Cup of tea
Image credit: John-Mark Smith

Just the Basics — Pen, Paper, Laptop, some AI, and a Cup of Tea

First, a confession: I love technology and am an incorrigible nerd. And yes, I love computers! But I also love writing. And I love to write with a proper(!) pen on paper. I love to doodle, write, think, scratch out, underline, cross out, crumple up the paper, and toss it when I no longer need it. It’s also very satisfying to go through old notes. To look at the doodles. To read and re-read. To remember what one was thinking.

Writing by hand is tactile. It feels good. It lets’ me think while I write and write while I think. Perhaps I’m old-school? I don’t care. I just think better on paper. I can draw the mental pictures I have in my head on paper. And this is especially helpful when I need to understand complex processes or explain some system, and so on.

Of course, depending on what I’m writing, pen and paper are just one set of tools. For example, my personal journals are paper-based (think Moleskine and similar). Here, I write short (almost) daily notes of pretty much anything. I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s quite interesting to go back and read old notes. These notes are also the basis for my monthly summaries on this personal blog. Because who can remember all the stuff that happens during a month?

Now, I also maintain an extensive digital notebook — I use Obsidian — which I synchronize across all my various devices: all computers (yes, there are a few), phones, and tablets. This is where I keep my notes on stuff I find interesting, things I want to learn more about, all kinds of project notes for projects that I may or may not ever finish, various to-do-lists, and so much more … bucket lists, unfinished blog posts, half-baked ideas, the notes version of the “half-eaten sandwich.”

Anyway, a few years ago, I switched from Evernote to Obsidian, and my only regret is that I waited so long. This is not to say that Evernote is bad or even that Obsidian is the best tool under the sun. But it’s what works for me. And yes, while I may be old-school, I’m still a geek and travel extensively. So, I want the ability to read, write, and, most importantly, take notes anywhere.

My phone allows me to view and listen to things, read things, ponder life’s mysteries (I guess I don’t need a phone for that), jot down notes, or even write complete posts and save them to Obsidian to be referenced and tweaked later. It just works! Even when I’m waiting in line to board a flight. Yes, maximum mobility!

Every once in a while, though, I get stuck. Total writer’s block. Or, it’s something complex I cannot wrap my head around. My mind hits the proverbial brick wall.

My tricks to get unstuck run the gamut and vary depending on the time of day, the number of hours or days “stuck” or “lost in rabbit holes,” and whether I’m ready to toss my laptop out the window.

There’s the obligatory period of “googling stuff” to see what’s already out there. I often use this to research technical problems or programming issues (yay, Github, Stackoverflow, and all the other lifesavers!). Lately, though, and especially when I want to write about non-technical topics, I play with prompts for various AI tools. I use AI for brainstorming. To try out different ideas. To get a feel for what to write. However, the actual writing is always mine. After all, that’s the fun part!

Oh, there’s one more essential tool — a good cup of tea. I could sit here and ponder things forever with my pen and paper and a hot cup of lapsang souchong 🙂

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P.S. I originally wrote this post sometime last year and published it on Medium. However, I recently decided not to publish on that platform and instead focus on building this blog.