The type of writing implement you choose to use changes the way you record your thoughts and the way you approach the act of writing. There are sensorial, visceral, and intellectually nuanced differences using a keyboard looking into a monitor, and writing longhand in a notepad with a fountain pen. These two writing processes are fundamentally different in how they affect your style, the development of your observational skills, willingness to experiment, freedom from inhibition, and the resultant tone of your writing.
Toward the end of last year I started researching fountain pens with the intention of drawing with them. As I drew, I found myself starting to write instead. Jotting down thoughts about art, the types of images I wanted to make, observations, ideas, etc, until words, instead of images, predominated.
There are some excellent, affordable fountain pens available and the dollar amount is not necessarily a predictor of how the pen will perform. The one I currently use is the Kaweco Sport: twenty two dollars for the pen, and about nine dollars for the piston converter. The pen itself is small with the cap screwed in place, measuring just over four inches. A perfect size as a travel companion for any pocket. I haven’t experienced any problems with it leaking, and it accompanies me on my travels. Once the cap is posted, the pen feels perfectly balanced in the hand and measures five and a quarter inches in length. It’s made of plastic, is light to the touch, and isn’t really the type of pen anyone will covet. If you have truly giant hands, or want something more substantial and prestigious, and a cheap, ordinary sized pen won’t do, you might look into the exquisitely made Montblanc Meisterstück 149. The Meisterstück 149 is made from precious resins, utilizes a handcrafted gold nib, is meticulously finished, weighty, and prohibitively expensive. I do not own such a pen, and if I ever do, I’ll write a review. There are pen conventions, secondhand pen dealers, and online auction sites that are worth looking into as the cost of those pens will be a fraction of the original price.
The Kaweco Sport does not aspire to be a fitting accessory for a gentleman’s ensemble. It’s unassuming, small, dainty even, and gets the job done. It comes with a fine nib and a cartridge of blue ink. I don’t prefer blue ink. Changing out the cartridge for a piston converter allows me to take a bottle of ink of my preferred color, black, and refill on the go. Using a piston converter eliminates the waste of tossing out plastic cartridges. Waterman black ink is opaque, has a nice sheen, isn’t sticky, and doesn’t smudge after drying for just a few seconds.
I’m writing this review in my office on a keyboard. It has the feel of clinical precision, a little academic, and maybe a tad more professional, perhaps? However, I like watching people, seeing how they move through space, the way they talk to one another, doodle as I’m thinking, write wherever I please, feel the nib tickle and scratch the surface of the paper, write abstractly, a little absurdly, organically, experimentally, feel less constrained and proper and more connected to nature, chuckle at stream-of-conscious intrusive thoughts that sometimes make their way onto the page. I can sit in the park, contemplate death in a graveyard and not have to find an outlet to charge my laptop. I’m more aware and connected to my surroundings and to the people that fill those spaces while writing with a fountain pen. I eavesdrop and find it fascinating how people speak and what they talk about, their demeanor, mannerisms, dress sense, and overall presentation. I can be a participant observer studying my environment and diverse communities, anywhere, at any time, and pick up and take off at a moments notice.
A fountain pen allows for everything to slow down, including my thoughts. I don’t need to be in a hurry to get the job done and hit, “publish.” What’s written isn’t likely to get published anyway, but serves to develop my thinking and observational skills in ways that tapping away on a keyboard, engrossed in a monitor, simply doesn’t accomplish in the same way. Sure, you can take your laptop anywhere, but I can pop that Kaweco Sport in a jersey pocket along with a little notepad and go for a ride and stop anywhere to write for a few minutes or several hours. Of course, you can put a laptop in a messenger bag and ride to the coffeeshop, but I’m arguing for a simultaneously tactile, linguistic, Imagistic experience outside of what has become the norm. There’s also the time it takes to write with a fountain pen. It’s slow, immediate, rewarding, and feels a little more permanent. Precision matters. I edit my thoughts before the ink is put down on the page because there’s time to think.
At first I thought writing with a fountain pen might be a cumbersome affair, a little antiquated and old fashioned. My doubts were quickly replaced with a newfound joy for writing, allowing for more artistic and stylistic experimentation to creep in. Even the layout on the page has become unconventional and compositional. When I draw in public, people crane to see if it’s any good. When I write, I write minutely, which takes patience and care. People can stare at the page all they want, it can’t easily be read. I write for myself.