this post is half conspiracy theory, half genuine curiosity.
friends, have you considered what lined paper does to our creativity? printed lines—or worse, a grid—stifle us physically, limiting our expansiveness on the page.
but less obvious is how being hemmed in affects our thinking. because even if we ignore the lines, we’re aware of them. we still make an effort to not care. what thoughts are we not having because the lines are keeping us in line, if you will? even if the lines aren’t destructive, wouldn’t not having them be better?
clearly, i’ve brought the fervor and single-minded intensity of vegan cross-fitters to this issue. but i didn’t get here alone. the adorable Lineaturen-Ein Notebook, from the Hammer Museum gift shop, drove the issue home for me. described as “filled with more than 180 pages of ruling, graph paper and gridded ledgers from around the world, this notebook is a diligent pupil’s dream as much as an idle student’s nightmare.”
let’s get real: it’s every person’s nightmare.
although the collection is delightful and i love the international aspect, man was it cluttered. here’s a video showing its contents. it’s not that i don’t see the point of lines when we’re learning to write or practicing perspective drawing. but why is lined paper a life-long given? doesn’t it eventually stop being useful?
i don’t mind how weird i might sound. big issues often seem minor. however, few people are concerned about the creative impact of lined paper. i looked into it on Reddit and hideous writers’ forums of dubious repute, and only one complaint was constant: unlined paper makes people write weird. squiggly, sloped, hopelessly crooked.
really, adult human? i thought. you pay taxes, stay out of prison, and repeatedly handle minor interpersonal conflict, but writing in a straight line is too much? that’s where you draw the line? (can’t help myself)
and besides, what exactly is the problem with lopsided writing in a private notebook you bought with your hard-earned cash? are you worried you’ll seem incompetent when it’s archived in the Library of Congress? please.
try not to be one of those people. instead, learn a new way to use blank paper, like sketching. Google Ventures uses a four-step sketch process, specifically for team projects, but there’s no reason you can’t do it on your own.
because, “sketching is the fastest, easiest way to transform abstract idea into concrete solutions…”* even though i’m not designing web pages, it’s true. i often box paragraphs while outlining and draw arrows everywhere. the best part? nary a printed line in sight.
in the name of creative exploration, i’m mostly using unlined paper from now on. i discovered a wonderful expansiveness from the unfettered space. the ability to burst into doodles if need be is excellent. and from a purely visual standpoint, everything on a blank page automatically becomes the center of attention. even if plain paper isn’t scientifically more inspiring, letting ideas roam freely can’t hurt.
a personal side issue unlined paper relieves is the fact my hands are gargantuan. dainty lined notebooks simply don’t accommodate these Godzilla meat hooks. happily, they now have free range.
i invite you to join me in this experiment: write only on unlined paper for three days, longer if possible. i’m not clamoring for government funding to investigate further, i’m just saying, give it a try. you might be surprised.
here are my writing supplies:
- Moleskine Volant notebook for on-the-go ideas. these made me realize my hands are gigantic. i love them regardless. $8.95
for more inspiration, here’s a walk through the notebook usage and tools of 16 famous designers. the variety is fascinating and reading their processes is useful. for example, read what the journals of Carla Cammilla Hjort, founder and CEO of Space10 in Copenhagen, and formerly the world’s most industrious 7-year-old, provide:
“I started doing daily journals when I was seven years old and always used them to document what I dreamed of achieving in life, and notes from everyday matters and meetings. Later on in life, I realized the power of words and visual brainstorms (mind-mapping), and in this context my notebooks have become my own personal life guides.”
do you have strong feelings about lined paper? what are your writing tools of choice? let me know in the comments!
*from the forthcoming book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp with John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz.