Pencil Perfect

I love pencils. Cheap, available, usable. I have a pencil on my nightstand next to some index cards–in case I wake up and need to remember something but don’t want to turn

Yellow pencil. Colored pencil, ink. © Q. McDonald
Yellow pencil. Colored pencil, ink. © Q. McDonald

on the light. A pencil always works. In the dark, without looking, the pencil will work. Ballpoints and fountain pens, which I also love, sneakily need to be warmed up and I don’t know when they’ve started working.

The other night, I wanted to jot down a reminder for the next day. The cat had run off with the pencil, I used a ballpoint and the next morning I read “uh tc bca d”because missing halves of letters looked like different letters–half of a W turned into a U, the O into a C.

When I got to the journaling workshop, I was asked the most popular question I get–why not just blog? Why not keep a journal on your computer? I love my Mac. But I also have a shoebox full of diskettes in various sizes that no one can read. Some are in word-processing programs that pre-date Wordperfect. Anyone remember Multi-Mate? Of course not. Some are on formats for which there are no matching slots in computers. The big 5.5-inch floppies. Punch cards. Those computers are long gone, and I didn’t keep updating as I went along. Once you miss an update, the information vanishes.

Lascaux cave drawing
Lascaux cave drawing

It’s true that I lost a pile of journals to a flood in the basement, and to another to a fire in the attic. (Ah, the Old-Testament years.) But in each case, the journals I found were still readable. For that matter, so are the drawings in the Caves at Lascaux, which are about 30,000 years old and made with charcoal, an early pencil-substitute.

My son’s first drawings, love notes I scribbled, my parents notes to each other, my father’s sketches from when he was 6 years old–over a hundred years ago–are all still intact because they are in this simple medium. Pencil on paper. Timeless.

Quinn McDonad is a writer, trainer, life- and creativity coach. She teaches what she knows–how to write, give a presentation and keep a journal. Her book on raw-art journaling will be published in June of 2011 by North Light Books.

9 thoughts on “Pencil Perfect

  1. Um…I use the 321 method; it’s widely practiced. I store everything in text, even graphics. Insider secret: the majority of files ARE text with arcane and proprietary formatting codes included.

    Magnetic and optical media are incredibly unreliable. There are several layers of error checking and redundancy built in because the underlying process is flakier than you would believe!

    Knowing how it (barely) works makes me paranoid. The only times I’ve lost data have been because I trusted somebody (corporate IT) to know what they were doing and they didn’t.

    • I tore my hair out about three years ago, and after that, got an external hard drive and am using that. I’m sure I’ll have to update it, too, but at least it’s one thing, not a zillion.

      • The best rule is “3 – 2 – 1”: have 3 versions of files you want to keep; in 2 different formats (e.g. hard drive and optical, or MS Word and plain text); with 1 stored in another location. Two easy ways to store things offsite: send them to yourself in email (they’ll be automatically backed up by your email provider) or use an online backup service like MobileMe, DropBox, Carbonite, or about a million others.

        Plain text is the most reliable type of file. A plain text file from 1978 can generally still be opened by any modern computer.

        • HAHAHAHA! No wonder you signed in as “anonymous”! You’re scared of being swamped by angry readers. The vast number of people I know don’t think about backing up until their computer crashes, and think that optical backup means looking at the computer screen. I think your way is certainly optimal, but not realistic. And who keeps stuff in plain text? Most people have their files on old floppies, the 5.5 inch ones, or the smaller ones, or, more recently, CDs. That are now damaged because everyone told us they were indestructible and to keep them in the storage unit.

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