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The Pen Is Mightier (Than the Word Processor)

The Pen Is Mightier (Than the Word Processor)

21st-century writing know-how has undoubtedly made writing extra handy—however is it truly holding us again? One author investigates.

I’m an analog woman in a digital world. I like previous issues and previous type. I used a rotary-dial telephone till the march of progress threatened to crush us each. My automotive simply celebrated its 24th birthday. I like canvas sneakers, gin martinis and do-it-yourself afghans.

However I’m a author in modern occasions, and I’ve tailored to new applied sciences. Frankly, most of it has been a blur. I do keep in mind, although, sitting alone at night time in an workplace constructing someday in the 1980s, watching my boss’s printer slowly excrete 200 pages of random ASCII characters. For all I knew, the pc was making an attempt to inform us one thing. I despatched the pages to the tech guys at headquarters for evaluation. They nonetheless haven’t gotten again to me.

Quick-forward to now, when miniature microphones and voice-to-text gentle ware actually allow us to put in writing as quick as we will speak. The subsequent part is almost upon us, the place a machine will write my novels for me—and little question publish them, acquire royalties and spend the cash on good issues for itself.

However I really feel it’s time to ask: Is extra tech essentially an enchancment? Is quicker actually higher than slower? Is the vacation spot extra essential than the journey?

With these questions in thoughts, I took it upon myself to research. To re-immerse myself in the supplies and sensations I used to take pleasure in so oft en—and in addition to experiment with even older strategies—I spent a weekend engaged on my present novel utilizing an assortment of know-how that originated between the constructing of the Sphinx and the opening night time of My Truthful Woman.

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On Saturday morning I settled down at my writing desk, a mug of coff ee at my aspect and a wood-cased pencil in my hand. I selected a Blackwing 602, recognized for its clean core and aromatic cedar casing. (I’d determined to skip inscribing phrases on stone or moist clay tablets and begin with the subsequent writing know-how most intently associated to these: graphite.)

Pencil sharpening is an act of starting. You sit down, you collect your self, you sharpen. You are feeling and listen to the sharpener working, and also you odor that recent wooden. You behold your newly uncovered graphite. If the level is sharp, you are feeling temporary nervousness over whether or not the microscopic, conical prime part will break off as you contact it to paper.

I take pleasure in the deliberateness of the pencil expertise. As you write, the level degrades to no matter diploma of dullness you are feeling like tolerating. You rotate the level to reap the benefits of the put on sample—each rotation off ers a sharper edge.

Whenever you write with a pencil, you’re, in a really actual sense, drawing. You’re laying down the two-dimensional photographs of phrases. You’ll be able to write little or massive; with mild strain or heavy; you’ll be able to print rigorously or race alongside in no matter model of cursive is yours.

You possibly can erase errors! However in the event you’re on a tear, you’ll be able to simply strike via with vigor and hold going. Or you possibly can flurry down a satisfying storm of obliterating zigzags. The re-sharpening pause is a balm. Whereas sharpening, you have got an opportunity to lookup, change the focal size of your gaze, give up considering for a second and use your arms diff erently.

I wrote about 1,000 phrases with the Blackwing, savoring its simple sturdiness. You don’t should child a pencil. You’ll be able to depart it mendacity round, you’ll be able to even lose it with out an excessive amount of grief. You’ll be able to write with it in a canoe or on a mountain ledge, or upside-down whereas mendacity in mattress. No worries about ink, mechanisms, batteries.

Mid-morning, I skipped forward in time and unholstered my trusty plastic Pentel automated with a .7 mm lead, in the comparatively smooth and daring 2B grade I like. The apparent benefit of the mechanical pencil is not any sharpening, no hassle. You click on a button or twist the barrel to advance your lead, and you may write quick and exact. The writing expertise is much less various, although. That’s the worth you pay.

With any pencil, one should convey some strain to bear, which places put on and tear on you. My writing elbow received sore after a couple of hours of pencil work.

