Tools of the Trade

There are, I suspect, a lot more of us who are quite particular about the tools of our trade than we realize. When I worked in a lumberyard for a few summers during my early twenties I recall that there was only one brand of hammer that we used to make roof trusses. Of course, I can’t recall the brand of the hammer now, but I’m sure it was a good one. Just as musicians are particular about the brand of instrument and the sound that comes out that instrument, so writers are particular about the tools of their trade. I am particular about the type of pens, pencils, and notebooks I use when writing. As much as I rely on my Macbook Pro to write and communicate these days, there is really nothing that can compare to the feel of a good pen or pencil on your hand as it glides across the smooth surface of a notebook that was selected with care.

I use Sharpie fine point black ink pens almost exclusively. The feel of the pen is lean but most important the ink does not smudge or bleed through the page. The ink also seems to last for quite a while, which makes the expense of the pen worth it. When it comes to pencils I only use the Palomino Blackwing 602, a reissue of the famous pencil used by the likes of Nabokov. Although these pencils are quite expensive (about $20.00 per dozen), they are well worth the price. The pencil, made from Japanese graphite and California incense-cedar, keeps its color and is a pleasure to use. Like the Sharpie pen, the Blackwing 602 doesn’t smudge and the tips are strong enough to withstand strong grips and hard pressure. The only notebooks that I use are by Moleskine. These are also expensive, but worth the price. They come in several different sizes and I use those different sizes for different tasks: I use the large notebooks for lecture notes, the medium size ones for research notes and common book writings, and the smaller ones for everyday travel use. In fact, I always have a small, hardcover black Moleskine with me to jot down whatever it is I need to make a note of.

I realize that all of this may sound pretentious, but I am a snob when it comes to the tools of my trade. Most important is the fact that I know these tools will never let me down because I have used them for years. The extra costs can be a bit daunting, and I only stock up on these tools twice a year: once in late August and again in early February, far less frequently for the pencils. There is something thrilling in opening up a new package of pens and pencils and turning the page on a new notebook. It tells me that anything is possible. I always associate a new supply with the new school year, which is one of the perks of teaching for a living. Writing on a computer may be convenient and faster, but nothing can compare with the slowness of thinking that only writing by hand can give you. There is a certain satisfaction one gets by writing this way, and it seems, at least to me, much more lasting and permanent than writing by computer. Writing by hand is less anonymous, and far more intimate. And in a world where speed and convenience have become chief values, it’s wonderful to slide back into the comfort of slowness and precision that only writing by hand offers.


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