Does It Matter What I Write With?

I prefer to write with my fingers, but you may do better with your toes. Seriously, as I noted in my recent post, My Write Hand, for years I was convinced that my “write brain” lives in my fingers and was activated by the pressure of finger-tips against keyboard. However, as I’ve continued my Morning Pages adventure, I’ve become hooked on writing by hand, the old-fashioned way. I still think my write brain lives in my fingers, but it has more than one trigger, and it easily becomes distracted by things like a skipping pen, a pen that quits, drags across the surface, or feels awkward in my fingers. I believe it does matter what I write with, and I have begun a search for the perfect writing implement.

Yesterday I discovered that I’m not the only one on this quest. In a February column on Religion and, Jane Conner writes about the pen she fell in love with. Her account is worth reading as an example of how to pack plenty of humor and suspense into the short space of 869 words. It also got me to thinking about fountain pens and my writing instruments of old.

In third grade we were required to use fountain pens to master cursive script. Mine was black, probably a Parker. In addition to writing, I used it to make ink blots between the pages of my workbooks. One summer I won a pen at a carnival. It was tortoise shell plastic, and you squeezed the bladder between two metal strips to fill it rather than pulling down a lever like the more expensive pens used. Unfortunately it was terribly scratchy and prone to dripping. Somewhere along the line I switched to an Esterbrook with a gray mother-of-pearl finish. I changed tips many times before I found one that flowed across the paper with no drag at all.

I can’t imagine any school today permitting students to keep glass bottles of ink in their desks, but I don’t recall anyone ever spilling or breaking a bottle of the Schaeffer ink we all used. Those bottles had a small basin at the top that held just enough to fill your pen without immersing the whole tip and getting smudgy stuff on the finger grip. I started out with the regulation blue, but also acquired brown, emerald green, and my favorite: peacock blue. I didn’t change often, because it took ten minutes or so to flush out the old color before switching.

In an ideal world I’d use a fountain pen, for the feel of the point sliding across the paper and the elegance of the sharp, clear ink. I still have the Esterbrook, but can’t find ink. I also have a Parker fountain pen that uses cartridges, but they are
also in short supply.

Today ball points rule, and what a mixed bag that is. So many skip, and act finicky about paper. They clog, dry up, and many make smeary blobs. Gel pens are more promising, but they drain with amazing speed. I found a Pilot that seems to work well.

For now my very favorite writing instrument is a Z-grip mechanical pencil filled with 7mm HB lead. The cushiony grip is easier on my fingers than the red Scripto I loved as a kid, and the lead slides across the paper as smoothly as a perfect pen nib. Plus, I can correct misspelled words and those little jiggles my spastic fingers occasionally make. I know — no erasing or editing freewriting ... but my Morning Pages are a resource I’ll refer back to, and I want to be able to read my own writing! Rules are made to be broken.

Write now: about pens and pencils you have loved. Do you write anything but checks by hand anymore? Do you have a favorite pen or pencil? What about typewriters and keyboards?


Leah J. Utas said...

I've been doing some "Morning Pages" since your post about them so before this gets any further, thank you.
My writing pen is a Papermate blue ink that flows beautifully on the page. Smooth, just the right darkness of ink and I can feel my thoughts transform as I use it.
Other colours of ink bring out other thoughts from utilitarian black to wild, new-agey purple.
It does matter what one writes with.

Ritergal said...

Leah, how fascinating that color transforms your thoughts. I'll definitely have to try this. It sounds so SARKish! Thanks for the idea.

JoJo said...

The Sheaffer Pen Company is located in Fort Madison, IA, very near where I grew up. It has been acquired by BIC Graphics, a company I worked with a short time where I excelled at editing design and spelling errors. Sheaffer pens are true works of art and can still be purchased online, but I believe that sadly, BIC shut down the Fort Madison facility just as our worlds continue to evolve, but I agree those lovely quality pens were a joy to hold and to work with.

Does anyone remember the little plastic vials of ink that slipped into the pens after the only option was in wells? They were such a neat and usually magic method of not returning home with stained fingers!

Janet Conner said...

I'm so glad you found my column on my fountain pen. It's a dark blue Mont Blanc "Generation" and it's perfect (for me) because it's light, is completely smooth (no ridges to screw on the cap), and dark blue ink flows perfectly. I've seen them on e-bay and once found the matching ballpoint at Tuesday Morning for nada. Writing down your soul requires FAST writing, so the quality of the pen matters deeply.

Susan said...

I love that other people are as persnickety as I am about their pens. I also loved my fountain pen when I was younger, mostly because of the variation in line thickness and the ability to create a calligraphic look. Many hours were spent doodling and drawing as well as writing with a fountain pen, and I had many kinds. But too often they leaked, and I could never afford a really beautiful one that worked perfectly. Then finally I discovered the Pilot razorpoint pen. A very fine point and a wonderfully flowing ink. Used them for years. Recently Pilot has changed the design somewhat, but they still seem to be my best option. And they do allow for drawing as well as writing (I love to write in longhand and to feel like I'm drawing the letters, as well as to draw actual pictures.) I wonder if this is the Pilot pen that you mentioned, Sharon? Lately I've been growing a small stash of them, in case they disappear…

~Kathi said...

Hey Ritergal! Nice to read your posts again. I've always favored a pen which writes smoothly, as my handwriting is poor. Purple and emerald green seemed just right for journal entries. As an instructor, I never used red ink as it discouraged me when I was a young writer. Your post and the comments spur me to look again for a facsimile of my favorite childhood pens. And yep, I sure remember that satisfying snap when the plastic cartridge clicked into place in those insert-an-ink pens. Oh, and the tip needs to be razorsharp, whatever else!

Hope you enjoy your grandson's visit a whole bunch! Cheers, ~Kathi

Vanessa said...

I have always loved typing rather than physically writing - simply because it is faster for me. But, I am still terribly fond of my old fountain pens, and will use them for 'special' writing - such as letters. I also always carry a small notebook and a bright pink cheapy pen with me, for notes. I chose the pen because it is so terribly bright and cheap that no-one ever wants to steal it :D