Hemingway Hemingway Hemingway.

If we lived in the magical world of Beetlejuice, this could conjure Papa. While scholarly and popular interest in Hemingway both seem to rise and fall rapidly, at PRevo HQ, we’re big Hemingway fans. One of our first posts was one quoting Mr. Hemingway:

“When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so that you can better it easier.”
Hemingway on Writing, pg. 51 (exerted from By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, pg. 216).

I have often wondered what Papa might make of a pencil blog, a pencil podcast, seasonal Blackwings, artisanal sharpening. Would he tell us we’re wasting time that we should spend writing or living? Maybe he’d point out that, while he fetishized certain objects and mentioned brands of items, drinks, guns, etc., he never tells us what kind of pencil that he liked. He just wrote with them. I have trouble imagining that someone with such a penchant for ritual would not have a favorite kind/brand/model of pencil. I’ve tried mightily to ascertain what Hemingway wrote with. If you can’t actually use the same notebook for some spell or charm, maybe a pencil would do the trick?

Past Hemingway goodness featured on Pencil Revolution.

On Point Retention and Durability.


I have participated in National Novel Writing Month five times, and this year, I “won” for the third time. What was unique to me this year — aside from writing something I like enough to edit in January — is that I wrote the entire thing in pencil. I suspect that which pencils I used this year could be a fun post to write, but today I want to write about something I learned a lot about last month: point retention.

I’m not sure that I have ever read a detailed discussion about what we mean by that in the Pencil World, but I think it is safe to say that one usually means is how sharp a pencil stays when one writes/draws with it, i.e., how much of the point is left.

But after writing 50,000+ words in 30 days all in pencil, I have found that it is more nuanced than that.

I suggest that a more useful or practical way to think about point retention is to think about Writing Retention* and that the issue is point durability,  not sharpness.

This year, I used a few soft Japanese pencils, such as the Blackwing 344 and 56, both of which have the same core as the 602. It is dark but not super soft, and the retention was the best among the Blackwing line until the release of Volume 24 in spring 2016. I was considerably more concerned with smoothness and writing speed than I was with pencils that would stay sharp as I attempted to draft a bad novel on paper in a month. The paper in the Yoobi composition books I used was pretty smooth and proved to be quite excellent for the project. Graphite would glide but not smear all over the place like it can on Rhodia paper.

At the beginning of one writing session, abuzz and awash in coffee, I tried out a 2016 Dixon Ticonderoga, Chinese-made, picked by hand at Staples. While I could get four pages (of about 250-300 words each) out of a Blackwing 602 equivalent core, I was barely able to write two pages before I had to sharpener the Ticonderoga. What is more, the pencil was nearly as sharp as it was when I started writing with it. The auto-stop crank sharpener I was using nearly refused to engage the cutters on the pencil.

The Blackwing, on the other hand, had grown quite dull. Still, I was able to find a useful writing surface because of the amount of graphite the pencil could lay down. Things got more complicated when I figured out that the Blackwing 344 was able to write as long as the slightly harder Blackwing 24, perhaps even a little longer. Certainly, the smoothness of the paper could have given the 344 (and 56) an artificial edge because it sheared off a little less graphite than a toothy paper might. But the darkness was unaffected, and the 24 would have the same advantage also. Maybe a slightly toothier paper would give the edge to the 24 and make the 344/56 go dull very quickly.

Using the new Blackwing Volume 530 (which has the same Extra Firm core as the 24), I have found that it dulls as quickly on Field Notes paper as the 344 I was using last week. However, it smears less and ghosts less.  And of course the different “feel” could be a draw for some people, as it was for me today when I used one for a dozen pages.

I think that how long a pencil is useful before requiring a sharpening is a balance of darkness and what we generally call point retention. I propose that a dark pencil often has more writing durability than a harder one, since it can still perform with a duller point. Certainly, there are other considerations — smear resistance, smoothness, etc.

But I suggest a change in our Pencil Lexicon to Point Durability, i.e., how long a point is useful for making marks on paper, not how long it remains sharp. A sharp light pencil often fails to mark paper while a half-blunt darker pencil still trudges on. This is making me look at my darker/softer pencils in a whole new light and is helping me to understand why I still love the Blackwing (which I call the MMX for the year it was introduced) original so much.

* (Or Drawing Retention — but I write more than I draw; so I will stick the the former.)

NaNoWriMo First Days Pencil Update.

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So far, I have been using each pencil until it is blunt and then I switch to something different. Like many readers, I suspect that I am subconsciously in search of The Ideal Pencil. I have had good experiences thus far with my pencils. This is not surprising, since the NaNoWriMo pencils I put into my box weren’t exactly chosen at random.

To name a few: I used a Chinese Dixon Ticonderoga right after using a General’s Cedar Pointe Friday — felt like butter! That Cedar Pointe put down nearly 1,000 words before it even hinted at needing a sharpening, though. Also, I’ve noticed pencils that have surprised me with their smoothness on the semi-cheap paper of a Carolina Pad composition book: Staedtler Noris (HB) and Musgrave My Pal. A Ticonderoga kids’ pencil was a nice break when my arm started to cramp, though the point retention was not very good — also for the round PaperMate Earth Write “Premium” (the black one). I have also been impressed by the smoothness, if not the darkness. of General’s Draughting pencil.

