Quite by accident I came across a little blog by Coner Murphy on medium.com with a rather intriguing title: “The Tools of Writing. And, Why No-one Cares About Them.” So, here I am reflecting on a topic that most of us never think about. Of course, one of the objectives of my weekly visits to “Kelly’s Place” is to stimulate your thinking about things we seldom think about. Like the things we use to write with.
Murphy’s blog opens with a question: “It’s said the pen is mightier than the sword but do we still need pens?” Good question and one that invites us to examine the many writing tools we use and how we are blessed with an overabundance of these tools. “Writing” can now mean much more than just putting words on paper. It might mean tapping out words on a Chromebook like I’m doing right now, using a dry erase marker on a white board, writing love letters in the sand (cue up the Pat Boone song), using a pencil to compose a poem on a yellow legal pad, jotting down notes on a napkin, or enjoying the pleasures of writing with a fountain pen.
Murphy’s concern, however, is not what tools we write with, but “the quality of writing.” And I like the not-so-subtle jabs he takes at the much overused MS Word, a tool I try very hard to avoid whenever possible. In case you are wondering, I am using Google Docs to compose this week’s column. When all is said and done, however, “It’s not the tool; it’s how you use it.” Murphy describes his multi-tool method of writing like this: “Even when I write these articles, I use multiple tools for writing. I plan my articles in my notebook, I type them up on Google Docs and check them with Grammarly. . . .One of the reasons I love Google Docs other than being free, is it’s minimalist and pure-design. This design allows me to focus purely on my writing with no distractions.”
At one point, Murphy uses the example of Harry Potter author JK Rowling to illustrate his point. In her own words, Rowling tells us “I still like writing by hand. Normally I do the first draft using pen and paper, and then do my first edit when I type it onto my computer. For some reason, I much prefer writing with a black pen rather than a blue one, and in a perfect world, I’d always use ‘narrow feint’ writing paper. But I have been known to write on all sorts of weird things when I didn’t have a notepad with me. The names of the Hogwarts Houses were created on the back of an aeroplane sick bag. Yes, it was empty.” And that is certainly nice to know. I had to look up “narrow feint” and discovered on Amazon.com that it is an English legal pad sort of paper that Amazon doesn’t ship to the United States.
I have a shadow box in my living room that houses two very important objects–the black Sheaffer fountain pen and ballpoint pen that were used by my Dad. Although he has been gone for forty-three years, those two pens are a constant reminder of how he still influences my writing. My earliest writing memories involve using those two pens and my Dad’s olive green Smith-Corona portable typewriter (not the electric kind) that has been lost along the way, much to my regret.
Today I use an array of writing tools. My daughter got me hooked on using Moleskine notebooks when she gave me a couple of them as a present. I never go anywhere without one these days. And I also carry a white bag filled with assorted Sheaffer and Parker ballpoint pens, along with a few Pentel mechanical pencils with .9mm lead. Sounds pretty nerdy, doesn’t it? Lest you worry, rest assured I don’t own any pocket protectors and don’t hold my glasses together with pieces of white masking tape. And let’s not forget the iPad Pro and Samsung Chromebook that are stuffed inside the same bag I use for my pen collection and clipboard with Moleskine notebook attached. And did I say I really like those neat disposable Pilot Varsity fountain pens? I really like writing with fountain pens, although they can be quite messy at times. My dad’s influence at work.
I agree with Murphy that in the end all that matters are the words we write with our assorted writing tools, although I have a hard time getting inspired using a plain old Bic Pen or MS Word. I must admit I do love fooling around with some of the many writing apps that are out there. I particularly like Noteshelf, Paper, and on occasion Ulysses. And I have a soft spot for Hanx Writer, an app created by Tom Hanks for those of us who miss using a manual typewriter. Yes, this app recreates the clickety-clacking of the keys and even reproduces the little bell sound that signals the end of one line and the beginning of another. And it’s neat that one of the available typewriters is a facsimile of that little green Smith-Corona I wish hadn’t been lost so many years ago.
I encourage you to explore the wonderful world of writing tools this week. But don’t forget that it’s always the words that matter in the end.
See you next week.