The Mighty Pen

Pens and paperThe pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with. — Marty Feldman

Susan here … looking at what’s on my desk –- a pile of scribbled up yellow legal pads, some half-filled notebooks, and a jumble of pens . . . Oh, how I love pens and paper. It’s an addiction, a compulsion, an irresistible thing. I have more pens than I can possibly use, and yet I keep getting new ones. When I’m working on a book, I often write longhand on legal pads or keep notes on research and ideas in journals, and the pens, paper, and notebooks pile up—and are continually in use. I can blow through the ink Jar of pens in a great pen in a day when the ideas are flowing. 

We must have hundreds of pens in the house, collected over the years—fountain pens, ballpoints, rollerballs, gel pens, felt-tips, calligraphy pens and nibs, a couple of quill pens, and even two glass pens. They sit in baskets, ceramic mugs, empty tin tea canisters, glass jars, and drawers. They have a myriad of sizes and styles and colors. Every so often I’ll sit down with a big basket of them and go through, tossing the ones that have dried out, or write in globby lines now, tossing the ones I never liked much in the first place, or were kept because I wanted to find the right refill and never got around to it. The favorites that I keep, and continue to buy, are in constant use. I love the colors, the variations in the line, the grip—I have a small hand so I’m particularly fussy about the grip, the weight, and the balance. When I find a pen that fits me and suits me, I’ll buy a dozen in several colors. A few beautiful fountain pens that were gifts over the years are also treasured favorites.

And oh the pencils! I went to art school, so ’nuff said–I adore a good, rich pencil on toothy paper. So much can come of that combination. Those baskets and drawers hold an assortment of pencils too, in all types and colors. Pencils are great for editing, and a good quality colored pencil with a sharp point is perfect for making revision notes when I'm trying out things and changing lines—and erasers are very handy too!

Lady with stylus copticWhat is it about the writing instrument that is so thrilling to some of us? It’s the classic tool of the writer's trade, and even though we all use computers now, it’s the setting of the pen to paper that creates the initial connection that sparks between the brain and the hand and gets the ideas flowing. People have been putting pen to paper, or stylus to wax, or brush to hide and quill to parchment—or handprints on cave walls—for as long as humans have been around. We are compelled to express ourselves. Writing is one of the most universal ways to Scribeshare our thoughts.

Pens began more than likely as reeds dipped in ink of some sort, applied to a support of some kind. Ancient scholars used reeds or animal hair brushes with inks made from berries, acorns, oak gall, iron salts, even snails, and other interesting substances ooky enough for a good inky line. A stylus made of bone or metal was a common writing tool as well. The Romans would drag a stylus in soft wax spread on a wooden tablet, as did the early Britons (who learned it from the Romans). Egyptian scribes would chew the ends of sharpened reeds to soften them so that they would hold enough ink to write a few hieroglyphic symbols, then chew and dip again, and so on across the papyrus page. The reed-and-ink approach is very like the paint-and-brush approach, and many cultures used both to record thoughts, ideas, facts, myths. 

Vermeer lady writing ngaQuill pens were first used around the 5th century—although I would think they were used even earlier than that. The most favorable quills were made from the flight feathers of swans and geese, taken from the left wing for a nice curve in the central shaft (and from the right wing for left-handed scribes, if they hadn’t had that sinister left-handedness beaten out of them!).

Quills were a marvelous writing tool, though the ends needed frequent cutting and sharpening with a knife, often dozens of times a day while writing or copying a manuscript. The quill with its natural but shaved point met most writing needs for centuries, until fine metal nibs of brass and then steel were created in the 18th century, and attached to the quills.

Fountain pens are my personal favorite, and I have several. In college I loved drawing up ink out of the bottles, though later most of them converted to pop-in cartridges (not so messy!). I love the smell of the ink, love the way it flows from a great pen. A fountain pen has a certain magic that seems to encourage the writing to flow along with the nib. Fountain pens were invented in the late 19th century by Lewis Waterman. Around the turn of the century, someone thought up the ball point pen, which weren’t terribly Goldfinch popular or affordable until WWII, when they came in very handy out in the field.

Then came Bic pens when a Frenchman named Bich came up with a cheaply produced ball point. Soon after, the Japanese thought up the felt-tip, and then the pen industry moved on in innovative triumph, as it were, to roller balls and gel tips that now sit in abundance in desk drawers. And there are pens that write upside-down, in water, and in outer space, pens that erase, pens that disappear, pens, pens, pens. . . .

