The accoutrements of writing. Part 2. Tools.
Not the grammar and vocabulary. Not those tools. The other ones. Are you a typewriter person (still) or a pen and paper person? Most of us are keyboarding. I am on a keyboard for a few reasons, including the obvious ones: ease of correction and the need to have a digital manuscript at some point. However, I have a collection of typewriters ranging from Underwood to IBM and a serious obstacle to using many of them is how hard it is to punch those keys. The newer electric ones are even a bit of a pound compared to the lightest of touches required on my Mac. I want to see the hands of the newspapermen and women who pounded out story after story on these marvels of iron. The oldest in my collection is the Underwood and the keyboard is at such a steep angle and the keys are so stiff it is no wonder the hunt and peck method was used. It takes all the force of my hand directed at one finger to make that key strike hard enough. Bruised fingertips anyone? The ink pen hits a similar roadblock. The first thing to consider is the type of pen. As much as I hate to admit it, the modern roller ball is a marvel of invention. It is light weight and the ink flows. If you take this for granted – after all, why shouldn’t ink simply flow – then you haven’t had the pleasure of using a fine fountain pen much less an old quill. I love my Mont Blanc, it is a thing of beauty and elegance but it’s not exactly light weight and… well, the ink. Once you open that cap you had better write and keep writing otherwise the nib goes dry. On the other end you need to allow enough time for the ink to dry on the page. Generations of fountain pen writers must have had a cadence to their work that reflected this. Slow and steady to keep the ink flowing and at the same allow time for the ink to dry. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is one reason penmanship was so elegant. You needed to allow time and that allowed for the perfect construction of letters. My handwriting is a mere scribble – it looks like I took the medical school class where doctors learn to write unintelligibly – and can be useless even to me. What was that word? That note? It needs to come with a translation dictionary. I also have a collection of inkwells. They run the gambit from heavy bronze to cut glass and silver to a hollowed out seashell. Their forms are endlessly creative. They are formal and playful. They are crafted in the shape of wild animals and solemn squares. I won’t bother to detail the problems with a quill pen (I use the word pen loosely here). Scratch scratch sums it up. Think inks blots. Dry ink. Spilled ink. It’s enough to make you dash off a quick email to the folks who created the modern keyboard and the delete button and undo and save and save as and so many other conveniences that we take for granted. While I celebrate – and use – the most modern of writing tools I realize that they aren’t necessary. That’s part of the beauty of writing. Scratch words in the dirt, use the end of a borrowed broken pencil on a paper napkin. The meaning of the words is what matters. That is the constant that connects all writers from the first moment someone wrote the story of Ulysses’ journey until today and this very moment. So pick a writing tool and just get on with it.