I Don’t Always Use Pens, but When I Do…

Posted: February 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Writers aren’t doing their jobs correctly if they don’t collect huge sock drawers worth of stuff: pens, pencils, stencils and…fill in the blank. Sometimes we buy the swag. Sometimes relatives doing the best they can give us all kinds of interesting stuff for Christmas. Duh-duh-duh, *Law & Order voice* – “these are some of my choices.”

A good way to evaluate what to buy is probably why to buy. I pretty much need three writing tools, not counting my previous bloviating about the tool named Apple Pen (see post). I need a black (or blue if I have to) pen. I need a Red Pen of Editorial Doom (lurking in the swirling fog, I swear). I need a pencil.

Pencils first. One part of my collection is driven by things I think I want to do and haven’t fully expressed because the next 1,000 words grabbed me by the short and curlies. So thinking I’ll draw stuff (you can stop laughing now), I buy things like stencils and How to Draw books…and pencils. Color, check. Green and yellow Dixon-Ticonderogas, check. And quite a few .5mm and .7mm nib mechanicals, eventually settling on the cheap disposables…until recently, also check.

The Dixon-Ticos, I don’t use much largely because we all have those test taking nightmares decades after leaving school. I suppose if you don’t mind grinding off the wood to sharpen the graphite, go for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The color pencils also sit in my desk. If you don’t draw like you thought you would you, don’t need to color either. At least, I don’t have to replace them or add to the collection.

Mechanical pencils have pretty much pissed me off in almost every case. The non-disposable ones sometimes get nasty when you try to replace the graphite in the barrel. Are you supposed to shake the thing loading from the opened back? Or do you do the catheter type insertion (Ow!) from the front?

But, the most annoying thing about many mechanical pencils has been the ease with which the writer cracks the lead bearing down on the page. Scratch some words of great import and – SNAP! Plunge more lead out; write three more words and – SNAP! The disposables bought so you can cease to care about both the loading issue and cracking the lead are actually worse enough that you still throw the pencil across the room.

A word about usage. I might not draw like I thought, but I do have slightly more believable pretensions towards composing music. An art form where erasing that stubborn quarter note off the page lends itself to the eraser that comes with the pencil. But, years and years of just putting a line through wrong words written in my notebooks have trained me to just write with a pen saying, “cross-outs are part of the process.”

My artist friends went on and on about their pencils, specifically mechanicals made by RoTring. Knowing that my stalled music will need at least one limited duty tool, I take what I hope is my last venture into Pencil-Land. It’s an expensive object ($20 give or take on Amazon), but maybe that’s the point, that you get what you pay for.

I’ve had mine in .5mm (you’ll see a personal preference for fine nibs across the board) for a few weeks now. I have yet to attempt a reloading, but using the pencil to deliver notes on screenplays for no other reason than Just Because, I’ve gotten a generally smooth flow of words where nothing catches on the page.

Part of that smoothness must come from the fact that driven by wanting to save my elbow as long as possible, I put grips on everything or buy wide barreled tools (see picture). The makers hit on a hexagonal barrel to keep the pencil from rolling on a drawing board, but it’s still a thin object.

I wanted to say that I’ve found the lead unbreakable. In my hands, I haven’t cracked the lead, yet. But, I lent the pencil to a friend and he cracked the lead. Did I magically learn the technique that prevents this? Don’t know. A good to great tool in a field of poor to mediocre competitors.

Pens. The variety here is endless. Among writers you’ll get all kinds of tribalism as to the – Best. Pen. Ever. Worse than Star Trek v. Star Wars nerd wars. Fountain pens. No information. Don’t use them. Don’t do calligraphy and my signature comes out the way it comes out using a ballpoint or gel pen.

Ballpoint pens. I’ve long since abandoned most of the disposables in the ballpoint field. Usually, it’s the thin barrel on those ubiquitous Bics and Papermates that we used in school once we finished those dreaded pencil-driven Scantron tests. And few of these pens come in the .5mm nib that I like.

For a long while, I would compulsively buy packs and packs of Pilot G2 (see picture) pens that kind of count as sort of disposable even though you can unscrew the tops and put in new cartridges. The grip is a good idea, but now contemplating them after many months not using them even these stalwarts might be too thin for someone totally paranoid about his elbow.

What I don’t remember using these many pens lurking in the bottom of the drawer is how long the cartridges last. I kept switching out pens for one exactly like it and never really paid attention to when the reservoir dried up. I do remember that I liked the feel. The nib didn’t catch and I didn’t have cause to complain.

I have so many pens in my desk drawer in part because I learned the get what you pay for lesson in ballpoints, a while ago. My sister gave me a Cross ballpoint pen (see pictures) maybe ten, twelve years ago for my birthday. I lost it. Promptly bought another one that looked exactly like it, so I didn’t have to face explaining the loss to her. And then found the first pen.

This started an obsession with Cross ballpoint pens. I have about eight, I think. They all look different, but are mechanically the same inside…twist left to reveal the nib. I buy the thick barreled ones for the same reasons I humorously put grips on everything else…my elbow. I did try a few of the thin barreled examples (Ow!) and left them in my desk, except the one that has a touchscreen stylus. I keep that one as the ink cartridge I cannibalize into other pens first when I run dry.

I would give these pens medium to good marks writing across the page in terms of smoothness and not catching. But, the real draw to these expensive (a range of $12-$35) tools seems to be the ink cartridge, especially in black. The ink paste can dry out requiring a test swipe outside the writing area to prime the ball. Once you do, the pen seems to go forever, until it doesn’t and I change it out for the one in the stylus pen.

I’ve written at least two and a half years or more of journals with these tools. I stopped counting how many half and three quarter filled spiral notebooks I’ve chewed up with these Cross ballpoint pens. I use them a lot…Nuff said. And what happened to those first two pens? Ironically, each pen developed quirks where one part would slip free despite supposed to grip tight, so I cannibalized both pens to make one pen that gripped the parts correctly. Another pen used to be blue, but the lacquer wore off and now is brass. I’ve also blocked out one pen to handle my rare Red Pen of Editorial Doom needs, though I’m less sold on Cross’ red cartridges.

You’d think I’d quit; I have my pen. But, helpful relatives will still give you stuff and you still have to look like you appreciate the gift. The most recent one, my brother gives me a pack of Tul gel pens (see picture). He swears that all of his friends and associates tend to sticky finger these into pockets and he can’t keep enough of them on his desk. Okay, give me a couple weeks, I’ll let you know.

I hadn’t really ever done gel pens in my writing past. The closest I’ve come are an equally expensive flirtation with various disposable rollerball pens that use the same general type of ink, but run it through a ballpoint nib. Gel and rollerball ink comes out wet so you can sometimes smudge the words. I get started adding grips to the barrel and…

I see why my brother and his friends like these Tul pens so much. Smooth writing made smoother with my grips. A smudge or two when my fingers get too close before the words dry. I grind out a lot of pages using nothing else. I discover exactly how long it takes for one pen, designed like a marker, to run dry…six weeks give or take.

I have to take a couple points away from this worthy pen because to look good in the hand they made the plastic barrel opaque. You have to look closely at the strip in the middle to see how much ink you have. Of course the words I wrote gave me fair warning becoming progressively thin, but I’m hyper-focused on a word spree. I didn’t notice until the ink went bone dry and I switched out for the second one.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of the pens available to you, just what I use the most. Writers who get paid will free fall into the Consumer Reports article, about every 18 months or so. So with that the post is over. Go home!

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