I’m sure I have versions of all these types, more or less, in drawers and baskets and broken but still lovely coffee mugs, all in a glorious, colorful jumble of writing implements that tempt and lure and promise wonderful things on paper. Maybe it’s because I was an art major that I always succumb to the lure of a great new pen, the feel of a pen in my hand, and the connection between hand and brain that opens up the imagination.

What’s your favorite sort of pen? Do you go as nuts in a stationery store as you do in a bookstore? 

~Susan

85 thoughts on “The Mighty Pen”

  1. Oh yes, blue Flairs are essential writing tools!! I do love the romantic line of a fountain pen or a good flowy gel tip, but I’m very likely to grab a Flair felt tip if I’m sitting down to cover pages and pages. Sometimes I’ll choose a different color, though, depending on mood. 😉

    Reply
  2. Oh yes, blue Flairs are essential writing tools!! I do love the romantic line of a fountain pen or a good flowy gel tip, but I’m very likely to grab a Flair felt tip if I’m sitting down to cover pages and pages. Sometimes I’ll choose a different color, though, depending on mood. 😉

    Reply
  3. Oh yes, blue Flairs are essential writing tools!! I do love the romantic line of a fountain pen or a good flowy gel tip, but I’m very likely to grab a Flair felt tip if I’m sitting down to cover pages and pages. Sometimes I’ll choose a different color, though, depending on mood. 😉

    Reply
  4. Oh yes, blue Flairs are essential writing tools!! I do love the romantic line of a fountain pen or a good flowy gel tip, but I’m very likely to grab a Flair felt tip if I’m sitting down to cover pages and pages. Sometimes I’ll choose a different color, though, depending on mood. 😉

    Reply
  5. Oh yes, blue Flairs are essential writing tools!! I do love the romantic line of a fountain pen or a good flowy gel tip, but I’m very likely to grab a Flair felt tip if I’m sitting down to cover pages and pages. Sometimes I’ll choose a different color, though, depending on mood. 😉

    Reply
  6. Oh dear. Yes. I have gotten a new job (which I’m terribly excited about) and I have three weeks left in my current office. I thought I would start to take things home and I realized I have hundreds of variously colored pens of different types in various spots in my office. It’s not just at home. It’s here too. I love really good pens and I love colors! I’m an accountant so I love to make notes in different colors to mean different things. LOL It is truly an addiction. Also…colored sticky notes. *facepalm*

    Reply
  7. Oh dear. Yes. I have gotten a new job (which I’m terribly excited about) and I have three weeks left in my current office. I thought I would start to take things home and I realized I have hundreds of variously colored pens of different types in various spots in my office. It’s not just at home. It’s here too. I love really good pens and I love colors! I’m an accountant so I love to make notes in different colors to mean different things. LOL It is truly an addiction. Also…colored sticky notes. *facepalm*

    Reply
  8. Oh dear. Yes. I have gotten a new job (which I’m terribly excited about) and I have three weeks left in my current office. I thought I would start to take things home and I realized I have hundreds of variously colored pens of different types in various spots in my office. It’s not just at home. It’s here too. I love really good pens and I love colors! I’m an accountant so I love to make notes in different colors to mean different things. LOL It is truly an addiction. Also…colored sticky notes. *facepalm*

    Reply
  9. Oh dear. Yes. I have gotten a new job (which I’m terribly excited about) and I have three weeks left in my current office. I thought I would start to take things home and I realized I have hundreds of variously colored pens of different types in various spots in my office. It’s not just at home. It’s here too. I love really good pens and I love colors! I’m an accountant so I love to make notes in different colors to mean different things. LOL It is truly an addiction. Also…colored sticky notes. *facepalm*

    Reply
  10. Oh dear. Yes. I have gotten a new job (which I’m terribly excited about) and I have three weeks left in my current office. I thought I would start to take things home and I realized I have hundreds of variously colored pens of different types in various spots in my office. It’s not just at home. It’s here too. I love really good pens and I love colors! I’m an accountant so I love to make notes in different colors to mean different things. LOL It is truly an addiction. Also…colored sticky notes. *facepalm*

    Reply
  11. Congrats on the new job, Stephanie, and best of luck! LOL on all the pens filling the drawers and nooks in your office. There is a pen for every purpose! And oh yes on the colored sticky notes … and cute little flags too! 😉

    Reply
  12. Congrats on the new job, Stephanie, and best of luck! LOL on all the pens filling the drawers and nooks in your office. There is a pen for every purpose! And oh yes on the colored sticky notes … and cute little flags too! 😉

    Reply
  13. Congrats on the new job, Stephanie, and best of luck! LOL on all the pens filling the drawers and nooks in your office. There is a pen for every purpose! And oh yes on the colored sticky notes … and cute little flags too! 😉

