Choosing Your Basic Writing Supplies, Pt. 1: Pencils, Pens & Paper 4-11-2020

Writing doesn’t require expensive equipment. For years writers have used only pencils and/or pens and paper. These basic tools remain as effective and useful as ever before. Many authors and writers still do all or some of their writing with these three basic tools. Some authors and writers use a computer only for typing, storing and printing their finished manuscripts. So let’s begin our overview of an author/writer’s basic tools with these three items.

Writing Tools:

Many writers have strong preferences when it comes to choosing their writing instruments. Choose an instrument you will enjoy working with. Here are some things to consider as you look for the right writing tools for you:

Weight:

Do you like a writing tool that’s heavy and substantial? Or do you want something lightweight and easy to move?

Diameter:

Do you want an instrument that is large in diameter so you can have more substance to hold on to? Or do you want something more slender?

Composition:

Do you want your writing instrument to be made from metal, plastic, wood or some other material? Do you prefer something inexpensive or something made from gold or other precious metals?

Shape:

Writing instruments come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Do you want a short stubby tool or one that is tall and thin? Do you want a writing instrument that’s shaped like a cylinder, square, rectangle, oblong shape or a many-sided geometric shape such as a triangle, pentagon or octagon?

Texture and Grip:

When choosing your favorite writing tool you also need to consider texture and grip. Is your writing instrument made with a smooth outside surface? Does it slide around in your hand while you write? If so, you may want to consider getting some pencil grips or getting a pen with a rubber barrel or with some texture on it to minimize the tool’s amount of movement as you work with it.

Design, Style and Personal Expression:

Would you prefer a beautiful and personal writing instrument? Or do you want something inexpensive and easy to replace? Do you prefer to purchase lead or ink refills or do you want disposable tools that you can quickly throw away, grab a new one, and get back to work?

Would you like a personal writing instrument with your name or a special design on it? Or perhaps you want a favorite quotation or Bible verse? Or do you want something that expresses a little bit of information about you? Do you want a familiar tool to take with you wherever you go? Do you prefer to work with a pencil or pen? Do you have a favorite style or point size? Do you have a favorite color? Do you like working with a variety of colored inks or leads? For your basic writing instrument choose a tool you enjoy working with and find easy to use.

Pencil Choices:

There are two basic categories of pencils to choose from: (1) Classic wood pencils and (2) mechanical pencils.

Classic Wooden Pencils:

Classical wooden pencils have been used for many years, providing people with a way of communicating with the written word. These pencils can be purchased at a low price and have a wide variety of colors, designs and styles available to choose from.

Classic wooden pencils now come with a variety of lead choices ranging from extra soft (6B) to extra hard (6H). Writers can choose the lead that works best for them. (Read more about lead later on in this paper.) Pencils also come in a wide range of colors and sets of colored pencils can be purchased in your local department store or office supply outlet.

Classic wooden pencils do have their disadvantages. The lead wears down quickly and they need to be sharpened frequently. Therefore your writing time is interrupted each time you have to stop and sharpen your pencil. To help with this distraction, you can sharpen several pencils before you begin your writing session. When one gets dull, put it aside and grab another sharp one so you can keep writing.

Also, when using classic wooden pencils you need to purchase a well-built pencil sharpener. This can be somewhat expensive but it’s well worth the investment. Small inexpensive sharpeners are also available but they do not last as long or do as good of a sharpening job as the sturdier sharpener.

Mechanical Pencils:

Mechanical pencils can now be purchased at relative inexpensive prices. These pencils are also available in a wide variety of colors, designs and styles. These pencils don’t have to be sharpened but they do require a supply of refills of erasers and leads. These leads also come in a range of hardness and softness levels similar to the classic wooden pencils. As far as I know, these pencils do not offer a wide range of colored leads to choose from.

Mechanical pencils usually give the writer a choice of two lead thicknesses: .05 millimeters and .07 millimeters. From experience I’ve learned that people who put a lot of pressure on their pencil when they write should choose the .07 millimeter leads because this lead won’t break as frequently as the thinner .05 millimeter lead. Mechanical pencils, lead, and erasure refills can usually be purchased at your local department store of office supply outlet.

Lead:

Pencil lead comes in a variety of choices according to the hardness or softness of the lead. A scale has been created, rating the hardness and thickness of lead sizes. The softest lead is “6B” and the hardest lead is “6H.” There are a variety of choices between these two extremes. In the middle of this scale you will find a lead labeled “HB.” This “HB” lead is the best choice for everyday use unless you want a harder or softer lead.

Hard pencil leads usually produce a lighter mark on paper but they tend not to smear or smudge like softer leads. At times, if a person puts too much pressure on their pencil, the hard lead will tear the paper.

Soft lead produces darker marks on the paper. It also smears and smudges more especially if a person tends to rub their hand on the paper as they write. Softer leads are usually used for rendering drawings with a lot of shading and a variety of grays and blacks.

