Saturday, October 15, 2011

What Are the Benefits of Writing With Fountain Pens?

Someone who read about this project over on the NaNoWriMo site asked me what the benefits are of writing with a fountain pen. There are numerous benefits, which is why I chose to answer this question in a second post, instead of making yesterday's post longer. Some of these benefits are tangible, while others will vary from person to person. And I've saved some of the best, or at least those which apply to everyone, for last.

As a writer, the most important benefit is the way using fountain pens aids the process of writing. When the ideas are flowing hot and heavy, the nib never has trouble keeping up, yet the act of using a pen of this sort encourages a bit more thought than banging away on a keyboard. The simple knowledge that the words I write cannot be "undone" forces me to think about what I'm writing, and that leads to better writing that needs less editing later. And, since there are none of the annoyances, interruptions, and crashes so common when using a computer, I don't lose the thread of the story to the fickle whim of a stray electron.

Often, the simple act of holding and using a certain pen will inspire me; I may ink up an Esterbrook Dollar Pen made in 1941-42 (something I can tell from the style of the clip) to write a story set during World War Two. Thinking of how that pen may have been used to write letters from the home front to a soldier fighting that war helps fuel my imagination. Or I may choose a pen for its looks or style, even if there is no obvious historical connection. I even bought one vintage Parker 51, imprinted with another person's name, because the sight of that pen brought to mind a character.

There is something visually stimulating about the lines left on paper by most fountain pen nibs. It is elusive, and digital reproductions seldom if ever do this factor justice, but text written with a fountain pen is "alive" in a way no other form of writing except dip or quill pens can be. It is much like the difference between letterpress printing and most printing today. Even if the impression of the type in the paper is not deep enough for you to see, there is a subtle quality that just isn't there in the same text deposited on the surface. Not only that, but some nibs offer intriguing line variation, from the subtle to the extreme, and the joy of seeing such forms appear on the paper helps motivate me to keep on writing. And the ease of using just about any shade of any colour that might suit my story and my mood is another way I can encourage myself when the writing gets tough.

Almost everyone who takes a little time to get used to using a fountain pen also finds that it improves their handwriting. Fountain pens with special nibs are what is used in the finest calligraphy, but even if you don't bother to learn calligraphy and have an ordinary nib, you'll find your handwriting will start to look better. The technique required is just different enough that it leads to better handwriting, even if you don't make a conscious effort to improve it. Even doctors have discovered that this works. When I post digital images of some of the pages I've written, you may doubt this... but keep in mind that I am writing quickly, and that my handwriting has always been atrocious. On those rare and painful occasions when I'm forced to write with anything else, my writing is more jagged and much more illegible.

Repetitive stress injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, hand cramps... those are the symptoms of someone who uses a keyboard, or a modern pen which requires them to exert pressure on the point. Ballpoints and pencils may be worse, but even the smoothest rollerball needs pressure to write. Fountain pens require little or no pressure at all to write with. That is one of the things which make them a joy to write with. You can save yourself pain and possibly even injury just by using a fountain pen. This is one area where new users need to be careful, though; most people are so used to applying too much pressure, compared to what a fountain pen needs, that they have trouble and can even damage the nib by shoving it into the paper.

Although I admit this won't help if you get hooked on buying lots of pens and bottles of ink, fountain pens are actually less expensive to use, over time, than the cheapest of ballpoints. No one ever thinks about how the cost adds up. It is difficult to compare the two methods exactly, since the traditional measure of a ballpoint's life is how long a line it will write before running out. With fountain pens, every nib is different, and a broad or a wet nib will use a lot more ink than a fine or a dry nib. But you can get some idea by measuring the amount of ink contained in every ballpoint or rollerball refill. For under thirty dollars, you can buy a bottle of good quality fountain pen ink that contains as much ink as nearly a hundred and twenty dollars worth of the cheapest refills available. (At least in Massachusetts.)

And unlike those cheap pens that are worth nothing by the time you toss them away, most fountain pens keep much of their value. Some are even worth more twenty years after you buy them than they were than. So the pens so many people perceive as "expensive" can actually save you money. Of course, this will only work if you can resist buying a lot of them. But even if you do, many fountain pens are objects of beauty in their own right. Even ink bottles can be minor art objects. You can add beauty to your daily life, and still have a good investment. And no matter how many pens you buy, the only ones you won't be able to resell later are the ones you lose or break. Since they tend to last quite well if you take reasonable care of them, there's no need to be too worried about this. I've bought fifty year old pens that wrote - with absolutely no trouble, and no servicing beforehand.

And, of course, a fountain pen using bottled ink is the "greenest" option for writing. You can recycle or reuse your empty ink bottles, and a good pen should last you the rest of your life. (Depending on what you choose, you may need to have it serviced very occasionally.) With a disposable pen, you are throwing out the tip, the barrel, everything, once the ink is used up. Even with a ballpoint or rollerball that accepts refills, you are throwing out the empty refill, and these are seldom easy to recycle. So there is much less waste from using a fountain pen. So the real question is, why wouldn't anyone want to use a fountain pen?

No comments:

Post a Comment