The Mighty Pen

20081111-fountain-penThrough a series of circumstances not worth relating, I currently find myself without a computer at home.  It particularly hurts for my  work as a teacher, as I often do mounds of paperwork and plan many lessons whilst ensconced in bed, and I find myself staying in school a lot later than I want.  What it also means, however, is that my recent contributions to AAR have been handwritten.

I wasn’t always so reliant on computers.  I’ve always written a neat hand and still do, and, while my school notes weren’t copperplate, they were a right sight clearer than most.  Being a visual person, when I went to university I found brainstorming by hand most productive, after which I would write the first draft on a computer.  But gradually I eliminated the first step, brainstorming as I wrote my first draft, and the keyboard, rather than the pen, became an extension of my thoughts.

It’s a different process, I find.  Not only are you allowed the luxury of editing almost as you write – it permits you to transmit your thoughts almost directly from human brain to electronic brain.  The stream of consciousness never was as true as in the age of computers, and while I wouldn’t say it promoted my logical sloppiness, it certainly discouraged immediate clarity.

But the pen is a whole other world.  If I start messy, god only knows what the second draft will look like, and I’m loathe to spend too much time and paper on re-copying.  This means I’ve learnt to get it right the first time ‘round, and which (if honesty permits) might have resulted in better marks in university if earlier encouraged.  Now my thoughts are deliberately decelerated, and I’ve removed the extra editing step by correcting before I set pen to paper.  The cohesion not only does wonders for the piece of writing – I find myself also having peace of mind.

I have my German friend to thank for introducing and gifting to me the joy of a fountain pen, and seeing the minute but concrete evidence of ink on paper increases my pleasure in a task that is already a joy.  Writing for AAR in this way has become therapy, relaxation, and penmanship practice all in one.  And damned if I don’t feel more like a proper writer, too.  If I get a laptop again, I might just keep my pen in hand anyway.

- Jean AAR

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3 Responses to “The Mighty Pen”

  1. LeeB. says:

    I still like using pens to write but I do agree that it is way easier to communicate thoughts via computer because, at least for me, fingers don’t even have to think of what keys they are tapping. On the other hand, it is fun to write letters and cards if one has a nice, artistic handwriting.

  2. Interesting, Jean. I wrote my first books straight to the computer after scribbling notes and outlines. But around the fifth book I found that I was starting to freeze in front of the computer. Bit by bit I discovered that drafting a scene in a notebook first broke the ice. So I scribble down the scene including the dialogue and find that when I type it up I edit then. I’ve no idea what changed my process. I’ve tried using an alphasmart, but hated it. I like my notebooks. If I’m just scribbling then I don’t expect it to be perfect the first time, and I can’t highlight and delete if it isn’t perfect. Since confessing to this process at a conference I’ve found several other authors who do the scribble thing when they get stuck. I thought about a digital pen, but realised that the editing as I type is a major part of the whole deal. So I buy my pens from the Kids With Cancer Foundation and the Guide Dogs Society and the RSPCA and feel as though I’m doing a good deed! Also I don’t feel hypocritical in telling my kids they don’t have to use the computer for everything!


  3. LizA says:

    Love fountain pens! I have several inexpensive ones scattered around my home, handbags, whereever they are needed. I never use ball point pens as they hurt my writsts after a while….
    Writing by hand is definitly a different process from writing with a keyboard. I find it easier to jot down notes in a note pad (using one of my fountain pens!) but I am not able to write proper long pieces by hand, except for letters (incidentiallly there is a subculture of snail mail fans out there, who write real letters still…. bliss). I am a language teacher for adults and I am always curious to see how my students take notes. Only a few use laptops as they are not flexible enough – it is pretty difficult to draw a little picture (showing the meaning of a word) on a laptop…

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