Inside One of America’s Last Pencil Factories – The New York Times

Inside One of America’s Last Pencil Factories – The New York Times

Such radical simplicity is surprisingly complicated to produce. Since 1889, the General Pencil Company has been converting huge quantities of raw materials (wax, paint, cedar planks, graphite) into products you can find, neatly boxed and labeled, in art and office-supply stores across the nation: watercolor pencils, editing pencils, sticks of charcoal, pastel chalks. Even as other factories have chased higher profit margins overseas, General Pencil has stayed put, cranking out thousands upon thousands of writing instruments in the middle of Jersey City.

In further proof that I’ve not given this site the attention that it deserves, it seems this is the last pen and paper blog on the planet that has not linked to this. Stunningly beautiful photo essay.

In Defense of Cheap

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how we in the pen and paper blogosphere tend to focus on the relatively expensive. I’m even guilty of this. Part of the reason is that I like quality tools and, well, quality costs more. But, for some, even things that we privileged folks view as a tremendous value — A $15 Pilot Metropolitan or a $10 pack of three Field Notes — may actually be a barrier to entry for some folks.

But, there also may be a barrier to usage, too. I’ve had several conversations with folks who’d like to write by hand more but, because of unhappiness with the quality of their own output, don’t want to “mess up” something “nice”. Therefore, they don’t start or feel a certain guilt while using them. There are some who don’t start at all because they are led to believe they need the “right” pen or the “right” paper.

The truth is, if you take a look around at many successful published writers who write by hand and the tools they use, more frequently you’ll find cheap. Author Neal Stephenson wrote his 3000 page Baroque Cycle on legal pads. Emily Dickinson wrote many of her most famous poems on the backs of envelopes. Neil Gaiman seems to grab any old notebook that’s lying around.

In the case of the Neal/Neil’s, one could argue that they used expensive fountain pens, sure. But, my larger point it that writing is messy. It includes mistakes, errors, corrections, scratches, half-thoughts, and a lot of junk one must scribble over, cross out, and replace. You want tools — paper especially — you can get messy with. You want notebooks you don’t feel bad crossing entire pages out of or even ripping out a page and throwing it across the room in frustration.

For pens, consider standard issue US Government Skilcraft’s at ten bucks for a dozen (here’s a fascinating article about their history) or stop in at any big box or chain drug store and get anything you can afford. For paper, a 12 pack of Mead composition notebooks will set you back twenty bucks and a pack of legal pads from Amazon will set you back twelve. Or, when you stop into the chain store for a cheap pen pick up a the cheapest spiral notebook you can find as well. If those combined cost more than three bucks you likely are paying too much for both.

But, more than anything, you want to reduce your fear. Fear of the blank page. Fear of “messing up”. Fear of the un-good. Fear of “spoiling” something “good”. You don’t want to get caught up in not having “the right pen” or “the right paper”.

Any pen is the right pen. Any paper, is the right paper. Just write.

Onward for The Cramped

I’m just going to put this as plainly as possible; I have not been giving this site the attention it deserves. That’s going to change. Here’s the plan…

I started The Cramped to promote, endorse, and celebrate, the act of writing by hand or other analog writing tools like typewriters. There are plenty of great pen and paper blogs that do a fantastic job on reviews and stuff to buy. I wanted a site that focused less on reviews and buying stuff and more on the “What comes next?” of using those tools. That remains my mission here. Because of this, you will continue to see a lot of links, quotes, and original posts that speak to this idea.

That doesn’t mean you wont see the occasional review or links to new products or mentions of things I love and use. You’ll find some of that here now and will continue to moving forward. There just will be far less of that than you may see on other pen and paper blogs because it is not the focus.

I also wanted to fill some gaps that I felt were missing in the broader conversation in this area. But, I knew I couldn’t do it myself. So, despite the fact that I’m right-handed, I worked really hard to reach out to a left-handed guest writer to create a really great guide for those folks. I also love this guest post about improving one’s penmanship. I love guest posts. I want this place to have a variety of voices. I plan to reach out to more folks to write guest posts not only about subjects I think are not well covered but, also, from voices (women, people of color, etc.) that are not well represented in this space.