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After lunch I turned to a gaggle of devices you need to dip in ink, that marvelous liquid people first concocted in Neolithic occasions. Hole reeds served as writing instruments in historic Egypt, China and the Center East. They’re nonetheless used for drawing and particular calligraphy.

I’d discovered a reed pen in my artwork field, so I began with that. It was a 7-inch-long wand a few half-inch in diameter and reduce to a quill-like level. I opened a bottle of black Noodler’s ink, dipped the reed in and began writing. I blobbed an excessive amount of ink down at first, then obtained the grasp of creating daring strokes.

Nonetheless, I needed to reload with ink each few phrases. Due to that, and aside from the novelty, the expertise was wearying and simply not sensible. I perceived how a effective reed with an expertly accomplished level—and a midway skilled scribe—might work some magnificence.

Writing with a quill didn’t go a lot better. I’d discovered a big feather throughout a stroll a number of years in the past and saved it. Now, following a web-based tutorial, I made a writing level from its shaft. Like the reed, the quill emitted an unsightly blot earlier than scratchily producing a contiguous line. After about 10 phrases, it ran dry. I reloaded and stored going, however the work was sluggish and vexing. Fascinated with the undeniable fact that Shakespeare wrote all of his performs with such an implement made me almost sick with pity. However life was slower then, and I feel everyone had extra endurance.

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For my night writing I used a steel-dip pen, instrument of selection for a lot of a scrivener throughout the 19th century when mass manufacturing made metal nibs dependable and aff ordable. As quickly as I obtained going with it, I perceived what a big technical leap ahead it was. I used a plastic holder and a Speedball C-Four italic nib, made from two items of metallic that type a tiny ink reservoir utilizing floor rigidity. I might write half a web page earlier than having to re-dip, and OMG how virtually lovely my lumpish handwriting seemed! My writing output went with gushing, pleasurable velocity in contrast with any prior technique.

I wrote appreciatively, all night, with the supremely light-weight dip pen, with virtually no hand/elbow fatigue.

Sunday morning, I began in with a fountain pen, which provides you the better of the bottled-ink world with out the problem and hazard of the open inkwell. For this session I used my small Pelikan Souveran and a few brown ink. With its deliciously clean nib and heat acetate barrel, the nice pen wrote like the wind. My respiration slowed down, my physique relaxed and I wrote for pages and pages while not having to refill.

After an hour, I switched to my cheap plastic Lamy Safari, the physique in sprightly neon-yellow. That writing expertise was simply as gratifying. Clean sufficient, straightforward to carry and simply plain enjoyable to wham down phrases with.

Later in the morning I picked up my Parker Jotter, that ubiquitous midcentury-modern merchandise present in tens of millions of desk drawers round the world. The ballpoint pen, popularized between the World Wars, is just about the final in ink-based writing comfort. Cheap, idiot-proof, uniform. I wrote a number of hundred phrases. The expertise was serviceable however bland—on the order of the mechanical pencil.

Lastly, on Sunday afternoon, I turned to my boulderweight 1926 Underwood typewriter. I’d acquired it for a efficiency of Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter” with an area symphony orchestra. (My standard position is timpanist.) On stage, the machine was splendidly loud, with a supremely authoritative carriage return that put forth the good zzzip!

So yeah, as a percussion instrument and mechanical marvel it was nice. However to truly write with? Pricey God. I measured the journey of the keys: an inch and a half, versus the one millimeter of my pc pill’s keypad. It’s a must to ram the keys down that whole inchand- a-half to get a great impression from the ribbon onto the paper. I discovered myself pounding out phrases as if enjoying a Rachmaninoff finale to the again row. The clack, the zip, the rhythm, the ding! The entire world is aware of you’re writing! I attempted to realize power from the odor of the machine oil and the thunder of the keys, however my higher physique simply ran out of fuel. I barely made it via 240 phrases—about one full web page in typeset.