Pen Choices:

A huge variety of pen choices is available for those who want to do their writing with pens. Each type of pen has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s important for you to explore the various pen types before choosing your basic writing tools. You want to choose the option that works best for you because you don’t want a tool that discourages or gives you problems whenever you sit down to write. Writing should be a joy, not drudgery. Before we look at pen choices, I think we should look at the variety of inks available. When you choose a writing instrument it’s important to understand what type of ink you will be using so you can work more effectively.

Ink:

A wide range of inks are used in pens and markers that are available for purchase at your local department store or office supply outlet. You can buy ink for quill pens, ink cartridges for art and calligraphy pens, and ink refills for ballpoint pens. It’s important to know the characteristics of the ink you purchase whether it’s in bottles, cartridges, refills or already in the markers and pens you purchase. You want to know the ink in your writing tool will work well for your project.

Some inks are water soluble and can be easily wiped up if you accidently drip or spill it. These soluble inks have a consistency of watered-down coffee or tea. These inks will drip and smear easily and spread out across the page if you use too much ink or move your paper before the ink is dry. Also, you want to be careful when you move your hand across the page to write or if you try to stack your pages on top of each other before the ink dries as the ink will smear and make a messy page.

India ink is a permanent bottled ink used mainly for art and calligraphy. It will not clean up easily if you don’t catch the spill before it dries—and it dries quickly. If left on counter-tops or clothing for a short period of time it may become a permanent stain.

The ink in ballpoint pens are usually permanent but if you spill and clean it up quickly it may come off your writing surface, clothing and even your hands. If you get ink marks on clothing, some pre-laundry treatments and good detergents will remove them. Also, my grandmother and mother taught me to use a small amount of lighter fluid on the ink spot and to hand-wash the item before putting it in the laundry. With a little extra care and effort, the ink spot will come out. Apparently the lighter fluid ingredients break down the oil base in ballpoint pen ink. Ink eradicator, available at office supply stores, may also help remove unwanted ink spots.

The ink in art markers can be either permanent or water soluble. Specialized art markers come in a variety of ink colors and tip sizes. Many professional art markers have permanent ink. Most markers sold for children’s art projects are water soluble and washable. However, it’s still a good idea to check the labels on the marker packaging to be sure you’re getting washable ink.

Ink cartridges made for using with art, quill or rap ideograph pens can be either permanent or water soluble. It’s important to choose the right ink for your pens and when you are finished, clean the pens up right after each use. Some inks tend to dry out and clog expensive pens. Ink clogs may or may not be able to be cleaned up. Some expensive pens can be ruined and their owners quickly learn a difficult lesson.

Art, Quill and Rap ideograph Pens:

I personally do not recommend these pens for writing and drafting manuscripts. They require a lot of awareness when you write and move your hand around on the page. It’s easy to prematurely touch the ink and make a mess of your paper. Also, these writing instruments can require a great deal of maintenance to keep them clean and working properly. Yet, the choice of your writing implement is truly yours to make.

Ballpoint Pens:

Ballpoint pens work well for writing but most are not made with “changing or correcting your writing” in mind. Ballpoint pens generally contain permanent ink so they can be used for creating and signing permanent documents. These pens may not be an effective tool for writing rough drafts or final drafts of articles, chapters of books, stories, and other long written works. If you use ballpoint pens for these items, you may find yourself having to start over on pages because the “correction products and procedures” used for ink are not efficient and leave your pages looking messy and difficult to read. (Even for you, the author/writer!)

Ballpoint pens should be used on any business paperwork you do because they are permanent and show up better and last longer than pencil lead. Blue and black pens are most commonly used for business purposes because they are darker and can more readily be photocopied. At times accounting professionals will use red ink to indicate indebtedness or negative balances. However, red ink does not photocopy well.

Ballpoint pens come in a wide range of colors and can be used for jotting down ideas and notes, completing diaries and journals, doing research and graphic design and illustration. For the person who loves working with various colors, ballpoint pens can bring a lot of enjoyment.

Gel and Roller-ball Pens:

Gel and Roller-ball pens have a little different tip on them which allows the ballpoint pen to move more smoothly across the surface of non-textured papers. This can be a great advantage. However, these pens use an ink that flows more freely and the writer must wait a short time for the ink to dry or it will smear. Also, keeping the cap on these pens will keep the air out and the pen will last longer. These pens are available in a variety of colors for those who love to write with colored inks.

Markers:

Markers usually come in a variety of colors, forms and sizes. Gel pens work well for projects that require small writing. Felt tips work well when the writing on projects needs to be larger and permanent (For example: posters, presentations, signs, shipping boxes, etc.) Felt tip markers come with water soluble, permanent and dry erase inks.

Markers can be fun to use for note taking, personal letters, graphic design, illustration, and creating rough drafts of your work. For these tasks I prefer Gel pens because they write smoothly and last longer. They also provide a wide selection of colors.

