On writing longhand

It surprised me when I discovered how much I enjoyed the physical process of putting ink on paper. I was probably about eleven or twelve when my father (in one of his many explorations of artistic expression) set out to learn calligraphy.

He had long admired old Copperplate script, such as you might find on offical certificates or in ancient ledgers in museums. He came home, armed with enthusiasm, suitable pens and a bottle of rich black ink.

I caught his enthusiasm, and spent hours hunched unergonomically over a poorly lit, small, fold-down desk, copying italic letters slavishly from the instruction book. I quickly became frustrated that the letters were never as perfectly formed or as evenly spaced as the examples in the book. My father was frustrated too, gave up and went on to the next in a series of creative pursuits: oil painting, jewellery-making, enamelling, wood-turning. Actually, he stuck with the wood-turning, bought a lathe, spent happy hours buying bits of wood and making clocks, barometers, bowls and kitchen towel holders which we still have in the house.

I stuck at the calligraphy rather more doggedly over the years, and have come to love the art of magicking the words from the nib of the pen onto smooth white paper.  There is something delicious about the way that the colour flows from a well-loved pen. There is a subtle shading in the strokes that make up the letters as the pressure changes on the nib.

A hypnotic rhythm is set up as the pen travels across the surface of the paper; a soft whispering of words to the page. Everything else melts away, and the eye just follows the hand, left to right, left to right, weaving a cloth of text across an invisible loom in subtle shades.

I have to write by hand. For me, it is an integral part of the pleasure of writing. As I am writing now, I hear the muffled thunk of a rounded bee bumping against the glass of the window. But my eyes never leave the page: I’m compelled to follow the trail of shiny black ink.

The act of forming the words is as important to the process of writing as the act of imagination going on in my head. Slowing down to write with dark ink and a fountain pen allows me to be fully present, mindful only of the act of writing word by word, moment by moment.

The paper must be silky; the nib cannot catch and spatter ink or fail to make a mark.

The only pause comes when the ink runs out, satisfying evidence that you have covered some writing miles. The pen must be gently taken apart, ink drawn from a glass bottle, the nib wiped, the pen re-assembled and the ink persuaded to flow again. Then I can weave more words across the paper, left to right, left to right, until there is enough and I sit back and look over the material I have made.


4 thoughts on “On writing longhand

  1. Your pen is high maintenance! 🙂 I too enjoy writing with a pen and paper now and then, though often I scribble down so fast the words are barely legible.

    It is amazing how easily you can come up with new ideas, just by sitting somewhere comfortable with _only_ a paper and pen.

    Great read, thank you 🙂


  2. I remember reading 1984 and being confused by what Orwell meant by “ink pencil” as distinct from a proper pen. I grew up, I suppose, in an age where the fountain pen was already archaic. Still, I was fascinated then, and as a devotee of calligraphy and fountain pens more generally (not to mention the art of hand-writing) I can appreciate the difference now in a way I could not when I was 14.

    I really enjoyed to read this post.

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