I’ve updated the What We Use page to reflect my current tools. That had not been done since the site started in 2014. Expect other contributors to show up with their current items in the coming days.

I also want to re-emphasize that there is no “schedule”. There may be days where there are no new updates here. I don’t post things for the sake of posting things to keep you “engaged” with our “content”. I value your time and attention and only post things I think are worth them. There may be times where noting reaches that high bar, and that’s as planned too.

If you have something you’d like to see here, feel free to get in touch. If you are interested in writing a guest post, please get in touch. If you’d like to in any way chime in or just say thanks, get in touch. The bottom line, my email inbox is always open to you.

Thanks for reading.

Patrick Rhone

How to Write a Blog Post – Rands in Repose

How to Write a Blog Post – Rands in Repose

Repeat until it starts to feel done in your head. If it’s handwritten, type it into a computing device. When you are close to done, print it out on paper. Sit somewhere else with your favorite pen and edit your work harshly. If this piece is important, let someone else edit harshly.

I agree. Even if you write it on a computer, print it out and edit it by hand on paper. You’ll see things differently. Things that get missed on the screen. The writing will be better for having done so.

A journal is a record of experiences and growth, not a preserve of things well done or said. I am occasionally reminded of a statement which I have made in conversation and immediately forgotten, which would read much better than what I put in my journal. It is a ripe, dry fruit of long-past experience which falls from me easily, without giving pain or pleasure. The charm of the journal must consist in a certain greenness, though freshness, and not in maturity. Here I cannot afford to be remembering what I said or did, my scurf cast off, but what I am and aspire to become.

— Henry David Thoreau, journal entry, January 24, 1856

Rohdesign Dispatch: Logbook Your 2018

Rohdesign Dispatch: Logbook Your 2018

I’ve been keeping a logbook since 2014, and it’s become one of my most important tools. I use a logbook to track my life, capture ideas and experiences, and remember my days.I encourage you to try one this year.

First of all, Mike Rohde has a newsletter?!? Immediate signup! Second of all, in this issue he covers why you should consider keeping a logbook in 2018. He includes some great links to resources and ideas to help you get started. I’ve kept one for years myself and can vouch for everything he says.

American reams: why a ‘paperless world’ still hasn’t happened | News | The Guardian

American reams: why a ‘paperless world’ still hasn’t happened | News | The Guardian

Paper has played “an essential role in the development of mankind”. And yet, for decades, civilisation has been trying to develop beyond paper, promoting a paper-free world that will run seamlessly, immaterially on pixels and screens alone. How did paper get here? Where does it go next? For that matter, why is paper – which does its job perfectly well – compelled to keep innovating?

Because it works?

Reasons to keep a personal journal or sketchbook | Boing Boing

Reasons to keep a personal journal or sketchbook | Boing Boing

So I strongly recommend a paper journal over an app, at least for those looking at journaling as a way to shake free of the spell of life spent constantly reading and writing online. Skip Moleskines, at least the expensive ones, if you’re just starting out. Cheap is the freedom to experiment. You can buy a box of 25 notebooks for about $30 shipped at, and they’re just fine.

patrickrhone / journal » Blog Archive » Journal Day

patrickrhone / journal » Blog Archive » Journal Day

There are many ways to celebrate or traditions one could keep to mark the day. For instance, this might be the day to take out previous journals and reflect on where you were then versus where you are today. Another tradition may be to let someone you trust read one you have kept and get to know the “real” you. Perhaps gift one to another person in your life who practices or you feel could benefit from doing so. Or, maybe, be so bold as to spend a year keeping a journal for someone else in your life whom you love and spend your days with — write down their day as you saw it or the things you were thinking about them at that time. How wonderful a gift would it be to allow someone close to “see” themselves and their year through your eyes?I think you get the general idea. I would love to see others expand upon it. Let’s make a deal: On or before next December 9th shoot me a note and let me know how you are celebrating Journal Day. I’d love the opportunity to consider making your Journal Day tradition one of mine.

Tomorrow is Journal Day. Are you ready?