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.

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.


Sunday, May 3 – Journal Snippets

A bit late this week. Been some churning in my mind about how much I want to share here, so delays on posting.

Sharing these unedited journal bits helps keep me encouraged to journal most days and think more deeply. These Sunday posts also give me a concise weekly review of the more impactful journal moments.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
– Lao Tzu


April 26 – These times are such an amazing opportunity that I must take full advantage of and must ensure that when things normalize again and roaming is possible, I want to look back and be pleased both with the progress and the body of work produced.


April 27 – So many tasks and thing to do all of a sudden it seems. Need to relieve the pressure a bit and through routine and focus in zones during day, should settle things. Things are jelling to what’s important and what should go away or slow down.


April 27 – But my reading list is gigantic! Maybe Blinkist can help on some of the B reads. This is why I need two hours dedicated to reading every day. Plus, more pure sit and think time. Maybe my coffee drinking should that reflective time and not while online or eating.


April 28 – Good sessions albeit split this morning due to necessary Trader Joe’s run. But wrote one new poem, tweaked another, wrote/posted on blog, and a draft of a good essay on minimalism for Medium this time. May excerpt back to the blog on it.


May 1 – Missed morning habits and may tomorrow. How does that make me feel? A bit of an imposter on my goals, but needing to give the body more sleep for now. Seems to be more important.


May 2 – My thoughts are like shifting sands. One day treasures unearthed to awe and surprise, the next only the windswept waves on the dunes changing a landscape of sameness. Such is the churning of thoughts in my mind lately.


Are you journaling in these dark times? Let me know if you are in the comments, or if you’re just starting and have questions.

Sunday, April 26 – Journal Snippets

Sharing these unedited journal bits helps keep me encouraged to journal most days and think more deeply. These Sunday posts also give me a concise weekly review of the more impactful journal moments.

“Accept what comes from silence.”
– Wendell Berry



April 19 – Early rise–I really enjoy days when this happens–and already feel very productive. Trader Joe’s day so the stark reality of what’s “out there” will be felt this morning.


April 20 – My reaction on media noise is a bit off target. The stoic in me knows “the obstacle is the way” so being uncomfortable with news and then ignoring it is not ideal. Pick & choose, read what you need to, but find a way to handle it and stay sane at the same time.


April 23 – What is home to me? A place that holds my worldly goods…also a refuge, one neat & tidy, organized to my ways and quirks. Safe from weather, quiet, able to open to fresh air, warming sun in the winter. And yet, I’m drawn to wander from home to explore new areas see nature, spend time in reflection….Where is this fabled, ideal home? Complicated.


April 24 – What is it (or them) that I really want to do? Perhaps a better framing to start with is how do I want my days to flow and what do I want to emphasize, compared to avoid?…I’m pretty sure what I want to do. No sense continuing to write about it here. Been the same for a long time now.


April 25 – Finished watching Maria Popova’s Universe in Verse. Fanned more flames in my growing interest in poetry. Learning that poetry can touch me in three ways:  not at all, enraptured through the language and word art, or profoundly, as though, like back when I remodeled my 1029s bungalow house I’d peel a layer of paint off the wall to reveal a previously unknown, yet interesting and telling, layer beneath in colors and hues not imagined.

nota bene:  Quote heard spoken from Krista Tippett:  “Poetry is language that lands in our bodies.”


Are you journaling in these dark times? Let me know if you are in the comments, or if you’re just starting and have questions.

Sunday, April 19 – Journal Snippets

More unedited bits from my journal this week. Sharing these helps keep me encouraged try to journal something every day. These Sunday posts also give me a concise weekly review of the more impactful journal moments.


April 13 – Nights, and bed times, come sooner when my day begins at 5! If this were indeed a monastery, my day would begin even earlier and in bed before dark. Not much different to what’s now.


April 15 – More strange, conflict dreams last night. They say dreaming increases during a crisis like this, with mostly restless bad dreams. But I contend my increase in embracing a stoic philosophy may simply be removing opportunities for negative thoughts, thus they are coming out more in my dreams instead. Eh…it’s a theory.


April 15 – Work ahead is necessary to settle direction and foundation. Past the “wonder when” phase and feel it’s now starting the “be like this indefinitely” phase.


April 16 – Walk today bubbled up some good thoughts about an ideal day’s structure for me:  mornings creating (writing), afternoon mechanics, evenings relaxing, reflecting, reading. Whether this is doable and sustainable remains to be be seen.


April 17 – Day by day mentality still working well and filling time with productive, relaxing, and reflective moments.


April 18 – Outside on back patio with sunshine! Yesterday a blizzard, today sunshine and blue skies. Michigan spring, I guess.


Are you journaling in these dark times? Let me know if you are in the comments, or if you’re just starting and have questions.

Journaling is not only cheap therapy and a useful (and safe) place to rant, cuss, blast this or that person…or it can be a great way to encourage your own actions and behaviors. Doesn’t matter how or in what. Some like journaling at the end of the day to capture what you did, what you thought, etc., others start their day journaling.

Either way, the most important thing is to just start and write down your thoughts every day. Consistency makes a big difference between journaling being just a diary and one with more reflective observations.