How to Write Realistic Legal Objections

Of all the law-related things I see writers get wrong – in books, in TV and in films – objections are the worst.

On television, objections are raised to heighten tension. They’re most often raised when someone mentions a piece of evidence the objector does not like. And they’re usually resolved telepathically, with a series of meaningful glances between the attorneys and the judge.

To anyone who has ever practiced litigation, fictional objections are maddening.

I don’t think writers can be entirely blamed for this state of affairs. After all, the vast majority of people only see objections play out in books or in courtroom dramas. Even if they’ve had the misfortune of being present during a courtroom trial, they may not have understood why certain objections were being raised – especially if they were raised via motion or resolved in a sidebar.

If you want to write a courtroom scene that doesn’t make lawyers tear their hair out, here’s what you need to know about objections.

Objections are for improper evidence, not “evidence that’s bad for my side.”

In fiction, objections tend to get raised whenever a piece of evidence comes up that is somehow bad for the person/side doing the objecting. As a result, many people who represent themselves will yell “Objection!” whenever something comes up that they don’t want the court to hear.

In legal practice, however, objections aren’t for “evidence I don’t like.” They’re for evidence that violates the rules of evidence in some way – evidence that is not admissible at trial.

US federal courts follow the Federal Rules of Evidence. State courts follow their state rules of evidence. Some state rules of evidence are very similar to the Federal Rules of Evidence. Some are very different. Most are similar in some ways but different in other ways.

If this all sounds very confusing, that’s because it is. The rules of evidence are Byzantine. Law schools teach “Evidence” as a semester course all on its own; some law schools teach Evidence as a two-semester course. (Having taken the single semester, I wish I’d taken the two-semester version.)

Fortunately, as a writer, you don’t have to spend an entire semester on the rules of evidence in order to understand how to write a scene in which a lawyer or pro se litigant objects. Some objections are far more common than others – I’ll get into those below.

Most objections are handled before the trial date.

Jurors do not like objections. They interrupt the flow of the trial. They waste time, and they tend to make whoever is doing the objecting look like a jerk – or worse, like they have something to hide.

As a result, most attorneys do whatever they can to resolve objections before they can come up at trial.

There are several ways to do this. One is by holding pre-trial hearings on matters that are likely to make a trial drag or to raise significant objections. Expert witnesses, for example, are often qualified in a pre-trial hearing, just so the jury doesn’t have to sit through the qualification process (on which the jury gets no say anyway, because “Is this person qualified to serve as an expert witness in this case?” is a legal question).

Parties to a lawsuit can also use motions to raise and resolve evidentiary issues before the actual trial. One of the most common of these is a motion in limine (pronounced “LIH-min-ee” or “LIH-min-ay” depending on who taught you to pronounce it).

A motion in limine is a motion made before the trial begins, seeking to keep out certain evidence. If the court grants the motion, the evidence at issue can’t be brought up – and if it is, you may hear an objection from opposing counsel.

Another tool lawyers use to keep from interrupting a trial every five seconds with “Objection!” is the “continuing objection.” In short, the lawyer tells the court that they object to every question on a particular topic, or every piece of evidence on a particular topic, and all for the same reason.

Continuing objections can be very useful if, say, your motion in limine has been denied, but failing to object to the evidence could have a serious negative effect on your case or your client’s Constitutional rights.

For example, say your client’s house was searched without a warrant or without any exception to the warrant requirement applying – a situation that would make any evidence found in that search inadmissible in court. Nonetheless, the judge decides to let all that evidence in for some reason. By lodging a continuing objection, you preserve your client’s right to argue on appeal that the trial judge messed up, but you don’t keep the jury there for hours longer than necessary – or worse, make them start to hate your client – because you’re yelling “objection” every time someone mentions what was found in your client’s house.

Objections are not resolved by telepathy, but they can be resolved by sidebars.

In fiction, attorneys and judges often resolve objections by glancing meaningfully at one another, followed by the judge saying “sustained” or “overruled.”

In legal practice, none of us are telepathic (though it would have made more than one of my court cases much easier). Instead, the process of resolving an objection after it has been raised goes something like this:

Attorney 1: [Speaking]

Attorney 2: Objection, Your Honor, [basis for the objection].

