I have an assortment of pens – fountains and ballpoints, rollerballs, gel pens, felt tip, calligraphy pens with boxes full of nibs, even quills. I have fancy holders and spare coffee mugs full of them, and drawers with trays full of them, a myriad of sizes and styles and colors. A lot of them ought to be tossed; they’re dried out, or I never liked them much in the first place, or I liked them so much that I intend to find the right refill someday. When my kids were little I would sometimes give them the job of sorting the plethora of pens and tossing the ones that didn’t work. They would have a blast scribbling away on big sheets of paper, tossing the dried-out markers, the pens that skipped, the pens that globbed, the empty pens that had no ink cartridge or refill inside, and so on.
And I have a wide assortment of pencils, too, in various shapes and types and colors—pencils always come in handy for editing, and it’s especially wise to have a zillion pencils because I never know what color pencil the copyeditor will have used on my manuscript….
Usually the CE uses red, but sometimes it’s purple, blue, or green, while the editor uses plain graphite pencil. It’s up to the author to come up with yet another color to differentiate from their penciled “voices” on the pages. Oh joy! I get to go through the colored pencils and try every one of them! Oh, that red one’s too hard, this blue one’s too soft, I don’t have three or four of the purple, and the green is too faint, and look! Here’s a purple that’s Just Right (it’s amazing how many colored pencils one can wear out on a 400-page, moderately copyedited manuscript).
I have pen-lust, and pencil-lust too, along with paper lust, and of course, that weakness so many of us are susceptible to: demon booklust. For today let’s look at The Pen: what is it about the writing instrument that can make a writer’s heart go pitty-pat?
It’s the tool of our trade, after all, more so than keyboards or computers. It’s putting pen or pencil to paper that makes that connection, facilitates that spark. And people have been putting pen to paper, or stylus to wax, or brush to hide and quill to parchment for as long as people have been around. We are, as humans, compelled to express ourselves in various ways, and making signs on a surface to represent our thoughts is one of the most basic ways we have to let those thoughts wing outward so others can catch them and make what they will of them.
Pens began more than likely as reeds dipped in ink of some sort, and applied to a support of some kind. The ancients used reeds or brushes with ink of some kind (made from plants, berries, acorns, oak gall, iron salts, even snails – who discovered this stuff in the first place is what I’d like to know) — and a stylus made of bone or metal was a popular method of writing as well, when dragged in soft wax spread on a wooden tablet, as the Romans did, and the Anglo-Saxons as well (who no doubt learned it from the Romans). Egyptian scribes would chew the ends of sharpened reeds to soften them enough to hold ink long enough to write a few words, then chew and dip again. Yum.
The quill pen was first used around the 5th or 6th century – though it seems logical enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was used even earlier. The best quills were made from the flight feathers of swans and geese, taken from the left wing for the best curve in the central shaft (and from the right wing for left-handed scribes, if they hadn’t had the sinister left-handedness beaten out of them!).
Quills provided a marvelous writing tool, though the ends needed frequent cutting and sharpening with a knife, sometimes dozens of times a day if there was a lot of writing or copying of manuscripts going on. The quill met most writing needs for centuries, until finally in the 18th century fine metal nibs of brass and then steel were created and attached to the feathers.
Fountain pens are my personal favorite. I have several. I used to dip them in ink bottles years ago, and then gave in to easy pop-in cartridges. I love the smell of the ink, and I love the way the ink flows with a good pen — at times a fountain pen has a certain magic that seems to encourage the writing to flow right along with it… Fountain pens were first invented in the late 19th century by Lewis Waterman (I have several of his pens, okay, his descendants’ pens), and around the turn of the century, someone thought up the ball point pen, which weren’t terribly popular or affordable until WWII, when they came in very handy out in the field (I did my research for this blog and found out some interesting bits of trivia!).
And after that followed Bic pens (the Frenchman Bich came up with a cheaply produced ball point), and the Japanese thought up the felt-tip, and then it was onward in triumph to roller balls and gel tips and pens that write upside-down, in water and in outer space….
And I think I have an incarnation of each of them in my desk drawer, all in a glorious jumble of writing tools. Maybe because I was an art major for years, I respond to pens and colors, to the feel of the writing tool in the hand, and the connection between hand and brain, mind and imagination channeled down through ink and nib.
I’ll be loyal to a pen for a very long time, and then discover another, a newer, design or kind, and then I turn fickle. Right now I’m wearing out Pilot G-2s like crazy, in every color (they have minis! I love them!)…..
I f you, too, are addicted to good writing tools, what’s your favorite pen? And do you, too, make an utter fool of yourself in a stationery store, or even the back-to-school aisle of your local superstore?