Should programmers keep a handwritten journal?

Keeping a journal is good; some think keeping a handwritten journal is even better

quill-600x450_0.jpgflickr/sure2talk
The quill is mightier than the TiddlyWiki

Last week I wrote about whether programmers would benefit from learning how to be creative writers (conclusion: no). Today I’m thinking about whether programmers would benefit from writing a journal - and by “writing” a journal, I mean handwriting a journal. Like with a pen or pencil. On a piece of paper, in a notebook. Using your hands.

Does anybody remember handwriting (or laughter)?

This was prompted by a recent posting on GitHub about keeping a written programming journal. Now, there have been good discussions about whether programmers should keep a journal (of any sort) and there seems to be general agreement amongst developers that doing so is a good idea. Keeping track of lessons learned, problems solved, or even just random tips or tricks that may be useful later makes a lot of sense, and not just for programmers, but for anybody, really.

There are any number of digital methods and tools for keeping a journal or taking notes and, certainly, there are lots of good reasons to use one of those methods (convenience, searchability, organization, etc.). However, I’m wondering if there’s an added benefit to doing things like our forefathers did back in 1988, with a pen, pencil or other writing utensil (I’ll exclude typewriters; let’s not get nuts). Does the physical act of writing something down help us to better learn a concept or remember something later on?

The author the GitHub post, sent-hil, found that:

The real value for me, was oddly not looking back at the entries (I rarely do), but writing them down on paper, especially the question or thought.

Some other developers feel similarly:

I started doing this a few months ago as well, with similar results. I find that writing things down helps get them out of my mind so I don't dwell on bugs and todos.

brianpartidge

I think the main benefit to something like would be the act of actually writing it instead of typing it. The contrast between typing code and writing thoughts etc. might help your mind differentiate between them and help clear your head and help you remember things better.

kevdunleavy

I agree with all of this. Back in my student days, my preferred study technique when I was trying to understand concepts for a test was to write down the idea I was trying to learn. I would try to do it in as concise a way as possible, which I found helped me to really understand (as well as to remember) the concepts better. I even found the act of organizing these concepts on a piece of paper helpful, as it helped me to understand how everything fit together. This method also resulted in a nice study guide that I could refer to later in the semester for final exams or at some point in the future.

Unfortunately, I stopped doing this once I got out of school and entered the wild, wild world of programming. I still used notebooks, mainly to write down phone messages to be returned, short term to-do lists and the occasional important thing to be remembered later (usually specially marked with a bright sticky!). But I didn’t take the time to think more about and write down what I hurdles I’d cleared and concepts I’d learned. Looking back on it, I wish I had; especially now with my early(ish) middle aged memory, I would probably remember a lot more now than I do.

Besides, I just enjoy writing (and drawing) with a pencil or pen. It feels nice and old school. Plus, these days there are lots of interesting options for paper, pads and notebooks. Of course, the truly hardcore make their own. That’s too old school for me, though. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

Do you keep a (handwritten) journal? Do you even remember which hand you write with?

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