Attorney 1: [Explains why that basis for the objection doesn’t apply or why the evidence should be allowed even if it does apply]

Judge: [Decides to allow the evidence and replies “Overruled,” or not to allow it and replies “Sustained.”]

There are, I think, two main reasons that most writers don’t portray objections in this way. First, it’s not particularly dramatic. It’s certainly not as dramatic as a well-acted Meaningful Glance.

Second, even people who have attended court trials don’t actually hear this back-and-forth. That’s because a lot of objections made during a trial are resolved in what’s called a sidebar.

You’ll know a sidebar is happening if you see the following:

Attorney 1: [Speaking]

Attorney 2: Objection, Your Honor, [may or may not state the basis]

Judge: Counsel, please approach the bench.

[The attorneys and judge hold a whispered conversation, usually with the judge’s microphone turned off.]

Judge: [Announces their decision and the trial continues.]

The purpose of a sidebar is to resolve objections without revealing the entire process of resolving those objections to the jury. The idea is that if the witness doesn’t hear the back and forth, it can’t affect their testimony, and if the jury doesn’t hear the back and forth, it can’t affect their decision in the case.

I’m not aware of any studies indicating that use of sidebars in fact results in better witness testimony or juror results (nor am I entirely sure how one would even design such a study), but that’s the theory.

The most commonly-used objection isn’t “hearsay,” but “relevance.”

Ask most novel and screen audiences to name a legal objection, and they’ll name “hearsay.”

Hearsay is the most complex single area of evidence law, but it’s not the most common courtroom objection. That title goes to “relevance.”

Federal Rule of Evidence 403 (and similar state rules) prohibits evidence whose “probative value” (i.e. usefulness in helping to resolve the case) is lower than that evidence’s likelihood of prejudicing the hearer, time-wasting-ness, and so on. This makes FRE 403 the all-purpose evidence rule: If something can’t be objected to on any other terms, it can probably still be objected to for its relevance.

In practice, objections as to relevance don’t get sustained as often as you’d think. Judges assume that most evidence is going to weigh against one party or the other. If everyone agreed that all the evidence was perfect as it is, the case would have been settled before trial. To win a relevance objection, the lawyer/party has to prove that the evidence’s prejudicial effect outweighs its probative value.

The prejudicial effect of your fingerprints in the victim’s blood on the murder weapon? High. The usefulness of that fact in helping the jury decide whether you were the one who did the killing? Also high.

By contrast: The prejudicial effect of news that you sold meth to children from your dorm room in 1998? High. The usefulness of that fact in helping the jury decide whether you cheated on your taxes in 2019? Low.

“Relevance” is perhaps the closest objection to “I don’t like this evidence,” but it’s not the same objection. If you have a character use it, be prepared to have them explain it.

Other common objections:

Asked and Answered

Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. If a lawyer asks a witness a question and the witness answers it, the lawyer doesn’t get to ask again just because they did not like the answer.


If the lawyer/party tries to make an argument disguised as a question,, or to badger the witness, the opposing party/counsel can object to the question as argumentative.

“Are you afraid of the defendant?” is not argumentative (generally); “Oh come on, how can you be afraid of someone who’s a foot shorter and 100 pounds lighter than you are?” is argumentative (generally).


If there’s been no attempt to establish what a piece of evidence is or where it came from, that evidence may face an objection as to lack of foundation.

For example, a witness who testifies “I answered the phone and heard Patty’s voice” may hear an objection if there’s been no attempt prior to this answer to explain who Patty is or how the witness would recognize Patty’s voice on a phone. (This is why witnesses often seem tedious at first; the early questions are often about laying a foundation.)

The phrase “Objection, assumes facts not in evidence” is an objection to foundation.

Leading Question

A question that contains its own answer, usually phrased as a “yes” or “no.” For example, “You saw him leave the bar, didn’t you? He had the gun in his hand at that time, correct?”

Note that leading questions are usually disallowed only on direct examination (i.e. when a lawyer is questioning a witness they put on the stand themselves). They’re allowed on cross-examination.

To complicate matters further, leading questions are also allowed on direct examination, if the lawyer has permission to treat the witness as “hostile.” It’s relatively rare to ask for or get permission to treat your own witness as hostile, but it does happen. For example, a prosecutor in a domestic violence case whose only witness is a victim who doesn’t want to press charges may ask for and receive permission to treat that witness as hostile, and thus to ask leading questions like “The defendant hit you in the face, right?”