    Reply
  14. Congrats on the new job, Stephanie, and best of luck! LOL on all the pens filling the drawers and nooks in your office. There is a pen for every purpose! And oh yes on the colored sticky notes … and cute little flags too! 😉

    Reply
  15. Congrats on the new job, Stephanie, and best of luck! LOL on all the pens filling the drawers and nooks in your office. There is a pen for every purpose! And oh yes on the colored sticky notes … and cute little flags too! 😉

    Reply
  16. Scientists often like to use large boards to display ideas and equations…. very useful in meetings where different contributors can add or modify diagrams or equations very easily and everyone can see the results.
    When blackboards went out of fashion and were replaced with whiteboards, I hung on to my blackboard with boxes of chalk. It covered a large area of wall and was always filled with Feynman diagrams and the like. I rarely used pen and paper and sometimes wished I could print out the board at the end of the day!
    So I’m more attached to colored chalks than colored pens though do concede that this may be more sentiment than anything practical.
    Thinking of more permanent writing, I recall that Moses in biblical times used tablets of stone. Just as well there weren’t any mistakes needing correction! 😉

    Reply
  17. Scientists often like to use large boards to display ideas and equations…. very useful in meetings where different contributors can add or modify diagrams or equations very easily and everyone can see the results.
    When blackboards went out of fashion and were replaced with whiteboards, I hung on to my blackboard with boxes of chalk. It covered a large area of wall and was always filled with Feynman diagrams and the like. I rarely used pen and paper and sometimes wished I could print out the board at the end of the day!
    So I’m more attached to colored chalks than colored pens though do concede that this may be more sentiment than anything practical.
    Thinking of more permanent writing, I recall that Moses in biblical times used tablets of stone. Just as well there weren’t any mistakes needing correction! 😉

    Reply
  18. Scientists often like to use large boards to display ideas and equations…. very useful in meetings where different contributors can add or modify diagrams or equations very easily and everyone can see the results.
    When blackboards went out of fashion and were replaced with whiteboards, I hung on to my blackboard with boxes of chalk. It covered a large area of wall and was always filled with Feynman diagrams and the like. I rarely used pen and paper and sometimes wished I could print out the board at the end of the day!
    So I’m more attached to colored chalks than colored pens though do concede that this may be more sentiment than anything practical.
    Thinking of more permanent writing, I recall that Moses in biblical times used tablets of stone. Just as well there weren’t any mistakes needing correction! 😉

    Reply
  19. Scientists often like to use large boards to display ideas and equations…. very useful in meetings where different contributors can add or modify diagrams or equations very easily and everyone can see the results.
    When blackboards went out of fashion and were replaced with whiteboards, I hung on to my blackboard with boxes of chalk. It covered a large area of wall and was always filled with Feynman diagrams and the like. I rarely used pen and paper and sometimes wished I could print out the board at the end of the day!
    So I’m more attached to colored chalks than colored pens though do concede that this may be more sentiment than anything practical.
    Thinking of more permanent writing, I recall that Moses in biblical times used tablets of stone. Just as well there weren’t any mistakes needing correction! 😉

    Reply
  20. Scientists often like to use large boards to display ideas and equations…. very useful in meetings where different contributors can add or modify diagrams or equations very easily and everyone can see the results.
    When blackboards went out of fashion and were replaced with whiteboards, I hung on to my blackboard with boxes of chalk. It covered a large area of wall and was always filled with Feynman diagrams and the like. I rarely used pen and paper and sometimes wished I could print out the board at the end of the day!
    So I’m more attached to colored chalks than colored pens though do concede that this may be more sentiment than anything practical.
    Thinking of more permanent writing, I recall that Moses in biblical times used tablets of stone. Just as well there weren’t any mistakes needing correction! 😉

    Reply
  21. Ah, I remember that using a fountain pen was something we graduated to in fourth grade when I was a child in Australia; we definitely looked forward to the day. I returned to a fountain pen in college where I took delight in using purple ink … how chic!
    I love stationery stores (though I visit far more bookstores); there’s something about all that promise.

    Reply
  22. Ah, I remember that using a fountain pen was something we graduated to in fourth grade when I was a child in Australia; we definitely looked forward to the day. I returned to a fountain pen in college where I took delight in using purple ink … how chic!
    I love stationery stores (though I visit far more bookstores); there’s something about all that promise.

    Reply
  23. Ah, I remember that using a fountain pen was something we graduated to in fourth grade when I was a child in Australia; we definitely looked forward to the day. I returned to a fountain pen in college where I took delight in using purple ink … how chic!
    I love stationery stores (though I visit far more bookstores); there’s something about all that promise.

