National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 27

Once you reach a certain level of luminance as an Author, you start cultivating an appreciation for the fine details of the tools and implements of the the writing process. The average person picks up a ballpoint and the most granular awareness of the tool is that it either has ink in it or it doesn’t.

But a seasoned writer picks up a pen and appraises it with the same careful eye and seasoned touch that a Samurai warrior brings to a set of daish? presented by a master swordmaker.

Indeed. To a writer, the pen is both a tool of healing and a weapon of vengeance. It has heft. It has balance. Ideally, it’s not even a tool at all but a natural extension of the mind and the body; when we write, we interact with the minds of the readers, not with the pen and the paper. The correct tools fade into invisibility.

And so it was with some distress that I learned that Pentel was redesigning the Excalibur line of pens. No flashy “show” pen, this: it is manifestly the implement of a working creative. I throw out the “stock” cartridge that it ships with, and replace it with a Staedtler Mars Professional M120. The cartridge is designed for technical illustration; it lays down a very lively, sinuous line of extremely dense Roadtripper Husky Blue. Somehow, the combination of flare and color works in complete harmony with the word-pictures that I am crafting.

As for the pen itself, it nestles perfectly between the tip of my thumb and the crook of my index finger’s first knuckle. It’s rubberized only at this single contact point. The entire rest of the tool is ridged metal. It’s easy to retrieve from the desk after I’ve spent a few moments lost in thought and the cool metal against the web of skin between my thumb and forefinger presents the occasional flash of additional sensory input that keeps the thoughts churning through my brain in interesting ways.

You are, no doubt, surprised to find that I write with such a so-called “archaic” tool instead of one of the many computers in my office. A computer keyboard is far too stark, far too “digital” a tool to accommodate the universes of fancy and emotion that emerge from the pen like graceful silk from a spider. And the worlds I create are indeed just as fragile as a spiderweb. I cannot entrust them to a vulgar and invisible sequence of ones and zeroes.

It is about the line, the loops, the whorls, dancing across the pages of a series of paper notebooks. Clairefontaine Dural A4’s, ideally. Whenever I’m visiting the UK, I purchase these notebooks in case lots. Each volume holds a chapter of a book quite comfortably. And it’s quite possibly the only notebook designed for creative handwriting.

I have tried others. I have been disappointed in all of them. Moleskines? The Moleskine is to the Clairefontaine as the Monkees are to the Beatles, I assure you; I see a young author carving into the mica-like surface of a Moleskine and my natural compassion compels me to intervene. But my higher functions stay my hand. He cannot be taught. He must come to the Knowledge as I did.

There are papers that fail to provide a stark white playing field across which my little black dot can gambol and romp. Others place the ruling staves too widely or too closely together. Words are like orchids; they need just the right amount of “air” around them to survive and flourish.

Some papers resist the ink like the closed mind of a frustrated book reviewer. Others are absolute damned sluts for the stuff, sucking up as much as it can as fast as I can deliver it, like the indiscriminate reader of Danielle Steel novels. The ink goes where the paper wants it to, not where I direct it. I do not allow my editors to assume such an impertinent attitude regarding my words. I do not understand why I should accord such latitude to my papers.

Like the back of a reliable laborer, the notebook’s spine must be strong but capable of bending freely. For this notebook is the paper skiff that shall take me on endless adventures with my story, and at times this adventure transports me through the real world as well as the world of imagination.

I shame myself by taking such an active interest in the notebook’s covers as well. In the adventure of writing, the appearance of the notebook is of no consequence and as such, emotional attachment is energy wasted. But the romantic in me takes pride in each scuff and crease that the notebook acquires. By the completion of the first draft, the object has acquired endless charm and character and done it the honest way: through time and experience. The irony of that accidental but incorrigible process is too perfect.

I’m probably boring you at this point; I can sense that in my reverie has become self-indulgent. I apologize; to me, these are the familiar touchstones that magnetically attracts the ephemeral zephyr of the creative force and helps me to somehow bind it into permanence. They help me. They Heal me.

I don’t expect you to understand. It simply isn’t your way. Some of us are just living in harmony with the higher planes.

But cool. I’ve just written my mandatory 1200 words for the day, which means I can blow off work and spend the next three hours blasting Nazis straight to ****ing hell on my PSP.