As a rule, most witnesses cannot offer opinions on the stand. They can only offer facts: Things they saw, heard, smelled and so on. But be aware of the two main exceptions: (1) expert witnesses may offer opinions based on their expertise, and (2) fact witnesses can offer opinions if the issue is whether they do in fact hold a particular opinion.

That last one can get tricky, so here’s an example. “Are you afraid of the defendant?”, above, is not an opinion question. Rather, it seeks to establish the particular fact of the witness’s feelings toward the defendant, which may in turn have spurred particular actions on the witness’s part. “Should we be afraid of the defendant?” seeks an opinion.


“Speculation” is an objection that can cut two ways. First, it can be used against questions that ask the witness to speculate: “How many piano tuners do you think are in the city of Chicago?” Second, it can be used to address speculative answers: “If I had to guess, I’d say about 400.”

Often, a question or answer is speculative if it asks for a guess. If the information would not be a guess with the proper foundation, the proper objection is to foundation. For instance, “I’d say there are about 400 piano tuners in Chicago” is not speculation if the witness is an expert in the demographics of Chicago professionals and a foundation has been laid to demonstrate such.


A question that’s not specific enough for a clear, direct answer can be objected to as vague. “Can you tell the court where you went earlier?” is vague (when was “earlier” – this morning, last week, 1976?). “Can you tell the court where you went between eight am and noon today?” is specific enough for a clear answer.

“Vague” is also a good catch-all if the question is obviously some kind of trap, but you’re not certain what kind of trap it is. “Have you stopped beating your wife?” is one example: As a yes or no question, the only proper answers are “yes” or “no” – as in “yes, I’ve stopped beating my wife” or “no, I have not stopped beating my wife.” There’s no way to answer “I never beat my wife in the first place.” (This particular question can also be objected to as argumentative or compound.)

Speaking of “hearsay”: It’s harder to use correctly than you’d think.

“Hearsay” is one of the most popular legal objections in fiction, but the vast majority of readers don’t actually understand what it means. That’s okay. A lot of lawyers don’t properly understand hearsay objections either.

There are two reasons hearsay is so hard to understand:

  1. Hearsay has a very specific definition that’s not entirely covered in the word itself, and
  2. There are several exceptions to the prohibition against hearsay, as well as a handful of “exclusions.”

First, the definition of “hearsay” is not merely “I heard someone say.” Rather, hearsay is 1. a statement 2. made out of court 3. mentioned in court in order to prove the truth of the statement’s contents.

In practice, few disputes over hearsay are actually about whether something is a “statement” (although there are some really interesting recent ones over whether things like a Facebook thumbs-up counts). Similarly, whether a statement was made out of court is not usually at issue.

Rather, the vast majority of fights over a hearsay objection is whether the statement is being presented to prove the truth of the statement’s contents.

Here’s an example:

Witness. …And that’s when I went to the bar.
Prosecutor. What did you do when you got inside the bar?
Witness. Well, I saw Casey sitting there. And I walked up to Casey and said “Hey, I saw Robin run over Pat with a car last week down by the Try ‘n Save.”

The vast majority of lawyers representing Robin at this point are going to object to this statement as hearsay. But is it hearsay?

If it’s being offered to prove that Robin did in fact run over Pat with a car, then yes, it’s hearsay. It’s an out of court statement being offered to prove the truth of what’s in the statement: “I saw Robin run over Pat with a car last week down by the Try ‘n Save.”

But: If it’s being offered to prove something else, then no, it’s not hearsay. Suppose the judge lets the prosecutor continue:

Prosecutor: Why did you tell Casey this?
Witness: Well, I wanted Casey to go beat the sh*t out of Robin. Because I hate Robin’s guts.

Suddenly, “I saw Robin run over Pat with a car last week down by the Try ‘n Save” isn’t hearsay, because it fails that essential third part of the test. It’s not being offered to prove that Robin ran over Pat; rather, it’s being offered to prove that this witness has a grudge against Robin.

(Note that “I hate Robin’s guts” won’t survive an objection as an opinion here, either. In this context, it’s a fact: The fact that the witness hates Robin is relevant to the witness’s behavior toward Casey.)

