Archive for June 3rd, 2011

Friday, June 3rd, 2011 by Rosemary
The Power of the Pen

I know you’re used to me occasionally dorking out about writing. But get ready, because today I’m going to dork out about… Well, writing.

Happenstance let me yesterday to “Tools for serious readers.”  I’d seen their luxury reading accessories in the Skymall magazine on the airplane and being both bemused and covetous of a beautiful cherry lapdesk or a special pillow for reading in bed.

But the thing that kept me on the site for an hours? Pen envy.

These people love a good pen. Especially a good fountain pen, but they seem to allow that rollerballs and fiber tipped (felt tip) have their place. A little disdainful of the ballpoint, but acknowledge they have their following.

Why can they sell pens that cost over $100?  Because it’s the kind of site where people write their reviews in verse.

The things is, I love a really good pen.  Sure I use Sharpies for booksignings, and disposables in my purse. But I do love writing with a fountain pen, and I have a couple of pens I actually inherited from my dad, from whom I inherited my pen (and pencil) pickiness. There really is something magical about writing by hand with an instrument that suits you.

That’s right. A writing instrument.  There are times you write for expediency. But there are times when you’re creating art. Putting your thoughts down for posterity. Painting a picture in words.

There’s something personal and intimate about a handwritten thought or message. Compare a handwritten thank you card to an email, for example, or a holiday card with a signature vs. one with a pre-printed name.

Imagine a steamy and indiscreet love letter, written on notepaper and slipped in secret to its recipient. Scandalous but kind of sexy and romantic, right?  Now imaging the exact same words sent in an email. Or worse, a text!  Cheap and tawdry.

Our handwriting is so personal, in fact, it can be used to identify us, or to give insight into our personality.  Before I injured my hand, I had a very neat style of print-writing (the sign of an educated writer), that was tidy and round (the marker, they say, of an open and friendly personality).  My writing is still round, but now it’s big and juvenile and uneven, looking like a friendly serial killer kindergartener.

I used to study for college by rewriting my class notes, or even copying out passages of my textbooks. Like auditory or visual learners, there are people who are kinesthetic learners. Things ‘gel’ for them when they pair them with motions.

This is why I have a white board on my wall instead of plotting on my iPad (despite the large number of apps I have for doing just that).  And also, when I feel stuck or blocked on a scene I’m writing, I will often step away from the keyboard and pick up a pen. I type a lot faster than I write, so automatically that composing on the computer is as close as I can come to pouring the words from my brain into print. And maybe that’s the problem.

When I write longhand, there’s something magical in the process. Maybe it’s because I’m adding another part of my brain to the process. But I think it’s also because I slow down. Instead of freaking out because I can’t think of any words, I have time to think of it while my pen moves across the paper. There are more enjoyable things to think about than my fear and frustration. The curve of the letters, the scratch of the nib, the stroke of the ink. One word at a time, I get past the block.

And a great notebook and pen are an important part of my process. Not necessarily a Waterman pen and Moleskine notebook (though I own and love one of those, too) but one that feels good in my hand, that turns writing into art. (Even the art of a sociopathic kindergartener.)

Do you like to write longhand? Do you find it freeing or laborious?  Are you someone who is picky about pens, or are you perfectly happy with the ten-cent Bic you stole from the bank counter? Is a $100 pen a piece of art, or pure pretension? If I sign your book with a fountain pen, will you consider me a snob? (I won’t. Fountain pens don’t write fast enough for booksignings. See? The pen is important!)