Is the pen is mightier than the keyboard ?

fountain pen

My name is jackspratt823 and I am an addict. Not whisky, not horses, not drugs. It’s something far more powerful, far more irresistible than any of those.

Fountain pens.

Can’t get enough of them. Like all addictions, the root of the problem goes back to my childhood. When I was at primary school we had these dip pens- dreadful things- like cocktail stick with a bent nail at the end to act as a nib. But then I got my first fountain pen- a Conway Stewart Dinky- and I was hooked. I like the clever machinery inside- the little plastic balloon that sucked up the ink from the bottle, and the lovely, liquid line which streamed on to the paper. It was love at first sight.

I don’t know how many I’ve got. I think it was forty seven at the last count. I’m an eclectic collector- a jackdaw- if it catches my eye, then I’ll buy it. But I’m not a fountain pen geek- one of those souls who carry seven different pens to work every day, with a different colour of ink in each one. No. That’s not me. I have an informal rota of pens I like- sometimes it’s the silver Cross my wife bought me, sometimes it’s the Parker Centennial ( big, black, classy. Use this to write out a shopping list and you feel as though you’re signing a treaty.)

Why bother ? Why not type it out on your computer/phone/tablet/hairbrush ? It’s the physicality of the act ot writing which appeals. Your ideas and intentions flow down your arm and into your fingers and onto the paper. It’s real.

Typing on a keyboard is a more abstract process. Your ideas are turned into a string of binaries ( I suppose) and appear on the screen in clusters of dots which look like letters. Somehow, there’s a gap between what you’re thinking and what appears on the screen.

And there’s no digital equivalent of handwriting ( there probably is but I haven’t seen it yet.)
Don’t get me wrong- I love the flexibility which word processing brings- the ability to cut and paste, the ability to organise an argument clearly. That’s brilliant. But I hate predictive text- that is creepy- you type something and some strange entity in the machine decides that you’re not allowed to say that. I’ve never heard of a fountain pen running amok.

And word processing speeds up the way you write. I always type medium to long pieces.

Which brings me to consider what writers did before the invention of the typewriter ( mechanical w/p) and the personal computer.

They wrote it all out. By hand.

Take Charles Dickens. Most modern novels run to about 60k words. A Dickens novel is, say, three or four times as long. Maybe 250,000 words.

Think about it.

How many bottles of ink did he get through a week ? Did he write at night ? If so, what was the candle bill ? Did he get a sore wrist ? Consider the motivation he must have had to put himself through what was a considerable ordeal.

And what goes for Dickens, goes for all the pre-19C writers.

Which leads me to this fascinating account of handwritten manuscripts. You can see it here :

So, where do you stand ? Word processor ? Fountain pen ? Roller ball ? Biro ( surely not…very smudgy.)

Tell me about the ways you use to transport those ideas down the arm and into the internet.


3 thoughts on “Is the pen is mightier than the keyboard ?

  1. I love fountain pens. My dream is to buy a custom-made Nakaya—one day. Right now I write with a Lamy in a Rhodia webbie. I just love the.. authentic feeling. And narcissism has got something to do with it, too, I suspect. The sight of one’s own handwriting, provided it’s any good, of course.

    But you’re right. It can get too slow sometimes, for example while writing a first draft, when you’re supposed to get the ideas down as quickly as possible. For this I just use a full-size keyboard. I can’t imagine how Dickens did it. What about the rewrites? Editing and proofreading?

    Anyways, great post. 🙂

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