Friday, September 30, 2011

The Pen and the Sword

Thirty-one years ago today, I walked into the long-since-vanished The Hampshire Room, a mom and pop stationary store on Broadway in Salem, New Hampshire, in search of the perfect pen.  For the first and only time in my life, from 3 p.m. after racing home from the school bus and until 11 p.m.-ish the previous night, I wrote the opening fifty pages of a novella called "The Night...Like Death" unable to put down the felt-tip I thought would be a good, permanent-ink replacement for the banal ballpoints of my then-young writing life.  I woke the following morning crippled and unable to hold a pen.  While I've had plenty of twenty- and even a good many thirty-page days since (my Friday at the recent North Conway retreat among the latter), I've never repeated the fifty-page day mark, and don't want to.  But what I got out of that singular experience (besides a completed manuscript that still lurks in my file cabinet and my very first case of writer's cramp) was the EUREKA! moment of understanding that a good pen is an absolute must for those of us Luddites who still compose initial drafts longhand.  A great pen, even better.  In The Hampshire Room, where I also bought my first copies of Writers Digest and one or two Barbara Cartland novels (loved those Dowager Marchionesses!), I'd spied lovely Shaeffer fountain pens, a bargain at a buck ninety-nine, and purchased my very first, knowing that if I was going to write long, I'd need a great pen that glided across the page to prevent further paralysis.  I bought another soon after.  And another.  Some forty fountain pens later...

Last year in 2010, while trying to keep our small family above water after my partner of nearly ten years was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, I fell into a pattern of producing pages unlike anything I'd previously experienced.  Writing was a lifeline and, in 2010, I completed 100 fiction projects -- four novels, six novellas, one short script, the rest a mix of flash and short stories, a total surpassing a half-million words.  Of those hundred, I sold fifty-two, including two of the novels and most of the novellas.  Writing saved not only me but my family, though there were a pair of necessary sacrifices along the course.

Two of my Shaeffer fountain pens long-last gave up the ghost and no longer work properly, their nibs damaged in that whirlwind of fresh pages.  The pen presently scribbling across my notepad, belting out "The Ferryman" for submission to Neil Plakcy, its shaft a stunning shade of cobalt blue, is doing a fine job.  I bought it in 1998 in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where I also stocked up on replacement ink cartridges, each one a guaranteed twenty pages of creative freedom.  I'm not sure they'd stand up well against the cold steel Devotchka in a sword fight, but my Shaeffers are still fairly mighty.


  1. Cool - I love your posts! Your memory constantly amazes me. :)

  2. Thanks, man! Yup, the very end of September. I remember it well. I remember most things well...blame it on a life of not drinking (blarp! I hate alcohol, except for champagne) and not doing drugs heh. No drugs except for writing, MSG, and STARGATE: ATLANTIS. ;)

  3. Don't feel bad...I can't stand the taste of a great majority of alcohols out there. (I can do a couple of sips of somebody else's beer but that's about it.)

    It's amazing what the mind can remember and consider a significant memory.

    Question for you:

    What do you do when you realize in the middle of the chapter you're writing that it could go in a myriad of directions? How do you choose the best one that fits with the image you see in your mind?

  4. Heh, I don't feel bad at all. ;) As for your question, run with your gut. If it feels right, it's the proper course. If you need to make a course correction in the next draft, that's okay, too. Do you write by outline, or are you a pantser (write by the seat of your pants)? I'm more of the latter and usually trust the characters to take me toward the proper end result. Write on!

  5. LOL. I write everything by the seat of my pants (school work included.) I find that writing from an outline stifles my true creativity. The problem I'm having with the chapter I'm writing is that I have like seven different ways it could go. So far I've chosen the three that have stuck out in my mind the most and have written three versions of the chapter with those ideas. When I sit down to read through the whole story I'll see which one fits in the best with the overall story.

  6. Great post, Gregory! Love stuff like this.