A writer’s tools
Once upon a time, the mother of a couple of young children decided she wanted to write a book, or three. But because she was, well, the mother of a couple of young children, she spent a fair amount of her time doing parental things like sitting and watching her son at soccer practice, and sitting outside the house of the music teacher during lessons, and sitting…
And because this was the late 1980s, and computers were large clunky boxes firmly attached to desks (insert word processing disk; eject; insert blank disk; type; eject…) the choices for mobile writing were either a portable typewriter, or a pen:
My first pen (on the left) was a simple Waterman bought in Oxford on the high street pen shop (still there—it’s called Pens Plus.) With it I wrote The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and most of A Monstrous Regiment of Women. I used buff colored paper clipped to an oversized artist’s clipboard (as in the photo), comfortable whether I was at home, or sitting behind the wheel of the Volvo while the kids were kicking a soccer ball or tormenting the music teacher’s piano.
A pen is a personal, highly tactile way to write. A fountain pen has the definite advantage of being gentle on the hands and wrist, since unlike pencils or a ball point, there’s no pressure involved, just directing the ink’s flow. I could write for hours and hours, which is how I wrote then, and I never got cramps or carpal tunnel syndrome or even so much as a callus.
And that was the only way I wrote. Even letters, I would draft by hand first, then transfer onto the computer. For a while, I would buy myself a new pen for a new book—the wooden one (bought in France) is the one that wrote Folly. (Folly being about a woodworker…) But then I found the Namiki (which seems to have gone walkabout at the moment, so I didn’t add that one to the photo—no doubt it’s off attending some writing conference.) The Namiki became my favorite, with its rare combination of a fine nib and an easy ink flow (Japanese characters, I imagine, requiring both) and I used that exclusively for a few years. All in all, I wrote nearly a dozen books in ink, until computers became small enough I could rest one on that same oversized clipboard and fool my brain into thinking it was still producing words with a pen.
I don’t tend to write first drafts with pens now, since the business of the rewrite and edit became just too cumbersome. I even cajoled my brain into writing letters on the machine, although I still need to see words on a page for any complex kind of edit. But I do use the pens still, when words are coming slowly, when I need to think things out in, well, a personal and tactile fashion.
When I need to think in pen and ink.