In Search of the Perfect Writing Instrument

You know that show Hoarders on A&E where people attach memories to every scrap of paper or they see value in bits of wire to the point where they experience deep physical and emotional pain when they are forced to throw anything out?

Yeah. That’s me.

With pens.

Every time I drive by an Office Depot or art supplies store, I think about the pens inside… waiting for me. It’s like there’s ideas in those pens that won’t come out unless I buy them. When I find a pen I like to write with, I buy a dozen. Just in case. Then a company like Uniball will discontinue one of my favorites like the Vision Exact Micro and I will run out and buy as many as I can find. I have drawers full of my go-to pens. The Uniball Signo .7 Gel Grip and Vision Exact Micro .5 for example. I have 10 VEM’s new in the packaging and over 50 Gel Grips. I also occasionally treat myself to a pricier option like the Retro 51 Tornado or a Lamy. With extra refills, of course.

Uniball Vision Exact Micro, aka VEM

Here’s where the pain comes in: if I lose one of these select models of pen before it’s out of ink, I lose sleep. I’m unsettled for a couple days. It’s like I won’t get those ideas back. Crazy? Yeah. I won’t even lend them out. I have a pile of junk pens to let people borrow. Rodeo clown pens to keep the brutish bulls away from the special pens. If I give you a VEM or Gel Grip or Tornado, you have no idea what a significant gift that is. Even if I specifically bought that gift for your birthday, I still wrestle with the notion of keeping it for myself. I might just as well have given you a pound of flesh. The VEM’s are discontinued! Don’t you get it?! You think I’m sweating because I’m chunky and Irish? That may be! But the stress of giving up a coveted pen started it! (footnote: you can still get VEM’s online)

The Gel Grip .7

Side note: How did I end up with 50 Gel Grips? An Office Max closed in some distant suburb and they were fire-selling everything. A box of 12 was $3! These pens are usually $2 something EACH! Oh man. Maybe the greatest day of my life. I bought the last five boxes. I also bought a box of 1.0 Impact Gel Grips for my friend Courtney. Because even though she’s not a pen freak, she knows I have a problem and appreciated the gift (I didn’t tell her they were rodeo clowns to keep her away from my .7’s).

Here’s the thing, I’m left-handed. Worse yet, I’m left-handed, but I don’t hook (left-handers know what I’m talking about) so as I write, I smear everything I just wrote with the side of my hand. Smear-proof, fast-drying ink is important. I write pretty small so a smooth-rolling, low-drag ball tip is important. It has to be a ball tip because I push the pen across in the paper unlike a right-hander or a left-handed hooker (yuk, yuk) and the little felt tips get all bent and ragged when I try to write with them. I like gel ink because it writes and looks better than that pasty ball point ink. I found the perfect combination of these things in the Uniball .7 Gel Grip. It’s a .7, but it writes closer to a .5 with angle I hold it. It’s almost perfection in a sub $5 pen.

Lamy Studio Rollerball

Two problems with the Gel Grip. It’s a little too light as in not heavy enough. The Lamy I have cost 70 bucks and is the perfect weight and balance, but the ink bleeds on the Moleskin paper that I use, and the ridge where the cap meets the body is right where I put my hand when writing. Doesn’t bug me that much, but if I’m writing for more than an hour, it starts to bother my hand. The other problem with the Gel Grip is that they don’t last long. That is to say, the ink runs out after a couple full days of writing. Not a huge deal, but even with a bargain pen, the number I go through adds up. The Retro 51 lays down twice as much ink (which isn’t ideal except for

Retro 51 Tornado

disorganized notes) but the cartridges last forever. I would use this pen every day, except it’s too heavy. So for now, I write with the Uniball Gel Grip as my standard, high output tool.

I guess the underlying question is why don’t I just type? Actually, I do a lot of typing for my job and it’s fast and easy to make changes and I’m pretty good at it. That’s the problem. It’s too fast and I spend too much time fussing with fixes. When I write longhand, it forces me to slow down and think clearly. And since I can’t change whole chunks with a keystroke, I keep moving forward. In the long run, I get more done. Then when I type all the hand-written stuff into Google Docs or whatever, I’m actually going through my first revision. It’s a system I’ve been using since I was a kid in the 80’s, and I like it. Maybe now is a good time to mention that I’m also a little obsessive about keyboards.