On pen and ink

07 October 2016

This is a story about pens, so proceed as according to your level of interest in that topic. Or as according to your level of understanding that no topic is really just about that topic.

A couple of months ago, I started writing with fountain pens for the first time. I am traditionally picky with writing supplies, but with a different set of parameters than many might assume—I don’t like anything too nice. Fancy, leather-bound journals always intimidated me, so I stick with college-ruled composition notebooks. Similarly, why stray from drugstore pens when they’re cheap and plentiful? I eventually evolved to reliable gel pens, but no further. Writing must remain easy and accessible, as a necessity for survival.

I’m not sure exactly what inspired me to try a fountain pen at last. I did upgrade to recycled composition books recently; perhaps that was a catalyst for another slight writing routine change. But I ordered a pack of disposable fountain pens and, despite the too-thick lines they produced, liked them. So I tried a Pilot Metropolitan. Now, I am devoted, and will never touch an ordinary pen again.

Here’s the thing about fountain pens—they make you write differently. Or, more to the point, they allow you to write differently. The ink streams effortlessly. Rather than pressing down hard on paper, which I trained myself to do with ballpoint pens and pencils and which gel pens didn’t force me to correct, you touch a fountain pen lightly to paper. My hand moves more smoothly, my letters have more room to swirl and stretch. A few months ago, I was deliberately trying to improve my handwriting by reteaching my muscles to relax. I didn’t realize all I needed to do was remove the resistance, and the words would flow naturally.

At least, they do as far as the mechanics are concerned. Switching to writing with fountain pens while simultaneously trying to increase your writing output has turned out to be an interesting metaphorical experiment. Does the ease extend to the mental and emotional faculties of writing? Does removing the resistance to physically making words also improve the ability to infuse them with meaning? So far, my experience has concluded negatively on this count. In fact, my elegant, sweeping, purposeful marks on paper have only highlighted that I can’t seem to make as much of them as I want to, or make them as significant as I envision.

But they do look lovely.

So I keep making them. Fountain pens run through ink quickly, lavishly, and I refill mine frequently. I cover page after page, and I don’t worry as much about meaning. I learn to trust that after I step back and let the ink dry, the meaning will become clear.


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