Felt tip markers are useful for creating large presentations, marking boxes for shipping, and other task that require larger pen tips. These markers can contain permanent, water soluble and dry erase ink. It is important to know which type of ink you are working with and to keep the lid on these markers when they aren’t being used as they tend to dry out quickly.

Dry erase markers are made especially for writing on erasable marker boards and surfaces where you need to erase the marker ink. Cleaning marker-boards (also called white boards) requires a special cleaner and eraser. It’s important to note that this ink will rub off of surfaces easily and make a big mess. Also, if you use any other type of ink on marker-boards you will ruin the surface on them. You will not be able to get the ink off of the board without ruining to special surface of the board. Dry erase markers are not recommended for use in writing for anything other than their purpose—being used on marker-boards for presentations.

Correction Products and Erasers:

Many products are available to help people correct their mistakes when drawing, illustrating, and writing on paper. Some of these products work well on preliminary sketches or drafts of writing projects.

For correcting errors in pencil lead, there are a variety of pencil erasures to choose from. My personal preferences include the rectangle-shaped white erasure put out by Mars-Staetler. It may cost a little extra up front but it is well worth it in the long haul. If you keep rubbing the dark pencil lead off of your erasure (onto scrap paper) it will stay cleaner and give you a nice clean erasure almost every time you use it. I use this eraser on the larger areas that need corrected. It does a great job for me!

For smaller pencil lead erasures I personally choose to use “click” erasers. They look like the outside of a pen with a white tube-shaped erasure in the middle. As you use this eraser, you “click” and move a lever down one notch to put the end of the eraser toward the bottom as you work. These “click” erasers contain white erasers which work well and last a long time.

For small and tiny jobs I turn my “click” eraser on its side and use the tip of it to cleanup pencil marks between words in a sentence or in tiny areas on drawings where the larger erasers will not work. Little white eraser tips are also made for mechanical pencils. These work well in small areas also.

For correcting mistakes made with ink pens and markers, I have not found a correction product or eraser that works well. These products tend to smear the ink around, leave a big white mess on the page, or tear the paper. Correction fluids and cover-up tapes can be used on writing drafts or preliminary sketches but my experience has been that they are cumbersome at best, time-consuming and generally ineffective. Usually your paper ends up looking sloppy when you’re through. I wouldn’t recommend using these products on any final manuscript you want to submit for publication.

For final manuscripts I would use a computer to type, store, and print out a professional-looking manuscript that is clean and free from smears, smudges, tears and tons of white correction products. If you don’t have a computer, you can usually find one available at the public library.

If you don’t know how to use a computer, I would encourage anyone who wants to be a professional writer to learn how to operate these valuable tools. There may be classes offered through your public library or a nearby college. Also, these places may have free tutors to help you learn about the computer. There is no reason to be fearful of this man-made tool and it can be a real help and a valuable time saver. No one is too old to learn how to use this great tool!

Paper:

A great deal can be said about paper and the various products made from it. However, that is a long lesson for another day. For now I only want to consider the two main types of paper that will be used by beginning writers.

Ruled notebook paper and the various products such as composition books, stenographers’ books, spiral notebooks (of all sizes) and various other lined paper products are a valuable resource for the writer. Personally, I choose to use a ring binder and punched sheets of notebook paper to construct my books and other writing pieces. This makes it easy to flip through the pages and make changes to the organization of my written work. When I write, I double-space my lines of text so I can make small notes or change and insert words without having to start my page all over again.

Another type of paper to keep on hand is 8 ½ x 11” white bond paper like that which is purchased in reams for use in copiers and printers. I prefer 20# weight paper as the ink doesn’t bleed through and it doesn’t tear easily. Some writers prefer to write on blank sheets without lines. This is great for them but I need the lines to keep my text from running up hill or sloping downhill as I move across the page.

For my writing instruments, I choose to use mechanical pencils with .07 mm. lead and white erasers. I also use white rectangle erasers and “click” erasers. For business paperwork, I choose to use the clear-tubed, Bic brand of ballpoint pens with blue or black ink. These are easy to work with and I can throw them away when they run out of ink. I usually keep a box of these on hand.

For additional supplies needed to get you started see the separate page entitled “Recommended Office Needs for writers. Many of these items you may already have. If not, you can choose to purchase them as the need arises. Please don’t feel under pressure or get stressed out because of the number of items on the list. Most of the items are small and inexpensive to purchase and you only need a small supply to get started.

Writing Activity:

Next time you go to your local department store or office supply outlet check out their selection of pencils, pens and paper. If possible, purchase one or two items from each category (pencils, pens, paper). Also check out the supplies for making corrections. Try to find writing implements you believe would work well for you.

After doing this and experimenting with your new purchases, email me at getrobinu@gmail.com Please write a small paragraph about your experience and let me know the following:

  1. Did your product choices work well for you?
  2. Did you discover any new products that you haven’t seen before?
  3. How did this activity help you as a writer?

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 KJV)

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