For me, I'm fairly confident it's that paper just feels so much less convenient than typing. I am fairly quick to open up a text editor to help me think, and (less, but not much less) quick to do it in a group context.

But I type way faster than I write (perhaps if I wrote more I'd be better at it?)

The main advantage of paper is for diagrams. I agree with Ben's comment elsewhere about sharpies being good to get you into a diagram mindset, although then you need even larger paper to have enough room.

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12Screwtape2yHave you ever looked at forms of shorthand? I picked up pieces from a journalism major I knew in college, and then started making up my own. You can write a lot faster if you're willing to be incomprehensible to anyone else.

Yeah, this also seems worth doing, and is part of what I'm trying to get at with breaking out of the school frame. Absolutely no need to be even slightly comprehensible to anyone else if you're just writing for yourself; you don't even have to be comprehensible to yourself in the future if you're just writing for working memory.

8Qiaochu_Yuan2yI also type way faster than I write and that's also a factor for me, and I also lament the fact that I can't type diagrams. (Critch tried to get me to use some mindmapping stuff awhile back but it felt icky and bad for some reason.) I experimented with using a fountain pen because I heard the writing experience was much smoother, and it helped a little but not that much. On paper I would recommend using way fewer words; just barely enough to label the thoughts.

Paper Trauma

by Qiaochu_Yuan 1 min read31st Jan 201863 comments


Andrew Critch thinks people should be spending more time than they currently are using paper as a working memory aid while thinking, especially large paper (for even more working memory). It is really astonishing how helpful this can be. We consistently encourage people to do it at CFAR workshops nearly every time they learn a new technique or attempt to debug themselves or each other.

Paper is both very helpful and very easy to use - so why aren't people already using it all the time (including me)? I have a few vivid memories of times at CFAR workshops where I had to prod two people who were having a cognitively intensive conversation to use paper as shared working memory, and by "people" I mean CFAR instructors. It's harder than it looks.

My guess is that people have unresolved aversions to paper coming from school, where paper was how other people forced you to do things like homework and tests.

Really, it's horrifying to think about how much of what you've written down on paper was entirely forced on you.

So, you'll need to do some work if you want to reclaim the right to write whatever you want on paper, instead of whatever you've been trained to write. Good luck. Here are some words to take with you on your way.

Just because you are writing on paper does not mean you are still in school.

Nobody is going to grade you.

This is not homework. This is not a test.

This is your mind.

This is your life.