With Nation Novel Writing Month beginning Monday and the recent attention that writing by hand has received, I thought we might offer a few short primers on good long-term, long-distance, long-hand writing gear for the intrepid souls embarking on writing a novel (or other 50,000 word text) in a month. This is especially true for the undaunted few who might draft their work by hand. Certainly, this is no easy task. I’m going to give it a shot with a half-time job and a 6-month old at home. If you want to write, however, it’s worth it. I “won” in the only year I tried (2007), and it was great to figure out that I could, literally, write — and something other than a philosophy dissertation. It’s a great exercise if you aspire to be a writer at all or even just want to see what you can do.
I’d also like to encourage folks to sign up for our Facebook group, where we might, perhaps, be able to serve as valuable moral support for one another.
What does a great NaNoWriMo pencil look like?
For me, I consider these aspects:
1) Darkness. Someone (probably you) is going to have to type this thing up before November 30th if you want to be an official “winner.” I don’t have the eyesight or the patience to do this from a 4H pencil. Even if you’re only using paper and pencil for notes, being able to, you know, see what you wrote is a good thing.
2) Point retention. Certainly, sharpening a pencil is one of life’s great pleasures, and all that. But, let’s face it, there’s a crazy deadline. You don’t want to have to sharpen your pencil after every single page.
3) Smoothness. I have hand injuries from a bad bike crash in 2009, and I have to consider that I don’t want to mash graphite onto the paper to get words to appear. This is doubly true for fiction writing.
4) Comfort. A sharp hexagonal pencil or extreme triangular pencil might work for some, but not others. I like rounded hex pencils or round pencils myself.
5) Cost/availability/stock-pile. I’m not going to start on a huge project with a carefully chosen pencil if I only have one or two of them.
While we heartily invite Comrades to add to the conversation with comments about what you’re going to write with, not write with, what you recommend, etc., this is my own short list of contenders:
1) California Republic Palomino (HB). It’s no secret that this is one of my favorite pencils. The darkness and point retention is a good balance, while smoothness is excellent. The shape and thick lacquer make it comfortable to hold, and they’re not prohibitively expensive. I meant to order a dozen new blue non-erasered ones in time, but I lost track of time.
2) General’s Semi-Hex (HB). The shape is smooth and comfortable, and they’re only $4 a dozen. (On the other hand, they can be hard to find.) Darkness and smoothness are, as I might repeat when we review them soon, what you wish your Dixon would give you. Point retention is acceptable.
3) Mirado Black Warrior (HB). I have to admit that the new (Mexican-made) stock is better. The lead is darker, and I like the matte finish (though I think the last few USA runs had that also). If this pencil had its current lead back in 2005-6, it might have been my favorite pencil in the world — or in the top three.
4) Palomino Blackwing (?). While point retention is not the best, the smoothness and darkness are unmatched in a writing pencil (at least any I have ever used). This pencil is just a joy to write with; that’s all there is to it for me.
5) Dixon Ticonderoga “Black” (HB). I have a few left with the matte paint, from when they were made in the USA. These have a finish that resembles the new Blackwing. The newer, glossier Mexican models are nice, too, and you can get them at Walmart (etc.). Everything good (and bad) about the yellow Dixon applies to this pencil, but it’s more attractive and has a better eraser.
6) Field Notes Pencil (HB). I mentioned it being a little gritty. But the point retention, shape, lack of paint, darkness and price make it a great pencil. I don’t mind a little grit. And, dang, I like this pencil.
7) Faber-Castell 9000 (4B). While I find the 9000 disappointingly hard at most grades, the 4B is great for dark notes and actually holds its point very well. The shape is a little sharp, and the wood (non-cedar) is a little too light. And, come to think of it, it’s expensive. But I think it’s worth mentioning a non-HB pencil, in case Comrades loves a certain pencil but want something similar and darker for NaNoWriMo.
8) Whateverthehellpencilihavearound. Sometimes, the best pencil is the one right in front of you.
What sorts of pencils are other Comrades using for notes, for composing, etc.?