    Reply
  24. Ah, I remember that using a fountain pen was something we graduated to in fourth grade when I was a child in Australia; we definitely looked forward to the day. I returned to a fountain pen in college where I took delight in using purple ink … how chic!
    I love stationery stores (though I visit far more bookstores); there’s something about all that promise.

    Reply
  25. Ah, I remember that using a fountain pen was something we graduated to in fourth grade when I was a child in Australia; we definitely looked forward to the day. I returned to a fountain pen in college where I took delight in using purple ink … how chic!
    I love stationery stores (though I visit far more bookstores); there’s something about all that promise.

    Reply
  26. I love stationery stores and art stores — although I don’t do much with the purchases.
    I prefer pencils over pens for writing, and I use eraser sticks instead of erasers!
    And I fell in love with computers in 1894 or 1985 because I could back up are retype and because I could insert my new ideas without physical cut and paste! (If you’ve never worked as a copy-editor, you probably don’t know just how fantastic that last power was!)

    Reply
  27. I love stationery stores and art stores — although I don’t do much with the purchases.
    I prefer pencils over pens for writing, and I use eraser sticks instead of erasers!
    And I fell in love with computers in 1894 or 1985 because I could back up are retype and because I could insert my new ideas without physical cut and paste! (If you’ve never worked as a copy-editor, you probably don’t know just how fantastic that last power was!)

    Reply
  28. I love stationery stores and art stores — although I don’t do much with the purchases.
    I prefer pencils over pens for writing, and I use eraser sticks instead of erasers!
    And I fell in love with computers in 1894 or 1985 because I could back up are retype and because I could insert my new ideas without physical cut and paste! (If you’ve never worked as a copy-editor, you probably don’t know just how fantastic that last power was!)

    Reply
  29. I love stationery stores and art stores — although I don’t do much with the purchases.
    I prefer pencils over pens for writing, and I use eraser sticks instead of erasers!
    And I fell in love with computers in 1894 or 1985 because I could back up are retype and because I could insert my new ideas without physical cut and paste! (If you’ve never worked as a copy-editor, you probably don’t know just how fantastic that last power was!)

    Reply
  30. I love stationery stores and art stores — although I don’t do much with the purchases.
    I prefer pencils over pens for writing, and I use eraser sticks instead of erasers!
    And I fell in love with computers in 1894 or 1985 because I could back up are retype and because I could insert my new ideas without physical cut and paste! (If you’ve never worked as a copy-editor, you probably don’t know just how fantastic that last power was!)

    Reply
  31. “And I fell in love with computers in 1894” … that’s pretty impressive! You’re clearly a woman ahead of her time, Sue.

    Reply
  32. “And I fell in love with computers in 1894” … that’s pretty impressive! You’re clearly a woman ahead of her time, Sue.

    Reply
  33. “And I fell in love with computers in 1894” … that’s pretty impressive! You’re clearly a woman ahead of her time, Sue.

    Reply
  34. “And I fell in love with computers in 1894” … that’s pretty impressive! You’re clearly a woman ahead of her time, Sue.

    Reply
  35. “And I fell in love with computers in 1894” … that’s pretty impressive! You’re clearly a woman ahead of her time, Sue.

    Reply
  36. I went to elementary school when there was still time to teach penmanship. I agree about the satisfaction to be had in drawing up ink into a fountain pen—and the mess that sometimes occurred when trying to write with one. (I took to ball pens _immediately_ when they appeared, lol.) I learned to relax my grip and could then watch the coils of intertwined ‘O’s roll out across the lined paper. A few of you will know what I’m talking about, the rest will have to take my word for the feelings of success engendered by this exercise.

    Reply
  37. I went to elementary school when there was still time to teach penmanship. I agree about the satisfaction to be had in drawing up ink into a fountain pen—and the mess that sometimes occurred when trying to write with one. (I took to ball pens _immediately_ when they appeared, lol.) I learned to relax my grip and could then watch the coils of intertwined ‘O’s roll out across the lined paper. A few of you will know what I’m talking about, the rest will have to take my word for the feelings of success engendered by this exercise.

    Reply
  38. I went to elementary school when there was still time to teach penmanship. I agree about the satisfaction to be had in drawing up ink into a fountain pen—and the mess that sometimes occurred when trying to write with one. (I took to ball pens _immediately_ when they appeared, lol.) I learned to relax my grip and could then watch the coils of intertwined ‘O’s roll out across the lined paper. A few of you will know what I’m talking about, the rest will have to take my word for the feelings of success engendered by this exercise.

