Clive Thompson on Why You Should Always Carry a Pencil

This morning, one of my favorite pencil users, Austin Kleon, posted a link to video featuring another one of my favorite pencil users, Clive Thompson. The video features the keynote Clive delivered at one of Hubspot’s INBOUND Bold Talks titled “How the Way You Write Changes the Way You Think.”

The video begins with Clive’s obsession with pencils (specifically the Blackwing 602) and sharpeners (the KUM two-step sharpener), but quickly evolves into a discussion of which method of writing, longhand or typing, is better. On this matter, he comes to several conclusions:

1. Writing by longhand is better for absorbing and retaining information.

2. Writing by longhand is better for big picture thinking and laying the foundation of your work.

3. Writing by longhand allows us to doodle, which helps us focus and make creative, lateral leaps.

4. Writing with a keyboard helps us overcome the “transcription fluency bottleneck” that stifles ideas.

But what exactly is the “transcription fluency bottleneck?” The transcription fluency bottleneck is defined as the point at which your thoughts are moving faster than you can record them. Clive states, “when your fingers can’t move as fast as your thoughts, your ideas suffer,” and anyone who has stumbled upon a brilliant idea only to have it fade away can attest to that. Luckily, Clive quotes a researcher who estimates this bottleneck is overcome at around 24 words per minute, a benchmark that is easily exceeded with a functioning keyboard and a bit of practice.

In an age before keyboards, however, people still sought to do things faster to overcome the transcription fluency bottleneck. The Blackwing 602’s slogan “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” is a testament to this. A pencil that promises to get your ideas down twice as fast as an ordinary pencil may sound crazy to some people, but it makes sense with transcription fluency in mind.

Clive closes his speech with “Type as quickly as you can and always carry a pencil.” I’d like to change the end of that quote to “always carry a pencil with smooth graphite.” You never know when inspiration might strike, and you’ll want a pencil that get’s you over the bottleneck.

1 reply
  1. Mike Frazier
    Mike Frazier says:

    A sharpened pencil promotes a sharpened mind. I would rather write my ideas down as there is no substitute for the written word or drawn concept. Thanks for an excellent article!


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