Tools of the Trade: Pencils & Pens

Fountain pens, L-R: Franklin Christoph P66 Antique Glass (MCI nib), Edison Baltimore Limited (FCI nib), Diplomat Aero (MCI nib), and a Nakaya Neo (MCI nib) – all in a Rickshaw Bags plus pen roll coiled in a fav mug. To the right:  yellow/orange highlighter Slendy+ eraser stick, red pencil for occasional use.

One of the joys of being a stationery nerd and a writer is blending the two passions together. I’ve settled in a routine of using specific pencils & pens for certain writing tasks. It may see nerdy to go to such lengths, but there’s comfort in using familiar tools.

As a long-time lover of fountain pens, for years I would keep too many inked up resulting in extra work to clean those not used enough. After reducing my collection down to my favorites, I’ve settled on four fountain pens to keep in rotation, each inked with a different color. Fountain pen is my tool of choice for journaling, notetaking, or writing letters, and using different color inks adds to the enjoyment.

When it comes to pencils I also have specific ones I use for first- and second-draft work (for everything from blog posts to articles to essays to poetry). I stick with Blackwing pencils (extra-firm cores for everything except poetry where I use soft cores), and there’s a nice variety available between their production pencils and the Volumes limited editions. I love going analog and using pencils longhand for these drafts, since it slows down my thinking and there’s something more authentic about the tactile feel of pencil on paper than finger tips on a keyboard. And if you’re wondering why soft cores in poetry, the lighter feedback when using helps me focus a bit more on the harder work of optimum word choice. After second drafts, I continue the work digitally, either on my iMac or Macbook.

These two groups of tools have been my go-to instruments for some time now. I enjoy the variety in the pen rotations and inks, and although I use only Blackwing pencils with those two cores, there’s plenty of variety in the finishes. For me, settling on this set of tools eliminates delays and avoids another distraction from sitting down and writing.

Coming soon:  Tools of the Trade:  Journals and Notebooks


Journal Bits – January 15

Occasionally I’ll share unedited bits from my daily journal. These make nice fillers on days I’m not ready to post something I’m working on. Hope you enjoy and get something from them.

‘To the journal!’ That is the rally cry I hear every morning. It doesn’t always become the first thing I do each day though. Example in point: Today I woke late and had coffee and breakfast. After I did a quick online read of the inbox, my daily cartoons I love, then both New York Times crosswords (mini and daily). Washed and dried dishes, dressed for the day, made a cup of hot tea, and here I am…finally…answering the call albeit 2-1/2 hours later. Still, the pen writes, the ideas flow, the pages fill, and all is good.

Writer’s Muse

I’m working on a piece about the creative muse, and recalled this fun piece I wrote back in 2011. Thought I’d dust it off and reshare. Enjoy!

facewallShe sits there drinking beer, slumped in my papasan chair, leg bouncing up and down hinged at the knee, while staring out the window in feigned boredom. Some muse I have. I’m stuck with this blank page and she’s more intent on a beer buzz.

Where’s the practiced wave of her hand causing perfect verbs and nouns to spew forth like gold flowing out of a Leprechaun’s bottomless pot? Where’s the creative doyen intent on ordering my thoughts into clever, succinct, and dare I say, sellable prose?

“So what have you written so far,” she says without looking at me, lips smacking from giving her gum a workout. “Give me something to work with.”

She wasn’t this lazy back when I had that run of published articles, when everything submitted seemed to catch ink. Then she was sophisticated, sipping champagne and daintily nibbling gourmet noshes while patiently offering inspiration. Words fell out easily and she did her job well. Now she seems content to slop random words up against the wall and see what sticks, if she puts that much effort into it. No wonder I can’t write lately. Who can work like this?

I concentrate, trying to ignore her. My god, is that “Feelings” she’s humming?

“So this is writer’s block,” I think while pondering how I can coax her into working or get her out of here before she drinks all my brews. “At least it’s not expensive champagne,” I mutter, hoping she won’t hear me.

“Seriously, whatcha got? I got some good adverbs and adjectives you can use to spice things up,” she offers, pulling her gum out and stretching it away from her clenched teeth. Clearly she’s far more interested in how long she can make the gum-string before it breaks than helping me with pearly prose. She never, ever offered modifiers before. She was always at the ready with vivid nouns, and precise active verbs.

I close my eyes, hoping this is all a dream and when I open them the old muse will be sitting there with perfect posture, supportive manners, and ready once more to push my writing to new levels.

