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My (Not So) Secret Love of Fountain Pens

July 13, 2020

Stationary. It’s one of my greatest weaknesses. I love blank notebooks, even if I get anxious about filling them. I preferred school supply shopping over clothes shopping every summer. The feeling of ripping open a new package of pencils and arranging a brand new binder in just the right way thrills me. I love the smell of crayons. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a brand new kneaded eraser or swatching new markers.

And so, it is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love fountain pens.

I was first introduced to the idea of fountain pens after a friend of mine gave me an audiobook of Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book.” The book itself was fantastic and well served by Gaiman’s own woody voice doing the narration. I was hooked by the depth of the story and intrigued that it accomplished so much while remaining simplistic. From there, I sought out interviews with Gaiman, in hopes that I could glean some wisdom for my foray into the writing world. And that led to me discovering that Neil Gaiman prefers to write the first draft in fountain pen.

“What an interesting concept,” I thought. After all, I had never considered writing a novel by hand. The last time I wrote anything substantial by hand was in my 11th grade English class. We were writing “how-to” essays, and I wrote my essay on “How to Doodle.” I wrote it with a myriad of colored pens and doodled in the margins as a joke. I made colorful creatures, like a highlighter mantis shrimp and giraffe. The handwritten copy was meant to be my first draft, which I would then type up and turn in. Somehow, my friends convinced me to turn it in as is, doodles and all. I got the mythical A+ on that one and I still have it somewhere. Of course, all of that is beside the point. What were we discussing? Oh yes. Fountain pens.

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My mother’s husband, Gary, started up a hobby of creating pens on the lathe. He’s gotten rather good at it and continued on to create bowls, ornaments, boxes, and all sorts of wooden things. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but I imagine that I idly flipped through one of his pen books and saw a fountain pen.

“Could you make that?” I likely asked. He looked at it and said, “Probably.”

And he did. He made two for me, actually. One was blue and white, the other purple and pink. I loved them and dedicated a notebook to my next novel. I remember choosing the size carefully so that it could easily fit in my favorite satchel. I wrote with the pens so frequently that I ran out of ink in only a couple of months. Of course, little of this writing was for the novel.

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Despite this, I love fountain pens. When my first novel was picked up to be published, the same friend who introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s works bought me another fountain pen and several boxes of inks in celebration. I’m thinking of giving it a name at some point, the way that some musicians name their instruments. I was thinking Sasha.

Sasha is gorgeous (see, I already like this name enough to use it). Writes like a dream, the ink is stable enough that it doesn’t smear easily, its lightweight, and aesthetically pleasing.

And while I love friction pens, gel pens, fine liners, and the like, there is something about writing with a fountain pen that I adore. The way the pen feels in my hand, the way that the nib glides against the delicate tooth of the paper, it just feels right.

I haven’t written an entire novel with one, yet. Not even a few chapters. Someday I might have the discipline to do that. But I carry a notebook and pen with me everywhere and write down descriptions, names, and ideas as they come.

If you are interested in trying out fountain pens, here are my suggestions:

Do your research.

Not all pens are alike. Do you like to have something that is lightweight? Or do you want something weightier? The material used to make the pen is important here. Sasha is made out of aluminum. Gary’s pens (let’s call them Bert and Sakura) are made out of acrylic and have metal interiors so they are a bit heavier.

Know how to clean them.

If you use your pens too often, you’ll get bits of paper stuck in the nib. If you don’t use them often enough, the ink can dry in the nib. I thought for months that I broke Bert and Sakura. Turns out, I just needed to clean them! Depending on the pen, it’s suggested to clean them every couple of months or every time you change the ink. Make sure you know the proper way to clean them so you don’t break your pen. Generally, taking the pen apart and soaking the nib in water for a few hours will do the trick. Make sure you change out the water when it gets too inky, and let it dry completely before you put it back together.

Have a stash of ink.

You’ll never know when you’ll run out of ink. I like having a variety of colors at my disposal, so when I run out of one ink, I can switch to a new color and have a “new” pen. Right now, Sasha is purple.

Sasha is a Lamy AL-star and you can learn more about her here: https://www.lamy.com/en/lamy-al-star/#sku-1221733

Bert and Sakura were made by Gary Beach. You can order pens or other wooden crafts by emailing him at garybeachcreations@gmail.com

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