I need to say, although, I liked the retro-funk outcomes. Every letter displayed its personal sample of wear and tear, its personal fractional diff erence in alignment, its personal little character. A manuscript written on a typewriter akin to this appears virtually like a dwelling factor. On Sunday night, my experiment full, I contemplated (weak and weary) these questions:


As a result of it challenges and encourages our arms, eyes and mind with numerous instruments. Individuals are diff erent! A few of us work higher by going slowly and intentionally, some by blasting out phrases at a blistering tempo. My concepts flowed the greatest (and I felt the greatest) when utilizing the pencil, the steel-dip pen and the fountain pens. That steel-nib dip pen was really a revelation.


I’ve an excellent pal who’s blind and enjoys all the trendy help of audiobooks, microphones and optical-characterrecognition delicate ware. Assuming that Braille should now be out of date, I requested him just lately if he makes use of it anymore. Surprisingly, he stated he makes use of Braille instruments all the time: for fast notes to himself in addition to longer issues he needs to take alongside and skim again silently when he’s out and about. That resonated. Though I can converse notes into my telephone, I want writing issues down, and I’m by no means and not using a pocket book, pen and pencil in my purse.


The payoff for me is that this: Once I sort my handwritten draft into the pc—say, each 10 or 20 pages—I do a really natural-feeling first edit and revisions, thus outputting a real draft-and-a-half, as I like to think about it. Labor-intensive. However fruitful. There’s no denying, for sheer effectivity and quantity of labor, nothing surpasses trendy pc and wordprocessing delicate ware. These issues maintain getting higher and higher: The place as soon as WordPerfect was the dwelling finish, it now makes you need to slam your face on a brick. We’re all indebted to Microsoft Word and comparable smooth ware for making our course of extremely straightforward. WHAT ABOUT REVISION AND EDITING? In the present day’s tech wins. One may print out a manuscript and do an edit by hand (yay, pencil), to get that on-paper visible sense of issues. However for the last product, there’s nothing like deleting and inserting with up-to-theminute smooth ware.


I can’t see anyone making the case that it’s. There’s extra of it, definitely, and new tech is massively accountable. I don’t assume anyone should assassinate their pc. However at times, remember to cease and odor the cedar. You’ll be richer for the expertise—and your writing may simply mirror that.


• Previous-school know-how frees you from the web. No temptation to examine the information or social media. You possibly can take pleasure in a quiet, peaceable setting when you create. • Easy, guide tech is usually sturdy and dependable.

• There’s something metaphysical about using a wood-cased pencil or a bottle of ink: As you employ it, you lose it. The object has a lifespan.

• Paper issues. Low cost paper, with its excessive wood-pulp content material and therefore rougher floor, causes ink to feather and bleed. Throughout these checks I alternated between a cheap retro-style pocket book and a crazy-expensive premium pad. The distinction in efficiency and writing pleasure was marked. Every part wrote smoother on the premium pad. Dang.

• Simply as a drawing of, say, a bowl of fruit may look extra alive than the factor itself, so do all these strategies make writing appear extra alive than the digital, completely shaped letters on a display. Therefore guide writing tech itself can encourage creativity. You possibly can even—my gosh!—doodle in the margins.

• The matches and begins of early work—making notes, being considerate and meditative—notably favor hasslefree instruments: pencil or ballpoint pen and paper.

• When writing by hand, cuddle up sideways to your desk. That approach you don’t need to lean ahead, and you may relaxation your entire forearm comfortably on the desk.

• There’s one thing a few nib or fountain pen that’s encouraging. Your phrases stream, for positive, however it’s virtually like the instrument needs you to do nicely.

• If you use basic writing tech, you’re experiencing a little bit of historical past. You’re writing as our legendary heroes wrote, and also you’re dissolving the time hole between you and them.

• Pages produced by analog tech are prone to fireside, flood, earthquake. So, in the event that they’re not thrown away after they’ve served their function, they want safety.

• Once you’re having fun with the bodily means of writing, it’s onerous for the little bitch or bastard in your shoulder to persuade you to lose coronary heart and give up.

• Research have been completed about the advantages of writing by hand versus electronically. Appears the bodily expertise of crafting letters and phrases releases extra creativity molecules. One thing like that. Hey, if it really works, it really works.

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