Our good friends at Nock are officially open to the public after a long wait (and very successful Kickstarter campaign). Nock makes high quality and affordable pen and accessory cases for the writing minded. In addition, they are offering some unique 3×5 cards and notebooks for sale on launch too. I have some of their Chimneytop cases and they are a fantastic value for their utility. Check out Nock.
A persuasive confessional for The Cramped by Andy Welfle
I’ve always been in love with the technology behind the act of writing. Given a pen, pencil, eraser, paintbrush, notebook or other piece of scribomechanica, I’d play with it for hours. My grandmother used to sit me down and let me try out her manual typewriter; a 1970s-era Underwood speckled with white-out flecks and a dual-colored ribbon loaded in. We played with her fountain pens, and one of my favorite possessions is an old, 70 year-old dusky blue Esterbrook Dollar Pen that I inherited after she died. It still works like a champ.
As a kid, I used pencils as much as anyone. A child of the 90s, I used those thick, untipped blue pencils given to me in grade school, bright, neon Yikes! pencils in middle-school, and the ubiquitous Bic Matic mechanicals in high school.
I lost touch with graphite in college, though. I had some spending money for nice rollerball pens, and I found myself typing notes as often as I wrote them.
After college, though, I had a reunion. I was working as an administrator for a small nonprofit, and my day consisted of writing little lists of things to do, erasing line items, re-writing them, and doing it all over again. I’d pencil in appointments, erase parts of the entry, and rewrite.
A pencil was perfect for all this.
I realized that I was born again. I did a little research, found some nice pencils, and marveled at how much better an experience quality pencils provided than cheaper, generic big-box-mart could ever give. That led to writing about them, which led to pencil blogging.
So it’s hard to condense why I like pencils into one post. I’ll try, but I have to break my reasons into two categories of apologetics: the high-minded philosophical reasons, and the pragmatic, practical reasons.
Using a pencil ushers you into a long, grand tradition of writing. This is the argument that I think appeals most to fountain pen users who are pencil-curious. Like fountain pens, pencils are a tribute to technologies gone by, like shaving with a straight razor or driving a car with a manual transmission. Ernest Hemingway wrote about his pencils. So did John Steinbeck. Heck, Henry David Thoreau was born into a family of pencil-makers and worked at his father’s pencil factory.
Using a pencil is the purest form of writing, without getting your fingers dirty. There’s essentially no difference between writing with your pencil and drawing on a cave wall with a charred stick. Sure, the formula has been refined and the stick has been encased in wood, but in practice, it’s the same — just rub some carbon off onto a flat surface. It’s built into your psyche; your ancestors have been doing it for tens of thousands of years.
Pencils offer a lesson in temporality. Life is fleeting, and so is your pencil. My grandmother’s 70 year-old Esterbrook, if I keep it in good condition, will probably go another 70 years. But even the best pencil, no matter how well I take care of it, will disappear with use. It’s fundamentally selfless — in order for me to create, it destructs. And if it has an eraser, it absolves me from my mistakes with literal pieces of itself.
(Don’t worry, I won’t take this metaphor to a Messianic level.)
The tip is adjustable. For writers, like me, this isn’t as big a deal as it is for artists. If you’re handy with a knife, or have some nice sharpening equipment, you can put as fine a point or as blunt a nub on a pencil as you choose and really vary the thickness of the line. I, myself, prefer a long, sharp point, fine enough to easily stab someone, but I know those who write bigger and want something with which they can apply pressure to paper without breaking.
Graphite is fade proof and waterproof. Okay, so it’s not rub-proof, But it’s great for writing in extreme weather conditions. You know that thing that’s been going around about how during the great race to space, the Americans spent millions of dollars developing a pen that writes in zero-gravity, and the Russians just used a pencils? Okay, that’s been debunked. But, if it’s pouring rain and you’re out in the field with a Rite-in-the-Rain notepad, you’re golden.
There are a lot of cool, interesting pencils out there. Just google “Blackwing 602” and read the story of the most famous pencil in the world. Read up on bullet pencils. Go watch the Yikes! pencil commercial on YouTube. Then you tell me pencils are boring. There is a such a wide world of visually and historically appealing pencils than the jaundiced, yellow-washed aisle at Walgreens where you might otherwise pick up your graphite.
Pencils for (almost) any occasion
I’m biased, of course. I have a blog and a podcast about pencils. But I don’t have stars in my eyes — I know perfectly well there are situations when a pencil isn’t appropriate. But fountain pens? Typewriters? Even Markdown text editors like I’m using to compose this article? Plenty of situations aren’t ideal for those, either.
I’m not here to advocate that you switch to pencils and only to pencils. But think about how you can fit it into your workflow. Do you make a lot of lists or put entries in your Hobonichi planner? Pencils are perfect.
While my old Esterbrook (and a few other choice fountain pens) are fun to use, and great to whip out on occasion to impress clients, the humble wooden pencil will always remain the most flexible and useful tool in my drawer.
My handwriting is atrocious. Seriously. It’s really scrawny and it gets worse as I try to quickly scribble down important snippets of information often making it nearly impossible for me to read and decipher at a later date. I’ve also favoured using notepads to take notes which creates a stack of unorganised loose sheets of A4 paper with no real order to them. It’s very chaotic to say the least! I have therefore decided to try taking notes using "mark up" that will allow me to systematically make readable notes that will be useful when I come to refer back to them at a later date.
Gareth goes on to explain how he landed on creating his own note taking markup system. As I’ve said before, the best system is the one that works for you. If you can’t find it — create it.
On this day in 1868, the first typewriter was patented by Christopher Latham Sholes. It only had capital letters and it took up as much room as a large table. Typewriters were slow sellers at first, but Mark Twain bought one almost as soon as they came out, and in 1883 Twain sent the manuscript of his book Life on the Mississippi (1883) to his publisher in typed form, the first author ever to do so.
So the next time you can’t connect to the Internet, look at your workspace and do what’s right. The next time you don’t want to pay for hotel wi-fi, look at your workspace and do what’s right. The next time you don’t have your devices at all, look at your workspace and do what’s right.
What’s right is using what you have on hand that does not require the things you don’t. In most cases, that is pen/pencil and paper. Excellent post from Mr. Vardy.
So I’m going right back to the drawing board, literally. The most fundamental form of note-taking is via the pen and paper. We can still read ideas and notes written hundreds of years ago. Paper is a fundamental material of humanity and you can bet it will be around for a very long time.
Agreed. In general, we need to get away from the idea that paper is somehow more fragile and less permanent. The fact is, history shows the opposite to be true. Now, in fairness, digital has not been around long enough to prove that it is longer lasting. That said, I’ve personally lost dozens of documents only a few years old to things as simple as no longer supported file formats. Writing that I will likely never see again. Yet, the horrible poetry I wrote 30+ years ago is still in my basement reminding me how far I’ve come. Also, digital files require software and hardware to read them. Paper requires no other tools to read than the ones you are born with.
So, if you are looking for an always on, platform agnostic, no further tools needed place to work on your best ideas — ones you hope will last for centuries — paper is the only logical choice.
In Kansas, 9-year-old Spencer Collins has been told by authorities that he must stop sharing books with his neighbors, and close the little free library–honestly, it’s just a bookshelf–in his yard. Its slogan was "take a book, leave a book," but city government is mostly about the taking.
Speaking of Little Free Libraries, here’s a heartbreaking story about a little boy that loves to read, loves to share that joy, and that a city in Kansas is making him shut it down.