Like many of you, perhaps, I've always been interested in not only the instruments of writing, but in those who use those instruments as tools of their trade -- professional writers. This page is devoted to a number of my customers who are novelists and non-fiction writers, and who share the love of fountain pens that most likely drew you to this website in the first place.
I've found that many readers have a fascination with the tools and habits of those who actually earn their living through the creative process of imagination and writing (most of us harbor the conceit that we too could pen that next great science fiction or mystery book, or that the Great American novel lies buried deep within, if only we had the time to sit down and write it).
Well, here are some very talented people who are actually doing it, and I've asked them to share some of their thoughts and feelings about the allure of writing instruments in general, fountain pens in particular, and perhaps a secret or two about their own creative process as writers.
Katie Lyn Branson
Bookshelf' blog can be found here
Fountains pens have been calling
to me for quite some time, mostly from the fact that they are 'vintage' in my
mind. It is what you expect a serious writer to use. I've only been using
fountain pens for the past year, but since then I do have to say that my writing
has taken a turn by having the fountain pens. I find I can write much faster as
I don't have to press down on the page like I would with a ball point. I am not
a person who can easily move their hands across a page without getting a cramp,
so the fountain pens make it that much easier.
Why Fountain Pens?
Jack Labusch, who describes himself as a “reviving penman”, is a semi-retired technical writer and advertising salesman. Recently he finished a book-length commentary in manuscript on health care, and he’s written a “whole lot”, as he describes it, of unpublished ephemera for his own amusement and uplift.
Picture a 300-word letter to the editor, or a 650-word newspaper essay. If you have mastery of your subject matter and a strong understanding of your intended audience, you may indeed compose rapidly at your computer’s keyboard. But mastery is sometimes deceptive, a self-delusion. The polished phrases you’ve used routinely may be a sign you’re saying the same old things to the same old people. You’re not thinking anymore. You’re stroking. There’s nothing wrong with rhetorical comfort food. But, do you really want to eat macaroni and cheese all the time?
That means settling into the hard work of writing. That means thinking, that means research, that means making a lot of judgments about subject matter, audience, choice of language, aggressiveness or restraint in argument, and so on. Can I say what I want to say and be believed? If not, is there an alternate way of saying the same thing? When I was writing about health care, I studied organized labor’s historical closed shop for about a year, only to discover the phrase “closed shop” didn’t mean anything to people. You bet, “grind” is the right word to describe writing at its most difficult.
To start, I’ll have a legal pad, an 8 1/2” X 14” in canary yellow that I buy a dozen at a time. I’ll have it slipped into a padfolio or secured to a clipboard. Yes, I experiment with other papers, pads, and what-not. I’ve developed a real liking for Rhodia and Alvin pocket notebooks, and the claims made about the quality of the paper seem justified to me.
I’ll have a fist full of writing tools, too. Drafting pencils, the darker 4B grade, I’ve used for decades, and I’ll order those a dozen at a time. I’ve sometimes used colored pencils to accent ideas, or for mind-mapping, which is just brainstorming on paper. Sometimes I’ll have a straightedge, or drafting triangles, or templates, if I want to make my doodling a little more upmarket. Yes, I’ll have erasers, too, the stick type and oblongs.
Some time ago I’d begun a re-acquaintanceship with a fountain pen I’d bought twenty years earlier on the “Montblanc principle”: it looked good and helped me burn through money. The pen is a sterling silver gem put out by a major manufacturer, and tipped with a wonderfully smooth 14K gold nib. I hadn’t used it often, and in recent years cartridges seemed increasingly difficult to find. We live in a world of reliable stick pens at less than 25¢ each. Why bother with a fountain pen that appears to be obsolete?
Well, I liked writing with the darned thing. When it developed looseness in the snap fit (since repaired with a Q-Tip and toothpick), I looked for a replacement. I describe the search for a fountain pen in a blog entry I was invited to post on Pocket Blonde, run by Diane Fennel. I didn’t even know what I was looking for until I stumbled onto the Web community of fountain pen enthusiasts, such as Fountain Pen Network, Pocket Blonde, and maybe two dozen more. Whatever pen savvy I have, I borrowed from the generous opinions of others.