Her soft burp and follow-up giggle jerks my eyes open. She’s still here. So how does one fire a muse? And can I find a temp agency that will send another over, even on a Friday afternoon?

I stare back at the blank screen and realize it’s going to be a long weekend.

Guided Journal Fun

I’m not usually a fan of guided journals. Writing prompts in general are helpful, but a guided effort in a bound-book is not something I would use. Such preprinted journal pages guide someone through various activities and exercises toward a thematic purpose, e.g., life correcting, internally therapy, goal development, and many others. Not saying these aren’t helpful for many, just not something I find useful for myself.

Until now.

As a journaler in active practice going back many decades, I’ve never felt the need to be led by such guidances. Not one for whom writer’s block ever existed, I never struggle to get words down on paper, be it paper or digital.

So it’s a much a surprise to me as it might be to you who see this post’s opening image depicting two distinctive and obvious guiding journals. I recently purchased Pilgrim Soul’s Creative Thinking Journal, and The Hero’s Journal and will soon begin working through them.

Creative Thinking Journal

Creative thinking, like critical thinking, is a bit of a lost art. While I experienced mentors and courses that encouraged both through my education, I noticed these were somewhat absent in my kid’s schooling. Both are skills that come innately for some, but can be taught and encouraged in others, ones that should be taught to kids these days. While it’s a skill I think I have and do okay with (and sometimes well), it doesn’t hurt to exercise those specific mind muscles now and then.

Touted as a journal to use while under a light influence from cannabis, the authors make the argument that doing so helps remove inhibitions and better unlock our innate creative abilities. The journal consists of a lot of unusual, out-of-the-box-thinking exercises intended to change how we think about thinking. Check it out here for more details.

The Hero’s Journal

This journal’s fun approach gamifies a journey of efforts to reach a specific goal. Covering three months of daily entries, it’s a whimsical, character-based approach to tracking one’s efforts toward meeting a goal.

Using characters, fun artwork, and fantasy/journey related quotes, the journal takes you through a daily process of assessing, assigning, encouraging, and tracking progress toward your goal. While the urge to use cannabis may heighten results is there with the Creative Thinking Journal, the only temptation I see in using The Hero’s Journal is the delightful procrastination from pulling out my colored pencils, and coloring in the artwork! Check out the journal here for more details.


Being a fan and lover of anything to do with journaling, these two tempted me past the “Hmmm…” stage and through the rabbit hole abyss we all know too well as “shopping cart checkout.” I’ll post a future update on how these two journaling efforts turn out, but I’m eager to jump in and see what happens.




I fear the cold
The kind that’s deep;
Preserves or kills,
While fast asleep.

Yet as the snow
Settles from the sky,
My mind finds peace
Without knowing why.

Pure white innocence
Lingering pleasantly,
Is but a ruse
To fool us presently.

The wind that’s harsh
Is a prick of pain,
Those long, choking fingers
Of the ice king’s reign.

This field of beauty
A joyful moment,
Blinks life to death,
A shock, a torment.

Yet winter’s renewing grace,
Its universal task,
Revives us all,
If we wear its mask.

A New Twist on Task Lists: Binder Boards

Every year it seems I tweak how I track things to do. And every year it seems whatever I come up with fades in practical use in short order.

This year, in an effort to be pen- and paper-free on basic task tracking, I modified the binder task board concept to meet my needs. Who knows who originally came up with this, but h/t to the 1857 podcast and specifically TJ Cosgrove for my initial exposure to this compelling idea.

My version consists of dividing routine tasks (those identified as ones I want to become habitual) into Daily and Weekly timeframes, with Daily meaning, well, every day tasks…whereas Weekly includes tasks of a 1x, 2x, or more x per week nature, but not 7x to qualify for the top echelon where the cool (Daily) kids hang out.

Once I complete each task, I flip the binder handle to cover the task. Each morning I review and flip back all the Daily tasks completed from yesterday, and check to see if it’s time for any Weekly tasks. And yes, colors are intentional with green = Daily, purple = 1x/week, and blue more than 1x/week.

Time will tell if this a) survives persistent memory and interest, and/or b) helps “set” my desired habits at the end of 21, 45, or 60 days (the choices depending on which productivity guru you follow who tells you how long it takes to make a habit).

I think it’s a sweet analog approach that should be easier to consistently use than the traditional app or paper sheet/notebook I have to find where I last laid it. It’s not a portable solution, but roaming and portability is going to be a 2022 thing more than this year. And as shown in yesterday’s post picture, my binder board is facing me everyday at my writing desk so I see it easily and frequently.