To make matters even more confusing, there are about 25 exceptions to the hearsay rule, most of which are listed in FRE 803 and 804. The thing that connects all these exceptions is the belief that, even though the information is hearsay, it is sufficiently reliable that the court’s not too worried that a witness is just making it up on the spot.

Common hearsay exceptions include:

  • Present sense impressions and excited utterances. A recording of the above witness yelling “Holy crap, Robin’s running over Pat in the Try ‘n Save parking lot!” over the sound of squealing tires and Pat’s screams would fall into both categories. It’d be considered reliable because it’s being made as the event happens. (Note that this recording would have to meet foundational requirements to be admitted.)
  • Business and medical records. Robin’s timecard from the day of Pat’s vehicular squishing could be admitted to prove Robin was at work, since it’s a record of the type Robin’s business routinely keeps. Similarly, medical records from Pat’s ER trip would probably fall in this area. (Foundational requirements apply here too. You can’t just make a timecard out of your phone bill and assume it’ll get admitted.)
  • Previous court judgments. If Robin was found liable for wrongful death in a civil case involving the Robin-Pat incident, that judgment could be admitted in a criminal case against Robin – and vice versa.

There are also a handful of exclusions. My personal favorite are statements by a party-opponent. In a criminal case against Robin, these would include the prosecutor introducing evidence like Robin posting to Facebook, “I ran over Pat and I’d do it again,” “I hate cleaning Pat guts out of my radiator” or “Karma’s a b***** and so is being run over by my car, Pat!”

This is why you never, ever post your criminal escapades to social media – they can’t be kept out by the hearsay rule.


There are plenty of things I didn’t, and can’t, cover in this blog post. If you’re really interested in knowing what all the rules of evidence are, you can find copies of the Federal Rules of Evidence online and in just about any university library.

For writing purposes, keep the following things in mind:

  • There are always reasons an objection is made in court, and that reason is never just “This evidence makes me look bad.”
  • The vast majority of things that parties might object to are handled in advance and/or outside the hearing of the jury. During a trial, most objections arise from unexpected turns of phrase by witnesses; anything that could have been seen coming before the trial has usually already been settled.
  • Jurors hate objections, so most lawyers try to avoid them unless the damage to their case will be worse than the annoyance of the jury.
  • When in doubt as a writer, fall back on a relevance objection, not a hearsay one.

Note: This blog post is not legal advice; it is a general overview of trial objections meant to help fiction writers. If you need legal help, contact your local Legal Aid office or a lawyer who practices in you area.

the creative process, writing

Writer’s Block: What It Is and How to Beat It

I write several thousand words a day, both for a living and for my own amusement. And so I get asked about writer’s block more than anything.

“How do you get over writer’s block?” “What’s your secret for never having writer’s block?” “What is writer’s block, anyway?”

I often hesitate to answer these questions because I haven’t had the answers. Writer’s block has never been a longstanding problem for me. In fact, I usually suffer from the opposite problem – I want to stop writing and go do other things, but I’m driven to continue.

Fortunately, other people have done research on writer’s block. Here’s what they know.

writers block

Writer’s Block: What Is It?

When people ask about beating “writer’s block,” they’re typically talking about an inability to write that is separate from the desire to write. They want to write, but when they sit down to do it, nothing comes out.

Often, writer’s block occurs independently of the knowledge or ability to write. People with writer’s block know how to start a project; they may, in fact, have started many writing projects in the past and finished them successfully.

Writer’s block can also occur independently of having a topic or idea in mind. A person with writer’s block may know exactly what they want to write about. They may have both the internal motivation (“this is important!”) and the external motivation (“I’m on a deadline!”) to write.

And yet…they’re stuck.

Tips for Beating Writer’s Block

The logical first step in any case of “writer’s block” is to make sure that writer’s block is what you have.

In other words:

  • Do you have the desire/motivation to write a particular thing?
  • Do you have the tools, time and space to write the thing?
  • Do you know what you want to write the thing about?
  • Do you know how to start this kind of written thing?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” fix that first and see if it resolves the problem. If the answer to all four is “yes,” the problem is likely one of writer’s block.

What Kind of Writer’s Block Do You Have?

