Monday, August 6, 2007

Writing Instruments: What's in your hand?

As a writer I spend much of the time I write using a keyboard and a monitor connected by a computer. But it didn’t start this way, nor does it start this way for most writers even today because long before the computer, before the typewriter (anybody remember those), there was the pen or the pencil on paper – and while there is evidence that earlier people used even cruder instruments of writing I choose to stop at the pens and pencils because I’m just not that old.

As I was reflecting on an outline I was working on in my lap (well, maybe stalling) I looked at the tangerine pen in my hand. I started thinking about the color, why I picked that color ink and what did it say about my mood and my outlook on the project at hand. Well, for one thing, it is a very overcast day outside and the color is cheerful. There is also a lot of energy in the shade of orange that perks me up and warms me in its glow, not just the ink but also the pen casing.

But I can hear the murmuring about why a woman my age has colored ink pens in the first place and why I am writing outlines with them, or even writing about them. It’s very simple really, because I can.

Okay, so I didn’t get the rebellious notion of buying and using colored pens all by myself; but I can’t remember where I read the suggestion to occasionally journal in colored ink. So while I did buy the colored pens and use them for other purposes, I have not broken the blue/black color barrier in the journals yet. Part of that hesitancy has to do with tradition and the air of legitimacy about a journal as well as the uncertainty about the longevity of gel-based inks. Yet for brainstorming, outlining and jotting down stuff the colored inks are perfect because they imbue a sense of fun, creativity, hope, and connection.

Going back to my journal; for this I use my very favorite pen, a Reflections twist-style with silver over black casing. It was a birthday present in 2003 and since then I have emptied more than 4 Cross refills in medium point. I am a heavy-handed writer so even the best fine-tip refills don’t hold up to the pressure. Nothing drives me to distraction faster than a pen that is jammed, skips or clumps; they are soon history. If I have something important to write this is the pen I choose whether it is my journal, birthday cards or wedding invitations.

My general purpose pen of choice is one of the Paper Mate comfort grips in black ink. I write a weekly newspaper column which requires me to do in-person and phone interviews regularly. I prefer to take my notes in pen for permanence and resistance to smudging. These pens are a close second to my Reflections pen but inexpensive enough to be purchased in bulk so damaging or losing a pen on location is not a crisis.

Of course, I have used a bevy of other writing instruments for a variety of purposes over the years. The first writing instruments I remember were the standard yellow school-issued pencils, well – school-issued when I was in school. The problem with these was/is the frequency of sharpening needed. So when they became affordable and consistent I switched to bulk mechanical pencils with white erasers.

When I was in junior high school the Flair came on the scene. Because of its porous tip which tended to mush to a blob in the early versions it did not fair as well in writing as it did an artistic instrument. It was perfect for the 1960’s margins doodler. Flairs can still be found today in larger office supply departments.

Early in our marriage I got the notion that I wanted a fountain pen; that is a cartridge pen that wrote like a fountain pen. I think I had seen one in a documentary or a movie or something; anyway, I loved the lacy script that seemed to just flow from it. I think I was hoping that using such a pen would magically correct all of my handwriting deficiencies but of course that did not happen. Actually being left-handed made writing with a fountain or cartridge pen even trickier to avoid smearing over ink that has already been written down.

More recently the Sharpie permanent marker has burst onto the scene. Once limited to black, blue and red, and recommended only for labeling not letter writing; the Sharpie now comes in full-spectrum packs and a range of tip styles from razor to bold. However, they do require a measure of care in use because they can bleed through quickly and being permanent markers means that errors will not be quickly corrected if ever. I use these for special duties such as labeling jars and boxes but I once used them for a signed t-shirt project which worked out great.

Despite all these fabulous writing instruments at my disposal there is, however, a pen I covet. My husband was given a Waterman pen at some academic function. But he isn’t using it, and it still sits in the box in his desk where occasionally he has to move it out of his way to get something else. Meanwhile I secretly drool over it, playing over in my imagination how it would feel in my hand and what it would be like to actually write with it.

So, with what are you writing, or wish you were writing? Is something gracious and dignified or just fun and kind of funky but you haven’t had the nerve to take the plunge? Tell us about it.


Sylvia C. said...

I actually take great pride in my pen/pencil/writing utensil of choice, too.

I like to use them all though, for the sake of variety.

I use felt tip pens, gel pens, wood pencils, mechanical pencils. I like them all. I use them all, and I use a lot of different colors in my journal.

As for that pen of your husbands....I say you swipe it. He doesn't need it.


Sylvia C.

7sky said...

Having taken typing in high school (an oddity for guys in the 60's); I've used the keyboard ever since. But I have written the drafts of my last three blog posts in longhand at a nearby park. My weapon of choice: any pen I can lay my hands on with the hope that I don't lose it before I'm done!

Christine said...

My favorites are fountain pens. I never really got into rollerball pens, but I will use a gel pen occasionally. I'm not too fond of ballpoint pens; even the Cross refills so many people seem to love make my hand cramp up trying to get the ink to flow.

There's a video on youtube posted by a southpaw, where he describes and demonstrates what he does to write with a fountain pen: