The Pen

There’s one thing that every writer needs to have in his or her arsenal of tools: a pen.

No, I’m not talking about those three-for-a-buck Bic Stics. I’m talking about a nice pen. A really nice pen. One that requires more than the usual pittance of an investment to get, but makes up for the cost in substance.

Why, in this age of computers, PDA’s and voice recognition software (National Book Award Winner Richard Powers admits in this recent article that he didn’t “write” his last half-million words of published fiction – he dictates his work into a notebook computer1) bother with something so old school?

Lots of reasons. It’s tactile in a way that a keyboard isn’t2, and in my experience if you write something with a pen, you feel more connected to it (Stephen King agrees – he wrote a novel with a pen and remarked on how intimate a writing experience it was for him). If you’re doing a book signing and you pull out a Pen of Substance, it makes an impression. It’s the kind of status symbol that really fits a writer. And if you are a writer, what better way to treat yourself?

When I decided to get a Pen, I went to web sites that were the ultimate candy shop for kids like us, drooling through the window at the selection of fine writing implements. I found that “nice” pens start at around $20 and go up from there – you can easily drop two or three bills on a really fancy fountain pen (King and Neil Stephenson both wrote novels with fountain pens).

But I didn’t go that route. I ended up taking another route to get The Pen, and I ended up with something that is special in a way that the more expensive pens, as good as they are, can’t touch.

It all started a few years ago… many years ago, actually. A white oak that sat on the farm that is my wife’s ancestral home was cut down and made into a beam. That beam was used to build a woodshed outside the house where I now live. The shed stood for about 100 years, until it became unstable. Then it was torn down by my father-in-law and one of my nephews, with some help from my daughter. Last fall I rescued a broken piece of that beam – dirty and grey from age – and sent it to an old high school friend of mine who now lives in San Antonio, Texas.

He turned it into The Pen. But it’s not just any old Pen of Substance. This one was custom made to my preferences. I wanted a big, fat pen to accommodate long writing sessions. The Pen size is called El Grande, and it’s 5/8 of an inch in diameter at the wide part of the barrel. I asked for a wax finish so I could get a bit of a woody feel, and so it would develop a patina from my handling it as years go by. The titanium fittings give the best wear. And while it’s currently inking with a very nice Hauser Roller Ball cartridge, I made sure it would hold a Pilot G-2 refill3 (one of the best writing pens around IMHO). And of course, it’s made from wood harvested 100 years ago on the farm where my father-in-law, my wife, and my two kids grew up.

Now that’s a special pen.

It was so special, in fact, that I just couldn’t keep it to myself. My wife and I worked out our Christmas budget, and we had a slightly different version (the smaller -but-still-big Cigar size, smooth plastic finish, copper fittings, and a traditional Parker style ballpoint refill) made for all of my in-laws, nieces, and nephews who have ties to the farm. And yeah, my wife and kids each got one, too. And I should probably confess that I had an extra El Grande made for myself that I filled with a red ink refill for editing purposes. Manuscripts, beware!

And now, here’s the plug. You could go elsewhere and conceivably spend more on a Pen. Or you could visit One Wood Turn, have a chat with Dennis, and work out the details of how he can make you a one-of-a-kind Pen of Substance. You’re sure to end up with something very cool and wonderful that is highly functional, inks as well as anything on the market, and has great personal meaning. And you’ll be giving business to a friend of mine who does excellent work and who, like me, spent his high school career numbered among the uncool.

So now I have The Pen (okay… Pens), and I’m extremely pleased. It’s one fine writing machine, and the 100 year-old white oak looks and feels great.

Now all I have to do is have a guitar made from all of that loose maple and cherry lying around out there…

(written with The Pen)

Listening: Kevin Ayers, Don’t Sing No More Sad Songs (Whatevershebringswesing)


1 Link courtesy Faith In Fiction.
2 And by extension, a typewriter keyboard is more tactile than a computer keyboard, which is obviously more tactile than dictating into a microphone.
3 The G-2 gel ink is acid free, archive-save, costs about one dollar for a refill, and writes like a dream considering the price.

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