November is National Novel Writing Month, the calendar home of a worldwide creative event referred to as NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is a 30-day period during which accomplished and aspiring writers alike dedicate themselves to writing a novel (at least 50,000 words). The rules are few, but firm. You can’t start early. You can’t finish late. Seriously, you fail if you aren’t finished at midnight on December 1.
On its surface, NaNoWriMo is an intensive creative exercise meant to foster discipline and reward the resolute with a finished novel. For many participants, however, NaNoWriMo is a 30-day decent into a torturous month of writers’ block, desperately courting a fickle muse, and balancing the tendency to second-guess every word with the need to hit that 50,000 word count.
Honestly, we’re pen people. It’s not that we’re not interested in the writing process, per se. It’s just that we’re really interested in the actual writing process—that is, the process of putting pen or pencil to paper and applying markings that correspond with letters of the alphabet and combine to form words.
The truth is, even in these days of digital everything where it’s far more common to type or use a smartphone stylus rather than a pen, there are still lots of professional writers and authors who prefer to write manually.
We’d like to take a little moment to salute just a few of these artists, who may or may not be our favorites simply based on their loyalty to pens.
While the first Harry Potter books were handwritten in a café because J.K. Rowling famously couldn’t afford a typewriter (let alone a computer), Rowling is no longer encumbered by such financial hardship. However, in an interview featured by Amazon, Rowling says, “I still like writing by hand. Normally I do a first draft using pen and paper, then do my first edit when I type it onto my computer. For some reason, I much prefer writing with a black pen than a blue one, and in a perfect world I’d always use ‘narrow feint’ writing paper. But I have been known to write on all sorts of weird things when I didn’t have a notepad with me. The names of the Hogwarts Houses were created on the back of an aeroplane sick bag. Yes, it was empty.”
For a man who’s built a career (and genre) on bucking trends, Tarantino is singularly devoted to the ritual of writing on paper. He told Reuters, “One of the great things about being a writer is it gives you complete license to have whatever strange rituals make you happy and productive…My ritual is, I never use a typewriter or computer. I just write it all by hand. It’s a ceremony. I go to a stationary store and buy a notebook—and I don’t buy like ten. I just buy one and then fill it up. Then I buy a bunch of red felt pens and a bunch of black ones, and I’m like, ‘These are the pens I’m going to write Grindhouse with.’”
So Quentin Tarantino isn’t necessarily a novelist, but this guy does some serious writing. With pens. And for this, we love him. Also, he says, “I’m not writing novels. The screenplays are my novels, so I’m gonna write it the best that I can. If the movie never gets made, it’d almost be okay because I did it. It’s there on the page.” Bottom line: Tarantino gets it.
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most prolific and awarded American writers, and she is especially well known for her dedication to her craft. Considering the more than 100 novels and additional short stories, plays, nonfiction and other pieces Oates has published during her lifetime, it may seem unbelievable that Oates still insists on writing by hand. In an interview with Salon, Oates says, “I always sketch out material ‘by hand.’ Why is this so unusual? Every writer has written ‘by hand’ until relatively recent times.”
To this, we say, “You tell ‘em, JCO!”
After injuries sustained during a car accident made the act of sitting up and typing at a computer too uncomfortable, Stephen King rediscovered a love of writing with a fountain pen. In a 2001 interview on the Early Show, he called his Waterman fountain pen “the world’s finest word processor.” According to King, the slower, manual act of writing with a fountain pen allows him to give more thought to each word he uses.
Here are some conclusions you may or may not draw from the quotes above:
If you want to know how to create a novel, study up on NaNoWriMo, take a course on creative writing, or establish a personal connection with a novelist you respect. (Note: National Pen does not in any way support, endorse, or encourage celebrity stalking).
But if you want to know how to write a novel, please don’t hesitate to hit us up. We know more about pens than most, and can help you figure out exactly what ink type, barrel diameter, tip size, and pen weight will help you get the words flowing.
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