Tools of the Trade: One Editor's Solution

As part of my day job, I have to edit a lot of other people’s writing. Doing that in a concise, clear, constructive way requires using standard editing marks, writing clearly and of course, using the right tools.

I switched from red to green years ago as my primary editing color choice, largely because green comes across less intimidating than red. It’s not fun to see one’s writing all marked up, but is worse when it looks like someone used your paper underneath a fresh chicken getting ready for dinner!


My choice of tools has varied based on what’s readily at hand, but I recently decided to narrow in on THE pen or pencil to use consistently going forward. This approach would solve several long-term issues: dealing with a variety of paper, wanting a thin enough stroke to allow notating between lines, and of course, the right colors of green and red. And yes, I still use red at times for emphasis or commenting while making most edits in green.

My critical-six criteria for the right tools include 1) thin lines, 2) functionally easy to work with, 3) affordable (I go through a lot of these), 4) who-cares-attitude if I lose one or leave it behind in a conference room, 5) comfortable in the hand while using, and 6) good red and green color. The holy grail would be something that you don’t really realize you’re holding after a while that just becomes and extension of one’s hand.

The search process narrowed things down to one fountain pen model and two gel pen models. I favor fountain pens because I love using them and over time, the economy of using bottled ink is a plus.

editing pens

Fountain Pens

While I have a variety of nice fountain pens, none are ones I’d be okay with losing (criteria #4). I settled on trying the Pilot Platinum Preppy fountain pen in extra-fine which sell for under $5. They are cartridge pens, but is convertible to eye dropper pens to take bottled ink with a small 0-ring and a little silicone grease on the threads.

In practice, I liked using these best of all three, but they fail my #2 ease of use criteria on two counts: uncapped the nibs dry up too fast and it’s common to pause and think before noting again and constant cap on/off isn’t practical, and my attempts at eye dropper conversion didn’t work too well so didn’t trust they wouldn’t leak. Several days of oddly stained green or red fingers was proof enough. Sure, I could skip the eye dropper part (or fiddle with it to make it work) and just use cartridges, but that doesn’t alleviate the nib drying out issue. Plus, Preppys take a proprietary cartridge and I wasn’t crazy about the red/green colors available. Additionally, fountain pen ink is a bit sensitive to paper types and in some cases the extra fine nib laid down more like a medium. Strike one!

Gel Pens

I’d read about the famous Signo UM-151 gel pens as being the choice for gels. On my trip last summer to San Fransisco, Andy Welfle of the Erasable Podcast and did a stationery crawl that included mostly Japanese stationery stores where I finally found some UM-151s. Unfortunately, I grabbed mostly .28s but did manage one .38 in dark blue. With that I was able to test and decide, for me, that the .38 was the perfect line weight. The .28s, while extra-extra-fine, were a bit scratchy on some paper types. Moreover, gel pens in general are pretty happy with any kind of paper, inexpensive, and aren’t a leak risk!

Fast forward to and an order of several red and green .38s in both the UM-155 (capless, ballpoint-click type system) and the UM-151 (with cap).

I liked the UM-155’s convenient retractable point/no cap, but it’s a little thicker barrel and a little fussier with more moving parts, which in a cheap gel pen feel…well…cheap while using. Strike two!

For me, I’ve chosen the UM-151 to go forward with. It’s only negative is I have to work the cap on and off, but the point doesn’t dry out. So unlike the Preppy fountain pen, I only have to on/off the cap at the start/finish of an edit session (a minor inconvenience).

The UM-151 is a solid, sleek minimalistic design with a dimpled rubber grip and is now my editor’s tool of choice. I’m a bit sad I couldn’t resolve using a fountain pen, but happy with the UM-151 .38 as my editing tool of choice. What’s your favorite tool for marking/notating? Let us know in the comments!

Now…where’s that 40-page report due next week that needs a little Christmas-colors makeover? Papa’s got some fresh UM-151s…

Ikea Romp: Not Exactly Your Go-To Stationery Store

On a recent trek to Ikea, that Swedish Delight of immense proportions and unrivaled innovativeness (not to mention real Swedish Meatballs), I took on a mission to see exactly what, if any, stationery goodies the gods of knock-down furniture and wordless instructions had on hand.

Answer? Not much. But, if one is worth one’s stripes as a stationery treasure hunter, there’s always something to find!






Those golf pencils have almost obtained icon-status and who doesn’t love a natural pencil? But overall, Ikea has little to offer in variety or depth of stationery goodies, although the kiddie art supply stuff looks fun and there was a lot of it there. The adult stuff? Somewhat a single item for each category, and even at that, only a handful on the shelf. As said, not why we go to Ikea, but you have to admit it’s a colorful place, even in their token stationery efforts.

Love the Work, Not the Life

Those who write for a living, and definitely those who would like to, sometimes fall prey to this siren:  love the writing life without loving the work.

LIke many out there, I’m always fascinated about how others write:  what their workflows are, how they set up their writing nests, what they listen to (if anything) while writing, what they drink for inspiration, etc., etc. A wonderful way to procrastinate from actually writing yet feeling involved in writing, at least collaterally.

Seth Godin’s post today talked about this addiction and summed up resolving this foolishness of peering over the fence at a proverbial neighbor-writer to see how they do it:

The biggest takeaway for anyone seeking to write is this: don’t go looking for the way other authors do their work. You won’t find many who are consistent enough to copy, and there are enough variations in approach that it’s obvious that it’s not like hitting home runs or swinging a golf club. There isn’t a standard approach, there’s only what works for you (and what doesn’t).

This obsession with “what the other guy is doing” is entertaining, but ultimately hugely distracting from our writerly goals. The acid test for any activity, if you question whether it’s healthy or helping, is the simply asking oneself, “Is this taking me closer or farther away from my goal(s)?”  In most cases, learning whether Hemingway wrote in slippers or flip-flops is not going to get those words on paper for you any faster or better, although in thinking about Hemingway it may inspire you to avoid using adverbs and adjectives. And that’s a good thing.

21 Reasons to Write

Photo by Gary. All rights reserved.

The rule of thumb on making or breaking a habit is, theoretically, doing the consistency dance for 21 consecutive days. Embracing that philosophy, I present 21 reasonings to use, one per day, until dancing with the muse becomes habitual.

  1. I have something to say.
  2. I want to be heard.
  3. There’s a (good) novel inside trying to get out. It’s taking its sweet time, but it’s in there…somewhere.
  4. I’m seeking the the perfect sentence…and hopefully it’s one that I write.
  5. Because I have fingers, a computer, and knowledge of vital rules like “i before e” and other good stuff, I write.
  6. It’s a way to explain myself to myself.
  7. Writing is cheaper than therapy – if you ignore the plague of rationalized writing toys (Apple-anything) and creative procrastination detours caused by deadlines.
  8. Writing keeps me in at night versus out enjoying tasty, but bad-for-me food and alcohol…ergo, writing must be healthy.
  9. I can participate annually in NaNoWriMo with irrational optimism mixed with blithe ignorance of laws of probability regarding publishable material.
  10. It allows me to relive the highs and lows of a life, with an occasional medium-whatever thrown in for good measure.
  11. It also allows me to regurgitate stupid things said yesterday…or last week…or for that matter, this morning.
  12. Because there are lots of words in a dictionary and somebody has to be OCD about putting them in order.
  13. It’s nutrition for my soul, salve for my ego, and will be more fun than watching TV or playing Solitaire when I retire.
  14. If I don’t write, my head will become so filled with thoughts, concepts, dialogue, and intriquing-yet-impossible plot twists that it might explode.
  15. Without writing, I’d have no way to translate those wonderful story dreams I have, like the one the other night about whats-her-name located…uh, somewhere doing whatchamacalit.
  16. We are what we write; which is why I gave up trying to become the next Stephen King.
  17. By writing, I leave behind a legacy of thoughts that my boys will someday read and realize, in retrospect, that Dad really was basically nuts.
  18. Because if I write often enough, someday I might actually earn the right to write poetry and thus achieve bohemianism.
  19. Sometimes the opiate of anticipation to write is enough to serve as contentment, but not for long.
  20. Words are better to collect than the dust bunnies of an idle mind.
  21. Because if I don’t, I’ll regret it at the end of my days.

Sage Advice

“If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. If you’re concerned with quality, of course, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.” – Seth Godin

Sound wisdom from Seth Godin. Can’t add anything worthy to that, other than “just do it.”

A Different Writer’s Group

Anytime I explore a new area and consider whether it might be where I want to eventually migrate for my next life-phase, I always check out the local writer’s scene. Usual there is always a writer’s group or two, and equally usually they’re of the read-and-critique style where hopefuls share work and hear (frequently with deaf ears) feedback. These sessions can be cathartic for a willing writer, but my experiences have shown they’re not for me (plus they are most suited for fiction writing, which is not my forte).

Photo by Gary. All rights reserved.

What I yearn to find (and I will state before someone mentions online groups and yes, they are better than nothing) is more of a writer’s guild approach to my want. Imagine a group of serious and published writers who band together for support on the writing life and the challenges of staying in the game. No question that for some, readings and feedback are critical, but that’s more easily found than what I suggest: a venue where writers can close the door to the outside world, drop our world-famous writer’s egos, and benefit from group therapy with like-minded individuals.
My current Quixotic search for an eventual home finds me thinking seriously about a small town two hours south of me: Yellow Springs, Ohio. Although less than 4,000 residents, YS behaves like a much bigger community. Liberal, infused with heavy dose of arts, free thinkers, yoga studios and even it’s own Zen center, plus nestled in woods, hills, and state parks, YS seems idyllic. And I do know there are several published writers in residence (YS hosts the famed annual Antioch Writer’s Workshop), yet I’ve not able to surface any signs of writers connecting. May simply be that as an outsider, I’m not seeing the local scene…yet.

Writing is a solitary art, and most writers I know would be slow to warm to my vision of a writer’s group. Maybe finding or starting such a group is like growing vegetables: plant cucumber seeds (typical writer’s group) and in no time you’re begging people to take them off your hands, but try to grow asparagus, which takes years before their exquisite flavor can be enjoyed (writer’s guild approach) and one learns the meaning of the word “wait.” Time, patience, and networking (although I dislike that word and think it’s overrated, or at least, abused in practice) may be what I need to find the writer’s group I envision.

Writer’s Block

Photo by Gary. All rights reserved.

She 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 noshies 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 humming. My god, is that “Feelings?”

“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 brewskis. “At least it’s not champagne,” I mutter, hoping she won’t hear me.

“Seriously, what’ve you got? I got some good adverbs and adjectives you can use to spice things up.” she offers, now pulling her gum out, stretching it out away from her clenched teeth, far more interested in seeing 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 that 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 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.

With a Twist of Irony

The Washington Post Mensa Invitational annually attracts wannabe verbarians who add, subtract, or change one letter in a real word, then add a witty definition and voila: an oddly familiar, yet profound new word. 2006’s amazingly appropriate winners:

  • Arachnoleptic Fit – The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
  • Beelzebug – Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
  • Bozone – The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down any time soon.
  • Cashtration – The act of buying (or building) a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
  • Caterpallor – The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.
  • Decafalon – The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
  • Dopeler Effect – The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
  • Foreploy – Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
  • Giraffiti – Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
  • Glibido – All talk and no action.
  • Hipatitis – Terminal coolness.
  • Ignoranus – A person who is both stupid and an asshole.
  • Inoculatte – To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
  • Intaxication – Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize that it was your money to start with.
  • Karmageddon – It’s when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes. Serious bummer.
  • Osteopornosis – A degenerate disease.
  • Reintarnation – Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
  • Sarchasm – The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.