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 is 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.