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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

The Glorious Fountain Pen: A Friend to Every Writer

Unfortunately, it's becoming a rarity to see handwritten anything these days, our society is so inundated with technology and driven by word-processing systems. Many deem handwriting inefficient. Why write longhand when you can pound away at a keyboard and watch your work magically appear on a computer screen?

 

Good question.

 

I work on computers, desktop and laptop, every day. My regular job as an editor and writer demands that I sit in front of a computer screen and churn out words. However, as a freelance author, I write my first drafts, fiction and nonfiction, using my favorite writing instrument, a fountain pen. Let me tell you why. 

 

I have many notebooks filled with potential story ideas, snippets of dialogue, random plot points, research—anything that can be put to paper. In fact, what you are reading now started as ink on paper. I find the fountain pen to be more fluid and less stressful on the hand than other pens, especially ballpoint pens that require more pressure on paper when writing. With a fountain pen, the thoughts stream from the brain straight to the page. It greases the "writing" gears.

 

I'm sure many of you have a similar process. From brain to pen to paper seems more creative and natural than pounding on a keyboard and watching digitized letters appear on a monitor. Don't you agree? Maybe I'm just old school and younger writers approach the creative process differently. But I think using a fountain pen is the better way to go. Hey, if ink on paper was good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for me.

 

Writing is an art. Using a fountain pen with ink is like using a brush with paint. Writing with a fountain pen is much like freestyle "doodling." You can quickly draw diagrams in the margins to visualize a scene you're developing, even draw a simple illustration of the story as you move along. A fountain pen offers a freedom to release your creativity that you simply can't achieve using a computer. Using a pen in hand is a natural process. Transferring that work to the computer is a mechanical process. Huge difference. Working on a computer seems more of a commitment—and certainly less fun than using a fountain pen.

 

I used a fountain pen throughout high school and college. But, when I began working as a full-time writer, editor, and publisher, a computer became a necessity. Only recently have I returned to using a fountain pen—and now wonder why I'd avoided my old friend for so many years. I prefer a Pilot, but also occasionally use a Waterman pen. 

 

Long before the typewriter and the computer, writers depended on pen and ink. So, I feel a part of that honored tradition. I and many other lovers of fountain pens are in good company. 

 

Arthur Conan Doyle and Graham Greene preferred the Parker Duofold.

 

Neil Gaiman wrote his novel Stardust using a Waterman pen. He wanted to experience writing the book as a writer in the 1920s would. He also changed ink colors daily to track his progress.

 

In a 2001 interview, Stephen King said that he thought his Waterman fountain pen was "the world's finest word processor." His son, Joe Hill, also writes longhand with a fountain pen. Must run in the family.

 

Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, Salman Rushdie, Peter Straub, H.P. Lovecraft. I could go on and on. Many renowned authors over the years have favored fountain pens. 

 

So, are you looking to spark your creative writing? Grab a fountain pen and a notepad ... and let it flow!

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More on Short Story Origins

A common question writers are asked is, "So, where do your story ideas come from?" Stephen King, on his official Web site, answered the question in this way: "I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it's seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question 'What if?' 'What if' is always the key question."

I totally agree. Ideas come winging at me like missiles from anywhere and everywhere--overheard snippets of conversations, newspaper items, TV commercials, even graffiti on a city wall! There are so many ideas that I couldn't possibly write all the stories that occur to me. I have notes everywhere, jotted in moments of hot inspiration. Writer's block? What's that? The trick is just being open to whatever occurs to you, and then asking that magic question, What if?

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Of Characters and Cobbler's Elves

If you know any writers, you’ve probably heard something like the following: “I started to write a scene in my novel, pretty much following my outline. But then one of the characters went into a totally different direction. Before long, the characters ending up writing the scene for me, in a way I never expected. And it’s better because of it!”

Non-writers scratch their heads at this. Is this some form of magic? Is there really a muse that usurps the writer’s brain and writes the story? Is this something like the cobbler’s elves?

I was just working on a chapter in my police procedural novel, tentatively titled Harvester of Sorrow. In the chapter, the body of a child is discovered in a remote area of a county park, and the murder may be related to similar murders in a nearby city. This brings up a case of jurisdiction (county vs. city police departments) that I hadn’t considered earlier, and this required that I create a new character, a detective from the county PD. The character was originally only a walk-on, but I quickly realized he was a more significant character, and he changed the chapter as I wrote it. He will appear in subsequent chapters.

Magic??

The January 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest includes an interview with Harlan Coben, best-selling author of numerous thrillers such as Tell No One, Just One Look, Long Lost, Hold Tight, and Caught. During the interview, WD asked, “So do your characters ever surprise you—do they become real to you in that way?” He answered, “Oh, they surprise me all the time. … I don’t like it when people make it seem more magical. It’s not. It’s work. It can be wonderful, and it can be thrilling, but it’s not really magical.”


When I first read this, I honed in on Coben’s claim, “It’s work.” I know what he means. Characters may seem to take on lives of their own, but only after the writer has given great thought to those characters, has worked with them in the story, has fully developed them. Maybe, as a writer, you’ve learned something more about the character as a scene progresses, and the character moves into that new area as your broaden that character’s role in the story. Magic? I don’t think so. It comes from hard work, from the writer being intimate with the characters he/she has created.

Maybe, as the characters have matured in your mind, they no longer fit the outline you originally devised, simply because it forces them to act out of character. This may be a surprise, that a character may go through door B instead of door A as you originally envisioned. But, it’s really no surprise at all—you’re subliminal thoughts were headed in that direction as the character was being developed. No magic. Just hard work.

When characters take over a story, it’s almost always a good and desired turn of events. As a writer, go with the flow. Think of it as a reward for the work you’ve already put into your work-in-progress!
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Mythic Structure & Storytelling

During the Writers at the Beach conference last month (and particularly during Khris Baxter's workshop, Screenwriting Techniques for Fiction Writers), I was forced into the realization that the novel I began way back in 1987 was (1) worthy of resurrection, (2) poorly structured, and (3) in need of major rewriting. (See my earlier blog entry, Writers at the Beach, 3/28/10.) In the intervening weeks since the conference, the novel has been flopping around in my brain like a fish on deck. But, the more I contemplate the story, the more frustrated I become. And the problem is clearly structure.

So, I've decided to once again read The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. I've read Joseph Campbell's work on mythology, most notably the Bill Moyer interview, The Power of Myth, and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It's dense reading and highly academic, to be sure, but the truths concerning the importance of mythology in our lives (and our writing) are clear and illuminating.

Vogler's book, borrowing heavily not only from Campbell but also from Carl Jung's archetypes, nails down mythic structure for the writer in the most succinct and user-friendly form I've seen.  Read More 

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