Not all writer’s block is created equal. In a 1998 article in Canadian Family Physician, Patricia Huston sorts writer’s block into three levels of severity: mild, moderate and recalcitrant.

Huston suggests different treatment strategies for each level of blockage:

  • Mild writer’s block may be resolved by evaluating and revising expectations, conducting a task analysis, and encouraging oneself to continue.
  • Moderate writer’s block may be resolved by engaging in creative exercises, like brainstorming and role-playing.
  • Recalcitrant writer’s block may require therapy.

Huston also suggests a number of strategies for preventing writer’s block, such as writing at the beginning of projects (often called prewriting or freewriting), working with a supportive writer’s group, and “cultivating an ongoing interest in writing.”

Revise Your Expectations

If you know what you want to write and how to do it, the problem isn’t a lack of rules or guidelines. But do you have too many rules and guidelines?

In a 1980 article in College Composition and Communication, Mike Rose discusses several writing students who struggled with writer’s block, comparing them to similarly-skilled classmates who had no such struggles.

Rose found that the blocked writers were often derailed by their adherence to overly-strict writing rules. Their writing “had to” look a certain way, or they couldn’t continue. In some cases, they couldn’t even start.

The strict rules these writers struggled with included:

  • The first sentence has to grab your audience’s attention. If you can’t write an attention-grabbing first sentence, you can’t continue.
  • An essay has to have three or more points. If you can’t make at least three points about your topic, the essay isn’t finished or doesn’t “count.”
  • You must have a clear plan and outline before you begin. You cannot start writing just to see where a topic leads; you have to know where the end is before you start.
  • An essay must be full of “scintillating insights,” so you have to collect cool facts, quips, quotes, etc. before you start. Then you must work them into the paper, even if some of them don’t seem to fit.
  • “Always try to ‘psych out’ the professor” by writing a piece that brilliantly subverts expectations while also meeting those expectations. If you can’t do that, your paper can’t possibly be good enough.
  • All the rules of good essay writing have to be used at once. For instance, you must use transitions for flow and evidence for weight, and you must balance these perfectly as you write.

When used as guidelines, rules like these can help an essay stay recognizable as an essay while also effectively conveying the writer’s knowledge of a given subject area. “Always” and “never,” however, are rarely useful rules in writing.

For instance, one of my high school English teachers insisted on the “attention-grabbing first sentence” rule. While I was willing to play along for the sake of my grade, I didn’t force myself to write that first sentence before I went on.

Instead, I’d start my first draft with a thesis statement, then move on to the points I wanted to make, then the conclusion. Once the conclusion was finished, I’d use its summary of the points made in the essay to inspire an attention-grabbing first sentence.

I used this method throughout my academic career. I still use it today. And I still get compliments for how well my articles are “tied together.”


ReadWriteThink: Essay Map – a user-friendly way to organize ideas.

EndNote – organize sources and references.

Hemingway App – helps you analyze the readability of a draft. You don’t have to make perfect sentences; you just need to write down any sentences, then put them through this app.

InstaGrok – put in any topic, get an interactive mind map linking it to other topics. Great for when you “want to write about ___,” but don’t know where to go from there.

Get Creative

Rose notes that over-planning can trip up writers of non-fiction essays and articles. The desire to plan perfectly may lead to paralysis.

The same thing can happen to fiction writers, whether or not they see themselves as the planning type.

Author Mercedes Lackey notes that “writer’s block” may actually be the writer’s subconscious recognizing that, for some reason, the story cannot continue in the direction it’s going. Sensing that the story won’t work, the subconscious puts on the brakes.

This kind of writer’s block “can happen whether you are a meticulous outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer. You are about to make a big mistake, and your subconscious is stopping you,” says Lackey.

This type of block may be best resolved with Huston’s strategies for “moderate” writer’s block: Get creative. Ask, “what else could happen here?”, and generate ideas before evaluating or criticizing them. Try role-playing one of your characters to see what other reactions they might have.

For me, the “two for one” method works well to generate new plot ideas and potential character arcs. It follows one rule: Every solution to a problem must generate two new problems. 

