Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Pen is Still Mightier Than the Sword

Jeri Westerson (Guest Blogger)

Somewhere a pen is screaming.

Or maybe just whimpering. I used to use pens for writing all the time. But now it’s my keyboard. For everything. Practically. I guess I still write out my shopping lists.

And it’s funny because I used to be a pen-aholic. Still am, to a point. Take a look at some of the wacky pens I have collected ( I started my pen love as a kid when I fell in love with calligraphy, which stemmed from my interest in illuminated manuscripts. I used to pore over those amazing documents, the illustrations and floral designs, and, of course, the lyrical letters. It’s all in the wrist, you know, as well as the nib of the pen.

Using a pen that you must dip into ink makes you a slave to all sorts of aspects of writing: the writing surface, the kinds of nibs, the kinds and colors of ink. And then it leads on to How Do You Make Ink? (Yeah, I was one of those kids.) And because this was the seventies in the olden days before the Internet, it involved many trips to the library where I got to go gaga over more illuminated manuscripts and study technique. I began to invent my own typefaces. Little did I know that this would lead to a career in graphic design, still before computers, where it all had to be done by hand. Some older souls out there might remember the ruling pen, Rapidographs, X-acto knives and Rubylith. Yes, I became proficient in all of those. I was a strictly hands-on kinda gal. And when I did write my stories for fun, I used a yellow pad and a pen.

Much later when I switched gears and careers, the computer was there for my convenience and I learned to compose on the keyboard. I learned to make that as tactile as a pen.

But pens still do play an important role in my writing life. I still like to take notes the old-fashioned way, with a pen and a notebook. And never have pens played as an important role as they do now when I sit at an author table facing a happy reader, anxious to get my signature. For those of you pen groupies who really want to know, I use a Zebra GR8 gel, black. It’s lovely. The ink moves and glistens for that moment before it soaks permanently into the paper. That’s what pen and ink ought to do: become part of the paper, at one with it. It’s romance, really. Paper, pen, ink. A romantic threesome.

Jeri Westerson writes a blog on things mysterious and medieval (but she uses a keyboard, sad to say) at You can read more about her newest Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novel, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, on her website


Sandra Parshall said...

I love gel pens -- what a great innovation, especially for signing books. Now I hate using ballpoints. I do a lot of scribbling in longhand -- ideas for scenes, descriptions, questions for people I'm going to interview. Somehow ideas flow better through a pen than through the keyboard when I'm still in the planning stage. But thank heaven for computers when I reach the rewrite stage!

Julia Buckley said...

What a great post! I have always loved pens and paper; I'm a notorious doodler. (That's my rap name).

Your book looks great, and so does your cool pen collection.

And how wonderful to say that you were always fascinated by illuminated manuscripts; it suggests that you see the beauty and holiness in literacy itself.