

“All in all, writing is a powerful tool of self-expression and more often than not a tool to spark up conversation, exchange ideas, and form connections. Through writing our feelings, ideas, or facts, we challenge each other to open our intellectual horizons. With that information at hand, I can only encourage people to approach life with kindness, empathy, tolerance on themselves as well as upon others. Take that knowledge and do things that feel good to you and can only do good to others and leave your mark in the world.”

Our suggestion? Find a quiet place with a smooth surface. Take a few minutes to really focus on what you want to say. Don’t be afraid to make an outline or jot down a few thoughts before you get moving. Don’t get too hung up on a few misspellings or false starts, either: a word crossed out here and there can make the letter that much more personal and meaningful. Most importantly, relax and enjoy the process. 

Once you’re ready, here are some of our favorite tools to use while writing.

Best Writing Tools

Montblanc X The Webster Stationery Set

Montblanc X The Webster Stationery Set

OK, sometimes it’s best to hope that somebody is going to give you a really nice gift when you’ve earned your MBA or land that big promotion. Otherwise, you’re just going to have to indulge yourself when that bonus comes along. Look on this as an investment that, with a little care, can be passed on for generations to come. In this case, the limited edition collaboration features a bit of Miami Beach attitude including: a classic silver pen with a blinding flash of pink on the barrel; a funky Art Deco-inspired notebook; and a Pantone-approved pink ink. 

Great Characters Limited Edition Walt Disney Collection Ink

Great Characters Limited Edition Walt Disney Collection Ink

If you’ve already got an amazing fountain pen, there’s no reason to stick with plain old blue or black ink in the digital age. Be inspired by this brilliant yellow-gold ink, color inspired by Micky Mouse’s shoes. 

Cross Year of the Rat Rollerball Pen

Cross Year of the Rat Rollerball Pen 

Look we can’t all be born under the year of the Dragon, the Horse, or even the Dog. Every 12 years somebody has to be born under the sign of the Rat. The good news is that those born under the sign are said to be outgoing, cheerful, and sociable, with lots of friends … and they do well in business. Celebrate this year with a Cross Rollerball pen featuring a translucent blue lacquer finish, a 23 karat gold inlaid rat design, and a Swarovski gem on top. 

Shinola Ensso XS Minimalist Fountain Pen

Shinola Ensso XS Minimalist Fountain Pen

Of course you’d expect something super cool and minimal from Shinola. A super compact model, the pen becomes full size once the cap is removed and reattached to the end. It’s made from durable aluminum and its faceted design will prevent it from rolling off your desk. Best of all, it’s easily refilled with universal ink cartridges, so you’re not constantly tossing another stick pen into the landfill … and at $60 it’s a lot more approachable. 

Smythson Nile Blue Kings Writing Paper

Smythson Nile Blue Kings Writing Paper

Sure, you could just yank a sheet of paper out of the printer, but if you’re going to the trouble of composing a great love letter, thank you note (or apology) it might as well be on a quality of paper to match your intentions. We like Smythson’s classic plain stationery in this commanding blue color. Think of it as a classic pair of blue jeans for your thoughts.

Mrs. John L. Strong Monkey Business Tablet

Mrs. John L. Strong Monkey Business Tablet

Keep paper handy on a desktop or side table with this tablet that’s made for business … monkey business, that is.  Mrs. Strong has been making fine papers since 1929; each piece requiring hours of craftsmanship and old world techniques … but it sounds like she had a great sense of humor, too. 

Moglea Caspian Set Cards

Moglea Caspian Set Cards

Each of these cards has an individual, abstract design that we think looks a bit like camouflage or your favorite Jackson Pollock painting. Fill one with your own artistic expression. The set includes patterned envelopes. 

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John Jones
John Jones is a Jersey City, New Jersey-based writer who enjoys covering design in all its forms, from fashion to…
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