Why fountain pens? is the question. I told Norman I’d suggest a fountain pen to any student or writer for the purpose of changing up, or breaking out of a bad groove. I’d been an amateur drummer, and sometimes you can climb out of a musical rut by changing your tools, such as working the toms, or laying on the wire brushes. Is price a concern? Yes, sure. I’m pretty confident the “Montblanc principle” includes the idea that “this pen is so expensive you wouldn’t actually write with it, or buy a second one, or carry it in your pocket”. Norman’s high-end Chinese pens are writers, they’re very well made, and they’re priced so you don’t feel like a darned fool when you order one.
Proof of the pudding. This morning I sent a postcard to a woman I’ve known for years who’s traveling in Washington State. I used my Jinhao, described by Norman as having a Western-sized medium nib. What Linda will see is an ink (Private Reserve’s Velvet Black) that’s remarkably darker than what she’s used to, and something unexplainable about the handwriting---the nibbed pen’s variation in line width, sometimes called shading. She’ll guess I want to make an impression on her. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?
I’m old enough to have learned cursive with a fountain pen, and never got over it. Oh, ball points and gel pens are okay. But nothing comes close to the look and feel of a good, real pen. A good pen is my best friend in court, taking notes for the boss, and handling exhibits between attorneys and the court.
My stories always start in longhand, usually while sitting in the courtroom awaiting the judge’s verdict. Yes, I do the majority of writing on the computer, but I fear I can’t edit there. I still have to print out the manuscript, then go at it with a pen.
The Wing Sung burgundy is my newest pen, my first from His Nibs, but it definitely won’t be my last. Now I just have to worry about the boss, or a client making off with it.
Many of the stories I write are about serial killers, and criminals in general. Please rest assured that horrible, mutilating scenes are just my own way of getting things out of my system, so I don’t do it for real. I also have never knowingly associated with any real criminals, other than the few my boss represents.
And as my disclaimer in all my stories says, all identities have been changed to protect the innocent, and the stupid. Don’t sue me. I don’t have much anyway.
A K M Adam
A K M Adam is a biblical scholar, theologian,
author, priest, technologist and blogger. He is Visiting Professor of New
Testament at Duke Divinity School. He is a writer, speaker, and activist
who simultaneously engages the worlds of theology and technology on
topics including postmodern philosophy, hermeneutics, education and
Although I've been involved with digital technology since the
late seventies, I have long relished the sensual satisfaction of writing and
drawing with rich, wet ink on paper whose texture you can feel through a pen's
nib. When I write an essay, a book or a sermon, I very frequently need to set my
trusty Apple laptop aside and start drafting outlines, notes, and arguments on
legal pads (or note cards or my pocket Moleskin). The kinetic engagement of more
of my muscles, of my mind's capacity to shape letters more or less well,
inspires more variable, more colorful, and usually more fluent and convincing
prose to fill my legal pages. Typing at my computer -- much as I love it
-- lacks the multidimensional aesthetic stimulation that handwriting with my
pens provides, and I write better when more of my faculties contribute to the
The author's most recent book is Faithful Interpretation.
Karen Traviss is a New York Times bestselling novelist who's been collecting pens since childhood. She lives in Wiltshire, England, and has a weakness for Sheaffer Tuckaways, superflex nibs, and Yard-O-Led pencils.
Pens - real pens, that is, with proper nibs and honest, messy ink - are the antidote to a high-tech writers' life. I'll be the first to admit that the PC and word processing software make life much easier for writers: whoever developed the cut-and-paste function deserves a Nobel prize for their contribution to writers' sanity. And have you ever had to check through 600 pages of typed copy to find and replace every use of a certain word? When you're knocking out 150,000 words, electronics wins every time.
I have writer friends who swear by doing drafts in longhand because it stops them hammering out a stream of consciousness. They feel the keyboard is just to fast to allow the self-editing process that's inherent in manual writing to take place. I'm not sure I could work that way: I'd never keep up with my schedule, for a start, and I need to see words on a screen in an impersonal typeface. That helps me dissociate from the intensely personal act of writing and see the work as a book, as the reader will see it. But the more I use computers, the more comfort (in every sense of the word) I find in pens, especially vintage ones.
I do all my outlining, planning and revision on paper. After a brief flirtation with three-by-five cards, fiction planning software and scraping pointed sticks in the dirt, I now use Clairefontaine plain A5 notebooks and a real pen. Now, that might sound as if I have just the one instrument. I lied. I'm too embarrassed to reveal just how many fountain pens I have, but I can honestly say the collection hasn't topped three figures - yet. Right now, I'm using a 90 year old Waterman eyedropper, a Doric with an adjustable nib, a tiny 1920s gold-filled Eversharp ladies' pen, a Mottishawed Namiki VP, and one of His Nibs' extra-fine nibbed Hero pens for line-editing and marking proofs. No, you're right - nobody needs to carry five fountain pens around with them, but this isn't about need. It's about ritual.
