It's been almost a year since I've updated my site, but I've been writing regularly. During that time, I have been working on two novels. I’ve started a half-dozen new short stories. I have even started work on publishing a children’s book. All of those are rife with topics to talk about. Not today, though. Today, we’re going to talk about pens.
Specifically, we will discuss fountain pens because they’re more fiddly and personal to me than other pens. In an effort to take a break from working on my novels, I will tell you all about my favorite fountains and their accessories. First, I will talk about why I use and love fountain pens because that’s way more interesting.
Writing is hard. Sometimes writing is very hard. Even when the output is hard, though, I try to enjoy the process. Ah, but there’s the rub. So much of the process is outside my control; mood, inspiration, and distractions are things I try to control — that I like to believe I control — but I cannot control. There are things I can control, like my keyboard, hardware, and software (future article right there). Those are things I have chosen because they make me happy and, most importantly, they increase my efficiency. Pens are different.
Other than the near bottomless wells of ink, nothing about my fountain pens makes me more efficient. They are slower to write with, require me to slow down even more to avoid ink stains on my hands, need maintenance and inking, and nothing is saved to the cloud or even backed up at all. These are all the things I love about them. I get joy uncapping them, inking them, holding them as I think, and making big loops and small dashes in my rough cursive script. They bring moments of joy with no efficiency gains at all.
Someday, I might write about how they play into my process of outlining and free writing before I get something worth typing. I’m not Neil Gaiman, and I can’t handwrite an entire novel. Still, I reach for my pens as often as possible. I’ll write about it some other day. For now, let’s just accept that they give me joy, and I’ll start talking about some of my favorite pens.
Pilot Vanishing Point
My first holy grail pen, I looked at the click-y fountain pen for over a decade before I finally got a white and black (Stormtrooper) one. With a fine nib, it’s perfect for quick notes. I did quickly realize that putting it in my front pocket risked clicking the nib out and staining the inside of my favorite jeans, but now I know better. Now, it sits on my desk within reach all day, and it’s the first thing I grab for any notes or ideas. Moreover, the whole click mechanism and the ability to keep the nib from drying out is a mechanical marvel that I constantly think about.
This was another holy grail pen I acquired after a decade. It’s simple in form, but every detail feels perfected. Unchanged since 1966, the mid-century look and feel connects me to history each time I uncap it. It uses a uniquely shaped nib that some don’t like, but I think writes incredibly smooth. The piston filler means I can refill it in minutes with no cleanup. The feeling in the hand is just substantial enough, without ever feeling too large. It’s one of my favorite instruments to write with, and it’s no coincidence that I wrote all my notes for this article using it.
TWSBI Vac 700R (and Mini)
TWSBI was my first good fountain pen. Not the Vac, but the 580. In fact, that’s the pen I loaned to friends to sway them over to fountain pens. It wrote smoothly, looked interesting with its clear body, and felt great in the hand. Unfortunately, mine got cracked too badly to warrant repair after about a decade (and more than a couple falls on tile or concrete). I waited for a year before I bought the Vac 700R, a vacuum filler I had been looking at for a few years already. This is just a workhorse. It has one of the largest ink reservoirs out there, and you can fill it to the brim with the cool vacuum action. I keep mine filled with an oxblood red ink that looks cool in the pen and on the page (perfect for horror stories).
After owning the big Vac for a while, I got the Mini for daily carry when I leave the house. This pen is pocket-sized, has a large reservoir, and is tough enough to withstand minor accidents. I plan to rotate the ink in it, but I’ve been loving a dark blue for the past few fills.
Technically, this is not a single pen, but a model of which I have owned many. They're affordable ($20-30), available in various colors (from black to earth tones), and write well using cartridges or bottled ink. I’ve given many as gifts. I got myself a mango colored one, filled with bright red ink, just for marking up the first draft of my novel.
Visconti Homo Sapiens or Opera Master
Okay, this is my bonus pick. It’s also not a single pen, but two lines from Visconti. I don’t own any of them. If the Vanishing Point and Lamy 2000 were my holy grail pens when I first got into fountain pens, these are my “one day I sell a book for a lot of money” pens that seem almost unobtainable. The Homo Sapiens I want are handmade from hardened basaltic lava, and they are blacker than black. The Opera Master is shiny black with swirls of orange and red in the resin. These all write perfectly, and they are functional pieces of art. They cost just a shade under a grand. I’m not getting any of them… yet.