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EMAIL NUMBER 41

TITLE:

Stop Thinking With Your Fingers

FROM:

Scott P. Scheper

Downtown San Diego, CA

TO:

You*

START TIME:

Friday 3:22 p.m.

Dear Friend,

The email I wrote to you last week went ape-shit-viral.

You may be wondering how an email could go "ape-shit-viral."

Here's how: Because I'm so in love with my own writings, I didn't want my emails to be forever lost inside the inboxes of my private email list. Therefore, from the very beginning, I've been posting the emails on my own personal website.[1]

Last week's email ("The Suck") discussed how one could learn things by writing them out by hand. For instance, if you want to learn poetry, write out poems. If you want to learn beautiful syntax, write out beautiful code.

The email was posted on the website Hacker News, and quickly became a top ten story (I think it reached number nine). As a result, 23,008 people visited my website and I gained many new email signups.

Given that the concept of The Suck resonated with so many of you, I've decided to share a related concept with you today (as opposed to my usual antics of… you know… writing about trying meat-only diets or about making my cat get an abortion).[2]

Today I am going to propose that it's better to think by writing longhand than it is to think by typing.

I'm not going to detail boring-ass research studies that demonstrate the power of longhand;[3] rather, I'll be sharing a story of a highly regarded writer named Robert Caro.

Mr. Caro is a biographer who has won two Pulitzer Prizes. One for his biography on Robert Moses. The other for his biography on Lyndon B. Johnson.

However, when Caro set out to write his first book, things weren't going well. At all. His drafts were trite and lacking in depth.

During that period, Caro was working at a newspaper. He proudly referred to himself as "a newspaper man." [4] In the newspaper business, you're incentivized to bust out stories fast. You're rewarded for being a "pantser" (that is, writing by the seat of your pants).

The problem was this: The "pantser" process of writing wasn't effective when it came to writing deep, engaging biographies.

So what did Caro do?

He recalled the words of his college professor. After reviewing one of Caro's drafts, his professor remarked:

"Mr. Caro, you're never going to achieve what you want to achieve unless you learn to stop thinking with your fingers." [5]

By this, Caro's professor meant that he must stop writing papers directly using his typewriter. Instead, Caro's professor wanted him to slow down and think on paper.

How? By writing longhand.

After struggling with his first book, Caro decided to change up his writing process. Instead of just typing away on the keyboard like a pantser, he decided to try something different. He decided to write out the book longhand.

After he had written out the first draft longhand, he then typed it on his typewriter.

This changed everything for Caro. His book began to grow in depth and quality. The two books that won him Pulitzer Prizes were written this way.

The process is pretty simple. First, write out the book longhand. Second, type it out on a typewriter. Caro continues to follow this process to this very day.

In an interview, Caro was asked why he still followed this seemingly laborious process. He responded, "It's to slow myself down." He then continued, "If I write by hand, it's a little bit slower and I think things through." [6]

The principle here is this: it's beneficial to add friction to your workflow in order to slow down the mind and think deeply. In addition to this, the environment of writing longhand is a beneficial factor. One is not tempted to switch apps every six minutes.[7] Paul Graham once wrote about this problem, too. His solution was to use a computer that wasn't connected to the internet. But even that didn't work![8]

Anyway, the moral of the story is this: Not only is writing out other people's thoughts by hand something to consider (The Suck), writing out your own thoughts by hand is something to consider, as well.

Hell, one of the best novels of all time (The Great Gatsby) was written this way. Many writers around this time switched to typewriters, but Fitzgerald stuck with writing out his drafts using extremely sharp pencils. He didn't erase mistakes, either. He'd simply cross out words. Here is a picture of the first page:[9]

That's all for this week's lesson.

Oh, and before I go, allow me to provide a few updates.

There's a lot I'm working on behind the scenes.

My forthcoming book, Antinet Zettelkasten is now officially complete. It's a 596-page beast that teaches everything you'll ever want to know about the powerful analog knowledge system that turned Niklas Luhmann into "the most important German sociologist in the twentieth century." [10] Or at least, it helped turn him into the most prolific writer (70 books and 600 peer-reviewed articles published in thirty years).

I still need to get the cover of the book designed, and then get it printed, and then… it's time to get it to you!

Along with this, I've been busy coaching my private group of clients in order to help them build what I call the "Neo-Intellectual Life."

What is the "Neo-Intellectual Life"? It's a lifestyle of spending your days reading, thinking, taking notes and becoming a prolific writer—all while making a comfortable living doing so. You can learn more here: https://www.neointellectual.institute/welcome/

Peace and love,

And always remember,

To stay crispy, my friend.

Scott P. Scheper

"A Man Who Is Grateful For All The New Faces on His Email List"

P.S. In case you're wondering. I wrote out my book longhand. They were broken apart into notecards (in my Antinet Zettelkasten), which made it a lot easier (and more fun).

P.P.S. I only wrote out the Caro part of this piece by hand. The rest of it is me riffing. I am a hypocrite.


Footnotes:
  1. https://scottscheper.com/letter/40/ ↩︎

  2. https://scottscheper.com/letter/37/; https://scottscheper.com/letter/33/. ↩︎

  3. Marieke Longcamp et al., "Remembering the Orientation of Newly Learned Characters Depends on the Associated Writing Knowledge: A Comparison between Handwriting and Typing," Human Movement Science, Advances in Graphonomics: Studies on Fine Motor Control, Its Development and Disorders, 25, no. 4 (October 1, 2006): 646–56; Aya S. Ihara et al., "Advantage of Handwriting Over Typing on Learning Words: Evidence From an N400 Event-Related Potential Index," Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 15 (2021): 679191; Aya S. Ihara et al., "Advantage of Handwriting Over Typing on Learning Words: Evidence From an N400 Event-Related Potential Index," Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 15 (2021): 679191; Timothy J. Smoker, Carrie E. Murphy, and Alison K. Rockwell, "Comparing Memory for Handwriting versus Typing," Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting 53, no. 22 (October 1, 2009): 1744–47; "The Importance of Handwriting Experience on the Development of the Literate Brain - Karin H. James, 2017," accessed August 13, 2021, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963721417709821; Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, "The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking," Psychological Science 25, no. 6 (June 1, 2014): 1159–68. ↩︎

  4. Inside the Robert A. Caro Archive, Episode 1: Electra 210 Typewriter, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORf1AhUhQPQ. ↩︎

  5. Inside the Robert A. Caro Archive, Episode 1: Electra 210 Typewriter, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORf1AhUhQPQ. Emphasis added. ↩︎

  6. From LBJ to Robert Moses: Robert Caro on Writing About Political Power & Its Impact on the Powerless, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4j1h71xVG4, minute 38. ↩︎

  7. Cal Newport, A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload (New York: Portfolio, 2021), 11; For instance, one study tracked the anonymous digital activity of fifty-thousand users. The results illustrated that half of the users checked communication apps (like Slack and email) "every six minutes or less." ↩︎

  8. http://www.paulgraham.com/distraction.html ↩︎

  9. Credit: "F. Scott Fitzgerald's Handwritten Manuscripts for The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise & More | Open Culture," accessed September 23, 2022, https://www.openculture.com/2013/09/princeton-digitizes-f-scott-fitzgeralds-handwritten-manuscripts.html. ↩︎

  10. Undisciplined, Archiving Luhmann w/ Johannes Schmidt, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kz2K3auPLWU, 19:16. ↩︎

END TIME:

Friday 4:22 p.m.

AUTH TRUTH:

97



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