Can Your Pencil Tell You How to Become a Better Writer?
The writing instrument you choose becomes the one to which you whisper secrets. An extension of the muse. The magician’s wand. For some writers, a great deal of thought goes into which pen, or in some cases, which pencil becomes an intimate.
Do you have one? I do. I named it THE, as in, “Hey kid, back off. That’s my THE pencil. You’re gonna ruin the mojo if you keep touching it.” I have a THE pen, too. But perhaps more important than the name of your trusty writing stick is the brand. The brand is the instrument’s pedigree. It has to have that certain something. Alchemy, I guess.
Most of us have our favorites. Some even buy them in great batches for fear of becoming obsolete and disappearing.
Pens are Full of Ink, but the Blackwing is Full of Ideas
Since the 1930’s, the pencil of choice for illustrators, poets, novelists, and musicians would be the highly-fabled, Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. John Steinbeck reportedly used around 300 of them to complete East of Eden, asserting the Blackwing was the “best I ever had.” Vladimir Nabokov used note cards and Blackwings to write Lolita. Illustrator Chuck Jones told Larry King that pens were full of ink, but the Blackwing was full of ideas. Now, that’s romance.
Poet Archibald MacLeish was a self-described “pencil man, ” and his pencil of choice was the Blackwing. In Collected Poems he is quoted as writing in a letter to an editor,
Will this do as a manuscript? It doesn’t show corrections, but it shows me as a pencil man and, worse still, a slave to the eraser. (Black Wing pencils have erasers which eradicate as clean as time. As for the lines themselves–they went into a notebook and never came out again because Dylan’s death was too great a loss and George Barker’s piece was too deeply felt to fool with it in a tone like this one. But that’s all in the past now. People die too absolutely these days–disappear like pencil marks to an eraser–black wing.
Then, in 1998, without so much as a tolling of bells, the faithful Blackwing was discontinued. People panicked in the streets and the obsessed began hoarding the coveted pencil. Others would snarl at anyone wishing to borrow one, or worse, have one. Any given day on ebay, one can bid on a single Eberhard-Faber Blackwing 602 original and pay upwards of $50. A box can sell for over a thousand dollars. This is THE pencil, apparently.
Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed
Aficionados claim that it writes like Beyonce sings. The eraser is more elegant and cooler than any ordinary pencil eraser. The layered paint has a shimmery, charcoal finish. It sparkles. Like a bass boat.
Emblazoned on the side: “Half the pressure, twice the speed.”
I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds like my kind of voodoo. Yeah. Twice the speed. Like a bass boat. And I want to be the bass master, or the Bass-O-Matic of writerdom. Something like that.
Recently, dandy pencil manufacturer Palomino recreated the Blackwing, and with it, the return to joy and the stuff of creativity. Need convincing? Watch Ode to Blackwing.
Is Your Pencil Holding You Back from Being a Better Writer?
If so many brilliant writers and artists used this pencil, swore to this pencil, pledged their lives to a pencil… then it has to be THE pencil, right? Sadly, I’ve never tried one. This could be the answer to the nagging question, “Why am I not a famous writer and poet, yet?!”
The Blackwing 602 could get us there.
However, maybe the Blackwing 602 isn’t for you. Perhaps for you, THE writing instrument is the gourmet-scented Smencil, the bendy pen, or the gigantic Dixon-Ticonderoga Junior pencil. It’s cool. No judgement here. I like them, too.
Perhaps all good writing is created by the effort to keep on with pen or pencil in hand, scribbling away, or by the click-click-click of the keyboard. But maybe, just maybe, a little word magic and poetic sorcery lies within the smooth, steely graphite of a legendary pencil.
Maybe. Couldn’t hurt.
Photo by Maggie Osterberg. Used with permission; sourced via Flickr. Post by Heather Eure.
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Will Willingham says
You had me at “Half the pressure, twice the speed.”
I am quirky about my pens and pencils. Have been known to hoard a certain type, which I am not revealing here in case anyone else gets wind of it and drains the marketplace of them for all time. Was once a big fan of a certain fountain pen, but couldn’t keep up with its ink needs.
Smooth and fast carries the day. 🙂
Heather Eure says
I had a favorite fountain pen once. Sadly, it was the ink that ended our relationship, too. I set it on my desk, and said, “Darling, it’s not you, it’s me… hmm. Well, actually it is you.”
Maureen Doallas says
Oh, I hope all good writing doesn’t require using a pen or pencil. I gave mine up years ago and write virtually everything on my Mac.
I do understand the attachment, however. My husband is a pen collector and user and is very particular in his choices.
I have gone to one pen show. I just couldn’t relate.
Heather Eure says
Woody Allen has used a Olympia SM3 typewriter for decades, so when it comes down to it, it’s all about preference and what facilitates the creative process.
Remember the Disney film, Dumbo? He held on to a feather because he believed it helped him fly. Later he learned that it wasn’t the feather that caused him to soar. He had the stuff of flight within him all along.
Charity Singleton Craig says
Whenever I hold a good pencil or pen in my hand, I know it. But when it comes to day to day writing, any writing instrument will do. I have a very hard press when I write, and pens and pencils tend to wear out quickly under my grip. I can hardly afford the best.
But, perhaps my path to fame and fortune will be paved with an amazing pen . . .
The power of “yet.”
Heather Eure says
Charity, I can wear out a pen, too- bearing down hard. I like what you said. It reminds me of that great quote: “I go seek a great perhaps.”
When you’re published, I can’t wait to read in the acknowledgements, “I’d like to thank my pen…”
Monica Sharman says
Oh yes, I would definitely thank my pen!
I am a pen-and-paper person (not computer), so I loved reading this. I’ve read Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel, so it was fun to see that reference.
I’m sure that what you wrote here caused a spike in Blackwing sales.
I am an avowed Blackwing drafter. Stupendous lead. Crazy obsession.
Anthony, I’m very glad to hear from a Blackwing-ophile. It’s nice to know why people *still* love this pencil.
Kathryn Neel says
*Alvin Penstix #3015-EF pens for drawing & doodling
* Rexel Cumberland Derwent Graphic Pencils
*Core CRD fountain pen for writing
*Moleskine notebooks for drawing & journals
* Circa notebooks for technical/professional work
Heather Eure says
That’s a great list. I have an affinity for Derwent drawing pencils, too. They are darling. What’s your favorite eraser?