Sunday, November 10, 2013

Writing On Paper With A Pen

by Bert Carson

You are either reading this post on my website, Venture Galleries Website, or your computer, where it arrived in your email.  No matter where you are reading it, it isn't where I originally wrote it.

I'm sitting at my desk, watching these words flow out of my newest fountain pen, a Pilot Custom 823, onto a lined notebook, manufactured in Japan by Kokuyo Sat Co., Ltd, a firm that specializes in fountain pen friendly paper, notebooks, and journals.

I could be writing this directly on my blog site, or onto a Microsoft Word document, or into a new Scrivener file, and ultimately I will transcribe it from this notebook onto one of those platforms.  Yep, even at age 71, I can still type–45 words a minute last time I checked.  I even understand spell check, auto format, and yes, I know the value of time.  In fact, it's because I have sense of time that doesn't take into account a timepiece that I chose to write this with a fountain pen on paper.

The sense of time that I am referring to isn't about quantity but rather quality at the point where the story leaves my head and goes on paper.

I doubt that I write a third as fast with a pen as I do with a word processor but the creative level of my writing rises noticeably when the words are coming from a fountain pen rather than a keyboard.

I stumbled onto fountain pens a long time ago, forty-six years ago to be exact.  I was in Vietnam, Camp Bearcat, the Post Exchange, first looking at cameras, then stereos, and finally watches.  I glanced at my watch, noted that it was time to head back to my company area and  get ready for my shift as Sergeant-of-the-guard, when it a caught my eye–a dark blue Schaeffer fountain pen in a matching presentation case.

I had the presence of mind not to purchase it then, though it was love at first sight.  I knew if I bought it in that moment, I would carry it to the berm (the outer perimeter of Camp Bearcat) and give it my attention rather than focusing on the jungle, no-man's land between it and us, and the incessant bitching of the men under my command.

The following morning, when our guard shift ended, a driver picked up me  and my men.  Before I climbed in the back of the truck, I walked to the cab, stepped up on the running board, and said to the driver, "Corporal, drop me at the PX."

He glanced at his watch, then looked at me and said, "Sarge, they won't open for almost an hour."

I laughed and said, "I know.  I want to be the first customer."

I was the first customer that long-ago day.  I bought the pen that I'd thought about all night, and over the next year and a half used it to write countless letters.  I brought it home from Vietnam and retired it when I moved back into the make-every-minute-count world.
Fifteen years later, I decided to bring it out of retirement and discovered I had not gotten custody of it in my first divorce.  So I bought a new one.
In the years since, I have purchased and used more fountain pens than I can count.  I've used them for writing letters and journaling and my love for them has grown steadily.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I read a blog post by J. Mark Bertrand, a novelist who writes all his first drafts with his fountain pen.  I thought, what a waste of time, and then I thought, why would I even consider doing that?

I kicked the question around in my head for a few days and got no answer, so I decided to take it to my journal, where I began to write about the advantages and disadvantages of writing on real paper with a real pen.

I wrote a couple of pages of nonsense, which is my normal head clearing process, and then, amazed, I watched the answer flow from the pen onto the paper:

Words written with a pen flow smoothly from my head to my paper.  Words written with a word processor are pounded into existence.

I looked at what I'd written and felt the truth of the words.  I let my eyes go out of focus and saw Steinbeck hunched over his notebook as Grapes of Wrath flowed from his pen.  I shook my head, picked up my pen and wrote - "If it was good for John Steinbeck it will be good for me."

If you'd like to explore the world of fountain pens and fine paper, here are a couple of my favorite links:

Jet Pens:
Inkophile Blog
J. Mark Bertrand's Blog (for writers & Pen nuts: