Top 5 pens

In the recent Pen Addict Podcast, Brad and Myke discussed their top 5 pens, and that made me think about my top 5 pens. Do I even have a top 5? I never actually ranked my pens until now — I just use them.

After a bit of thought, I came up with this list of my favourite five pens. These are all perfect for long writing sessions, but they’re not necessarily the best for begninners, or for showing off your handwriting, so take that into consideration before you purchase any of these:

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Nakaya Cigar Piccolo Negoro Kise Hon Kataji black/red with elastic flexible medium rhodium nib — that’s quite a mouthful for a relatively small pen. This pen was made to order for me, and I had to wait quite a while and pay quite a bit for it, but it was totally worth it. The nib is a dream, and like no other nib that I own — it’s springy. It isn’t a wet noodle by any stretch, but shows a good amount of line variation, is very comfortable to write with, and is super easy to clean. The most beautiful pen that I own, in a very understated way, it’s the best all-rounder in this list.

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Parker 51 — I have quite a collection of these vintage classics, and I have yet to be disappointed with one. They somehow manage to make my handwriting really good looking, and they are fun to write with (though a bit of a pain to clean). Not the prettiest of pens, but I love their sleek looks, and they are workhorses.

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Franklin Cristoff Model 66 Stabilis Antique Glass with a 1.1 stub converted to an eyedropper pen — this pen is gorgeous, comfortable for long term writing, helps show off ink (both because you can see it sloshing around and since it lays down a significant line), and makes even the simplist handwriting look great without going overboard in terms of line thickness. It’s also super simple to clean out (though beware of staining inks), and the nib is a stunner, especially for a steel nib.

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Ti Arto with a Uni-ball UMR-85N refill— this has now become my daily journaling pen, and although it isn’t a fountain pen it is comfortable for long writing sessions, mainly because it has a relatively thick barrel and is relatively light for a machined pen. It writes well on all types of paper, including Moleskines, is relatively cheap, and accepts a dizzing array of refills. This is a pen that I don’t mind slipping into my pocket or tossing into my bag — it’s built to last and can take the punishment.

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Lamy 2000 Fine — this pen is not without faults, as the little metal prongs that hold the cap in place can get in the way of your grip, and my old 2000 is cracking in several places (ugly-fixed with superglue), but I still love it. The gold nib allows for just enough line variation to make it perfect for both writing and sketching, and the capacity is just fantastic. I’m also a big fan of its understated looks, but if you’re looking for something with more zing, this may not be the pen for you. I also bought another one, in extra-fine (after my old 2000 started cracking), and I have to say that its nib isn’t as good as my old 2K. So I’d recommend it, but only if you’re willing to tune it (either yourself, or take it to a nibsmith), if necessary.

These are my workhorses, and at any given time at least two or three of these are in use. Experimenting with pens in nice, but when you’re working on writing a novel or have a good chunk of writing to do, the snazzy wet noodles and music nibs give way to more dependable choices that are also always a joy to use.

Top 5 pens

On Learning to Touch Type

For the past two weeks I have been taking the time every day to learn to touch type.

I type a decent 36 words per minute today (sans touch typing), and I rarely look at the keyboard as is. So why make the effort to learn to touch type. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?

One thing was Clive Thompson’s talk on the importance of learning to type fast. I thought that I was a pretty decent typer until I took a typing speed test (here), and discovered that I was merely average. For someone who writes and spends most of my day working on my computer, “average” typing speed is just not good enough. I wanted to stop pausing my writing to scan my keyboard for the right key, and I wanted to stop having to go back and fix typing errors all the time.

The other thing was that my pride was a little hurt by the results of that test. If teenagers can learn to touch type in eight weeks (again, see Thompson’s video), then so can I. I had tried to learn to touch type in the past, but like many of my friends and colleagues I had quickly been discouraged.

So I searched online for a bit, and I found a few very useful, free resources that can help you learn to touch type:

Typing Club – this is the main site that I use. It is excellent, as it teaches you touch typing in small, manageable increments (I am now in lesson 22 for those interested).

Typing Study – another useful site that teaches touch typing in much larger chunks than Typing Club. It also has a speed test and games that help you practice your touch typing. I use it for extra drills, on top of what Typing Club provides.

Type Racer – a very popular touch typing racing game that helps you improve your typing speed.

Keybr.com – another popular touch typing teaching game. Gives you words with blanks in them and sets of keys to learn to touch type. Doesn’t teach by the conventional “home row first, then top row, the bottom row” method.

Typer Shark – here for nostalgia reasons only. A lot of people learned (or tried to learn) to touch type during this childhood using this game. It’s still here if you want to use it.

Typing speed test – another typing speed test site, one that doesn’t use capital letters and punctuation (I got 47 words with it, but it felt like cheating).

Typing tips on Reddit /r/MK wiki – a nice collection of useful typing tools and resources.

/r/BlurredFingers on reddit – a sub reddit devoted to fast typing.

What was really a revelation for me was that once you stick to it for a while, and practice, practice, practice, you notice that it isn’t that you are remembering where each key is, but rather that you are developing muscle memory to where every key is. It takes a few days of persisting, but once it starts happening it is quite stunning. Your mind is clearly no longer spending valuable “processor time” remembering where each key is, and you are free to focus on your writing and your writing only.

This post was touch typed, and took me a little longer to write at the moment, but was a valuable learning experience. We invest time, money and effort in things like finding the perfect notebook, pen or pencil, but hardly enough time in developing skills that are useful for the modern writer.

On Learning to Touch Type

Biweekly Routine

Routines and rituals are important, and one of the signs of a craftsperson is their care for the tools they use. This is true for any kind of maker, whether your craft is storytelling or leatherwork. Every two weeks I try to go through this routine, to make sure that the things that I use when I write are there and in order when I sit down to do my writing.

Clean keyboard

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Some computer keyboards harbour more harmful bacteria than a toilet seat, research has suggested. 

A BBC News report published the findings of a consumer group Which? on keyboard hygiene, and not surprisingly they were shocking.

Since your keyboard is one of your main, if not your main writing tool, taking 10-15 minutes every two weeks to clean it doesn’t seem excessive, yet few writers do so.

Here are the keyboard cleaning guides that I use:

PC World: How to Clean Your Keyboard – simple, informative, easy to follow advice on how to clean your keyboard.

Rispter Guide: Cleaning Keyboards – funny, and with plenty of pictures. Also, much more thorough than the PC world guide, and geared towards mechanical keyboard maintenance.

Check backups

You can read up here on how to backup your work. Once every two weeks go over your backups and check to see that everything is where you expect it to be.

Organize notes

Take a few minutes once every two weeks to go over your notes, file or throw away those that aren’t relevant anymore and make sure that you don’t have any loose notes scribbled on envelopes or post-it notes around the house.

Organize file names

If you for some reason work with Word and not with Scrivener (why?), and keep several versions of your work in different files, take a moment to make sure that your file names haven’t gotten out of hand, and you still know where everything is and what everything is. File names “My novel – old new new version 2” — I’m looking at you.

Check notebooks, pencils, pens

Check your notebooks, pencils, pens (fountain pens or not), to see what needs to be refilled soon, reinforced or replaced.

Update Scrivener project metadata

Take some time to fill in character names and short descriptions, places information, references etc. in your Scrivener project’s Characters, Places or Research folders. This information is important to keep on hand for long projects, and is especially useful to keep bundled together with your writing — mainly for search purposes (“where did I reference X character?”).

Biweekly Routine

Backup, backup, backup

[Note: I use a Mac for all of my writing, so this post is geared towards Mac users. If you have a PC you need to find a replacement for Time Machine or SuperDuper  — Windows Backup does not work well and I haven’t found a good enough replacement — but otherwise the rest of my post is still relevant to you.]

It doesn’t matter what you are writing, whether it’s a paper, article, short story or novel, if you are typing into a computer, you need a backup system.

Start out by investing in an external hard drive, one that isn’t a portable 2.5’’ drive (those are less reliable over time), but a full sized drive from a reputable maker (Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, Tanscend, Lacie, etc). Buy the largest HD that you can afford (4-5 TB should have you covered), and make sure that it connects to your computer via USB 3.0.

Then setup Time Machine and/or SuperDuper (if you are on a Mac) to backup your entire hard drive regularly. I scheduled Time Machine to backup my HD once an hour to my external Lacie drive. Over the years I have had a chance to restore my entire computer from it when my cat decided to take a walk all over my keyboard, causing a kernel panic and somehow corrupting my filesystem. This is the backup that you will use when you accidentally spill juice over your laptop, or have a HD crash, etc.

A local backup of your entire computer is great, but it isn’t very useful if your house burned down, if you had a power surge, an earthquake, tornado, etc. That’s what online backup is for, and for this I use Backblaze. For $5 a month you get unlimited, unthrottled online storage, and a nifty and very simple to use piece of software that flushes all of your files to the Backblaze severs. This is not a bootable backup, but a backup of all of your data. It’s for the I-lost-my-house-and-everything-in-it kind of scenario, where you have to buy a new replacement computer, but still want all the data that you had on your old computer. As an added bonus, you can access your Backblaze files from anywhere, so if you just want to checkout a file or two, or flush your photo library between computers, Backblaze can help you with that too.

Dropbox is not a replacement for Backblaze, because it’s not geared towards online backup (not in pricing nor in its interface and options), but it is a good file sharing and syncing service. Use Dropbox coupled with Scrivener’s “Backup” and “Backup to…” to create up to date backups of your current project that you can access and update from anywhere.

Finally, remember — if your backup system relies on you to remember to back something up, the it’s not a backup system. 

Backup, backup, backup