Typically, I’ll run 30 to 50 iterations of this as an idea-generation method. In the finished story or novel, of course, it won’t go on forever; eventually the characters find a way to wrap up enough loose ends to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. As a means to figuring out the story and the characters’ responses to conflict, however, it can be powerful – and a lot of fun.


Seventh Sanctum – plot, character and setting generators

The John Fox – story idea generator

Reedsy Plot Generator – over 1 million components. Click various components to lock or unlock them, then generate again to fine-tune ideas.

When Writer’s Block Isn’t

Writers spend a great deal of time not writing. Writer procrastination and delay is a running joke in writing communities. It’s the reason so many writing-related hashtags on Twitter are full of people making fun of themselves for tweeting instead of writing.

This type of “writer’s block,” however, isn’t a hurdle. Rather, it’s what Donald M. Murray calls “essential delay” – the soil from which writing sprouts and blossoms. Writer’s block is a state of being stuck; essential delay is a state of preparation. If essential delay is wintertime, writer’s block is Narnia’s “always winter and never Christmas.”

The good news? It’s possible to turn a case of writer’s block into a state of essential delay, using the same strategies recommended by Huston, Rose and Lackey. Murray finds several different processes occur during essential delay:

  • Information-gathering. Professional writers “collect warehouses full of information, far more than they need, so much information that its sheer abundance makes the need for meaning and order insistent,” says Murray. When the need for meaning and order reaches critical mass, essential delay turns into writing.
  •  Insight. When various ideas start to coalesce into “a single vision or dominant insight,” writing may commence as a way to test that vision or insight. For instance, finding a problem that can be solved by writing may help a writer overcome the delay imposed by having a lot of ideas with no common theme.
  • Need. Writers often experience two needs: The need to write, and the need for the audience to listen. Until these needs coincide, however, the writer may stay in the planning or musing phase.

Planning and organization also play a role in the essential delay phase. In some cases, they’re necessary to move a writer forward – as long as they don’t absorb all of your attention.

When All Else Fails

When all else fails, use writer’s block itself as the source of creativity.

My favorite example of this by far is Dennis Upper‘s paper in the Fall 1974 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis. Titled “The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of ‘Writer’s Block,'” Upper’s paper is a masterwork on the effects of writer’s block on otherwise trained and productive professionals. (I suggest you read the entire paper for yourself; it’s quite short.)

My own best piece of writer’s block advice is this:

Don’t let yourself think that writing the piece itself is the only thing that counts as writing.

Brainstorming, freewriting, outlining, doodling mind maps, reading the thesaurus entry for a particular word in order to see how that concept is connected to other concepts, falling down the Wikipedia hole – all of these are part of writing. Your “writing time” is just as productive if you spend it freewriting about a character’s motivations than if you spent it actually writing the story in which that character appears.

The trick is to find the balance between these activities and actually writing the piece you intend to show an audience. That’s what separates those who write from those who merely aspire to do so.

Inspired to beat your writer’s block? Here are two ways to say thanks: buy me a coffee or share this post on social media.


Should You Write Your First Draft By Hand?

We’re in a love-hate relationship with handwriting. Some studies claim that writing by hand makes us smarter than keyboarding; others insist that while handwriting remains a relevant skill in general, teaching cursive handwriting has become a waste of students’ time. Still others think handwriting is already obsolete.

Writers are split as well. Some insist that writing by hand is a waste of time, particularly in a world where easy connectivity means you can type or tap out any note at any time and have it instantly stored in a centralized (typically, cloud-based) location. Others, like me, say that you can pry my pen from my cold dead hands.

I write all my fiction first drafts by hand. Here’s why.

Leave The Office ASAP

Writing is Personal

There’s no consensus as to who first penned (pun intended) the image of writing as “sitting down and bleeding,” but that image keeps being invoked because it’s so illustrative of the process.

Fiction writing is intensely personal. Its intimacy can intimidate beginners into never starting, and it can stall veterans who decide to open a vein rather than simply write to deadline.

Since I also make my living by writing copy, sitting at the computer feels public to me. I draft most of the work I do for clients on the computer; when I’m sitting at it, I’m in People Mode, even when there’s no one else in my house. People Mode is necessary in order for me to occupy the same space as my audience, which I have to do in order to ensure I’m writing a piece that will make sense to them.

I cannot, however, both write fiction and be in People Mode. I can edit that way, but forming ideas into words is, for me, incompatible with performative extroversion.