Applying a beautiful ink to fine paper with a flexible nib changes you and the way you think. It slows you down. It eases those neck twinges you get from hours at a keyboard. It makes you think of the form of words and ideas, how they look as well as how they sound. And when you handle a very old pen, you can't avoid wondering what it wrote before it came into your possession.
Let's face it - lugging a laptop into your favourite coffee shop just isn't the same as sitting down to a steaming latte and taking out pen and paper to indulge in some thinking time. Fountain pens are civilized. In fifty, maybe a hundred years' time, someone else will be making use of my pens and finding as much pleasure in them as I did: but the software will be long gone.
Mike Toot has written or edited fourteen books about computer software, performed Shakespeare, argued cases in front of state Supreme Court judges, and competed in offshore sailing events. He currently resides in Seattle with his wife and Maine Coon cat in a fully-renovated 1908 Craftsman house. He loves to do absolutely nothing on weekends.
There's something about computer technology that just doesn't lend
itself to love. I write about computers and software for a living, and I never
come home and croon a sonnet to my keyboard or wax poetic about a
I got hooked on fountain pens when my daughter gave me the incredible gift of a granddaughter, the magnificent Sophia (picture above). I decided that there was nothing for it but to write journals for her--one for her as a little girl, another one (maybe two) for when she was old enough to hear family history as I remember it. That's what is lost to us--who our people were. Our grandparents are so often nothing more than ciphers to us and as for great-grands and more--ephemeral bits of smoke and drift. And of course, since I am writing them in these magnificent Italian leather-bound journals, nothing would do but to write them using fountain pens. So far, my favorite is an inexpensive Sheaffer recommended by His Nibs himself--writes as smooth as butter and I have that great copper color in it right now.
I've been writing for years, mostly on computers because I can type as fast as I think. The first completed opus was a sci-fantasy work begun at age 20 which will probably never see the light of day. Currently I'm working on two things at once (it's that attention-span thing). One is a supermarket romance I intend to publish under a pseudonym. I have it being reviewed by two friends who are not great fans of romances and they have told me that if I leave them hanging they will hunt me down and make me finish it. This is a good sign. The other I have just begun is a memoir about my brother who died of AIDS at age 35--some of his life, some of mine. Not sure where it's going, but I'm pretty sure it's going under a pseudonym also with lots of details changed as my father is still living and we've finally achieved peace.
Here is an preliminary, unedited excerpt from that, with some of the details changed because, well, you know...
S. L. Viehl
I have been in love with
fountain pens since my grandmother gave me my first Parker back in high school
(about the same time the wheel was invented.) The flow of the ink and the feel
of the nib against paper made me feel like my hand was dancing as I wrote. All
the writers I admired had written their stories with quills they dipped in ink,
so I felt an immediate connection to the past as well. Only I didn't have to go
catch a goose and pluck it first if I wanted to write a story.
Like most authors today
(excluding Grisham who may be some kind of mutant
from a writer's planet) I write using a PC. When you're what editors call an
'organic writer' like myself, however, and too lazy to do outlines, you have
to slog through numerous drafts. I accomplish that with paper and pen,
and a fountain pen is my preferred weapon.
Unlike ballpoints, fountain pens are as individualistic as their owners. I have pens as ancient as something just over one hundred years (an eyedrop fill Waterman) to modern marvels from HisNibs.com like my new Monteverde (which is swiftly becoming my favorite) and each of them has it's own feel and writing characteristics. They are a joy to use and a joy to own for all their temperament. Fountain pen ownership is almost like pet ownership. Mistreat a ballpoint and throw it away. Mistreat a fountain pen and it will bite.
I'm a would-be writer. My biography is easy to tell, since I haven't
done much that would be of any interest except to myself. I'm a
State environmental enforcement guy working in a rural area, checking
out what industry we have.
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If an item proves to be defective, in most cases the manufacturer's warranty will apply. However, please email us first so that we can determine the easiest way to resolve the problem to your satisfaction. In the case of fountain pens -- which are a bit more individualistic than other writing instruments -- what may at first appear to be a defect (hard starting or poor flow for example), can in almost all cases be resolved with a few simple 'tweaks' to the nib, which we'll be happy to guide you through or perhaps suggest returning to us for adjustment.
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Revised: June 19th, 2013