This gives me good testing grounds for some upcoming reviews of the Noris, Draughting and Earth Write.

As of Sunday evening, day three, I am at 5,874 words, even with a busy weekend. I hope I can keep this up. Hemingway’s advice — to never stop at a stopping point, always stopping when there is more to come, so that one can pick up the next day — has been working so far. Probably also a steady stream of coffee and Irish breakfast tea.

NaNoWriMo 2013.

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Comrades might have noticed from the right-hand “badge” that I am planning to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I should be saving up on rest or ideas. But, being the kind of person who keeps a pencil blog for all of this time, I have been — literally — gearing up. I will not embarrass myself with my stash for this year, not all of it. But here are a few nice items.

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These are a dozen Mount Tom notebooks from Bob Slate in Cambridge that my family gave me in August for my birthday. They are worth their own post. But if you’ve spent time studying or writing in Boston, you might already have some.

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Pictured: A dozen each of General’s Cedar Point and Layout and Ticonderoga Beginners*.

Honestly, with a toddler at home and an infant, I’m not sure where I am going to find time to do this. But find it I will. Hopefully. I suppose there’s not much difference between 3 1/2 and 5 hours of sleep, right? One must abide by my Rule of Twelve: The number of pints (!) of coffee and hours of sleep one experiences must add up to twelve. It works. I think.

Wanna be Writer Buddies on NaNoWriMo’s website? Look for me: jfgphd.

Also, check out some old posts, from my last attempt in 2010 on paper and on pencils. That year, I wasn’t used to the whole Never Sleeping thing yet. I’m old hand now. I wouldn’t know what to do with six hours of sleep if I saw it.

*[I like Big Pencils, and I cannot lie….er…..]

Chuck Talk Panel Discussion.


I totally watched this whole video while everyone else in HQ was at the library for summer story time. It’s not about pencils or Blackwings really, but is instead largely about creativity.

I like the bit about limitation enhancing creativity. I had a short fantasy of locking myself in a room with:

1 type of pencil (EGAD!)
1 composition notebook
1 US gallon of coffee

and not coming out until they were all spent, and something was, well, written. Instead, I had a single large cup of French-pressed coffee and made notes to make more (and better) notes.

Stephen King on Sunday Morning.

StephenKing_t_620x350This was an enjoyable interview (here!) — much longer than I expected it to be. I keep meaning to watch Bag of Bones on Netflix, since it was a good summer book. I’ll post a link to the video interview when I find one.

Anyone been watching Under the Dome? Is it good watchin?

It seems that CBS Sunday Morning keeps popping up on this site!

Writing Makes Us Smarter?

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Via Comrade Brian.

Don’t trade in your pencils and paper for a keyboard just yet.

A new study that compared the different brain processes used for writing by hand and typing has found that there are cognitive benefits to putting a pen to paper. These findings give support to the continued teaching of penmanship and handwriting in schools.

Children who don’t learn the skill of handwriting, like generations before them had to, may be missing out on an important developmental process. Compared to using two hands to type out letters on a keyboard, writing with one hand uses more complex brain power.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

“Keep a Notebook”: Jack London.

7-7-10_jack3I’m not sure how popular Jack London is these days, but I’ve long been a fan. I read a piece today quoting Mr. London on success, and I thought I’d quote from this quotation.

“Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.”

JackLondon-office-1916This is also the source of the differently-quoted line about inspiration:

“Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will none the less get something that looks remarkably like it.”

Jack London, “Getting into Print,” 1903, via The Art of Manliness.

Happy Holidays, and Hemingway!


In the spirit of the holidays and of Hemingway (a pencil champion!), we present A Visit from Saint Nicholas, In The Ernest Hemingway Manner, by James Thurber.

“It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn’t move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.”

(Read more.)

Coming up with new versions of this poem of your own is a favorite holiday pastime. I finished my Raven’s Wing Field Notes book yesterday, with my own version in native Baltimorese. But it’s way too foul-mouthed to post here.

Happy Holidays to all!! We’ll be back after the holiday with a look at a pencil-friendly selection of planners/organizers, a review of the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener and even an interview with the legendary Pencil Hero Aaron Draplin (of Field Notes!) in the New Year.

Best and warmest wishes to you and to yours, for the best holidays yet.

NaNoWriMo 1/2 way check-in.


It’s that time of the NaNoWriMo cycle: half-way!  That means that we’re all either:

1) Bored.
2) Quit.
3) Stressed.
4) Happy.
5) Blocked.
6) Cramped.
7) Other.

I missed a few days this weekend due to just being plain tired. My daughter turned seven months old yesterday(!).  While babies are cute and plain joy, they’re not advantageous for your sleep. Plus, well, my hand hurts!  Writing this by hand has been both refreshing and painful.  It’s been refreshing because I can type several times faster than I can write by hand, no matter what kind of pencil I use.  Slowing down helps me stay in control and not let everything go too much on autopilot.  I’m a little over 18,000 words as of last night, which is a little behind.  One of my writing buddies and blog pals (Gary!) is kicking my butt!

How are other folks faring? I thought I’d do a post about pencils (which ones I’ve been enjoying the most, etc.) and all that, but that might have to wait for later in the week, so that I can do some catching up. If you wanna be writing “buddies” on NaNo, search for me under jfgphd (so many consonants)!

Write on!