In my notebook, I’m free to write the worst crap in the world. I can fill five pages with crappy false starts. I can doodle until I figure out what I came to say. None of it matters, since nobody but me will ever see it. I’m alone with my thoughts, which is exactly where I need to be in order to tell a story.

Handwriting is More Secure

Sure, I can’t password-protect a notebook. But I’ve never lost a notebook because I failed to hit “save” or had one eaten by the Blue Screen of Death.

I lost my first round of typed fiction drafts in 1998, when my mother’s Gateway 2000 crashed. I lost another round, including two full and three partial novel drafts, in 2004 when my then-boyfriend botched a backup job.

Even files I haven’t technically lost, I’ve lost due to advances in technology and/or the degradation of digital media. I have zip disks from the late 1990s with my work stored on them, but neither I nor anyone I know owns a zip drive any longer. The floppy disks containing my earliest work, from the late 1980s, are probably corrupt – even if I had an Apple IIGS that could read them.

My notebooks from the 1980s, however, are still entirely readable. Embarrassing, but readable.

The problem with preserving digital works and the degradation of media hasn’t pinged only my radar, either. Check out, for example, the 2015 art project that printed 106 volumes of Wikipedia in English – of nearly 7,500 total volumes.

Speaking of Wikipedia….

Ever hop online to check just one little thing, and suddenly you have 83 tabs open, are reading about the social life of aardvarks, and it’s Tuesday?

Falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole is really easy to do, and it’s even easier when you have ADHD. But I can’t fall down the research hole or get wrapped up in a social media argument when I don’t have access to the Internet.

The notebook prevents me from getting sidetracked by the Intertubes. It removes the quick-hit solution to intermittent boredom. And since boredom appears to be essential to creativity, it may also make me a better writer.

I’m Old

I also like the notebook for deeply personal, even idiosyncratic reasons.

For instance, writing by hand angers my arthritis far less than typing on my phone. I like being in less pain.

I also like notebooks because they’re an old habit: I grew up at a time in which computers weren’t a standard household object. My dad bought an Apple IIGS not long after they hit the market, but he was very much in the minority (even my school hadn’t sprung for the IIGS, preferring to stick with the IIe when anybody used a computer at all). My mother was gifted a Commodore 64, but it had no word-processing program.

My computer time was limited until I was in high school, but I was allowed to have all the notebooks and writing utensils I wanted. Today, when I think, “I want to write,” my brain spits out images of notebooks, not of my laptop, tablet or phone.

…And I Used to Be a Smug Little Snot

I also (major confession time) used to love being smug. Loved it. I was one of those college kids who carried around a Moleskine and said “I’m writing a novel” with just the right elitist inflection.

Notebooks let you be smug in a way laptops simply don’t. Look around your local coffee shop: Chances are you’ll see half a dozen people on laptops or tablets. What are they doing? Are they writing, checking Facebook, making dinosaur porn?

There’s no way to know. Everybody buried in a device looks exactly the same, which is how we get endless smug Boomer memes about phone use instead of acknowledging that half the people on their phones in public at any given time are probably doing some kind of business, especially in a world where people think that just because you can answer the phone any moment of the day or night means you should.

But write in a notebook, and everybody knows you are writing. More importantly, everyone knows you are serious about your art. Otherwise you’d bang it out on a keyboard like a Philistine.

(Philistines had keyboards, right? I’m pretty sure they had keyboards.)

Smugness lost its appeal right around the end of my sophomore year of college. That’s when I realized I was filling a Moleskine every month, and that my habit of carrying it everywhere was making it look…no longer smug. Plus my favorite pens are Pilot V5s, which are not smug.

Besides, I almost never write in coffee shops.

Notebook vs. Laptop: Which Should You Use?

Honestly? I don’t know. I’m not you.

Some folks struggle with handwriting for various reasons, or can’t do it at all, making the keyboard their only realistic choice for writing in a manner that can even begin to keep up with their brains. The ability to store things in the cloud is great if you’re constantly losing your notes. And someone, somewhere, probably possesses the self-restraint (or the Internet restriction apps) to write without getting sidetracked by Instagram.

The best method for writing is the one that lets you finish. Everything else is window dressing.