    Reply
  39. I went to elementary school when there was still time to teach penmanship. I agree about the satisfaction to be had in drawing up ink into a fountain pen—and the mess that sometimes occurred when trying to write with one. (I took to ball pens _immediately_ when they appeared, lol.) I learned to relax my grip and could then watch the coils of intertwined ‘O’s roll out across the lined paper. A few of you will know what I’m talking about, the rest will have to take my word for the feelings of success engendered by this exercise.

    Reply
  40. I went to elementary school when there was still time to teach penmanship. I agree about the satisfaction to be had in drawing up ink into a fountain pen—and the mess that sometimes occurred when trying to write with one. (I took to ball pens _immediately_ when they appeared, lol.) I learned to relax my grip and could then watch the coils of intertwined ‘O’s roll out across the lined paper. A few of you will know what I’m talking about, the rest will have to take my word for the feelings of success engendered by this exercise.

    Reply
  41. I used to love fountain pens when I was a kid. Back then people used to give them as birthday or graduation gifts. I haven’t had one in decades! Now I love roller balls, the ink flows out of them so easily.

    Reply
  42. I used to love fountain pens when I was a kid. Back then people used to give them as birthday or graduation gifts. I haven’t had one in decades! Now I love roller balls, the ink flows out of them so easily.

    Reply
  43. I used to love fountain pens when I was a kid. Back then people used to give them as birthday or graduation gifts. I haven’t had one in decades! Now I love roller balls, the ink flows out of them so easily.

    Reply
  44. I used to love fountain pens when I was a kid. Back then people used to give them as birthday or graduation gifts. I haven’t had one in decades! Now I love roller balls, the ink flows out of them so easily.

    Reply
  45. I used to love fountain pens when I was a kid. Back then people used to give them as birthday or graduation gifts. I haven’t had one in decades! Now I love roller balls, the ink flows out of them so easily.

    Reply
  46. I loved fountain pens when I was in grammar school, and my Esterbrook with the wide tip that I filled from the bottle was my favorite thing, both for writing and drawing. But ballpoints were more practical for carrying around.
    Now I like those nifty Papermate InkJoy Styluses, which have a ballpoint on one end and a phone screen stylus on the other. In lots of colors.

    Reply
  47. I loved fountain pens when I was in grammar school, and my Esterbrook with the wide tip that I filled from the bottle was my favorite thing, both for writing and drawing. But ballpoints were more practical for carrying around.
    Now I like those nifty Papermate InkJoy Styluses, which have a ballpoint on one end and a phone screen stylus on the other. In lots of colors.

    Reply
  48. I loved fountain pens when I was in grammar school, and my Esterbrook with the wide tip that I filled from the bottle was my favorite thing, both for writing and drawing. But ballpoints were more practical for carrying around.
    Now I like those nifty Papermate InkJoy Styluses, which have a ballpoint on one end and a phone screen stylus on the other. In lots of colors.

    Reply
  49. I loved fountain pens when I was in grammar school, and my Esterbrook with the wide tip that I filled from the bottle was my favorite thing, both for writing and drawing. But ballpoints were more practical for carrying around.
    Now I like those nifty Papermate InkJoy Styluses, which have a ballpoint on one end and a phone screen stylus on the other. In lots of colors.

    Reply
  50. I loved fountain pens when I was in grammar school, and my Esterbrook with the wide tip that I filled from the bottle was my favorite thing, both for writing and drawing. But ballpoints were more practical for carrying around.
    Now I like those nifty Papermate InkJoy Styluses, which have a ballpoint on one end and a phone screen stylus on the other. In lots of colors.

    Reply
  51. Or just my inability to handle numbers. You do know I include genealogy in my hobby list?. With the way my mind and fingers handle numbers it’s a wonder I ever get the dates right.

    Reply
  52. Or just my inability to handle numbers. You do know I include genealogy in my hobby list?. With the way my mind and fingers handle numbers it’s a wonder I ever get the dates right.

    Reply
  53. Or just my inability to handle numbers. You do know I include genealogy in my hobby list?. With the way my mind and fingers handle numbers it’s a wonder I ever get the dates right.

    Reply
  54. Or just my inability to handle numbers. You do know I include genealogy in my hobby list?. With the way my mind and fingers handle numbers it’s a wonder I ever get the dates right.

    Reply
  55. Or just my inability to handle numbers. You do know I include genealogy in my hobby list?. With the way my mind and fingers handle numbers it’s a wonder I ever get the dates right.

    Reply

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