Another Batch of Pencils for Writing

There are far more high-quality affordable wooden pencils than I ever realized. I’ve tried four more for more pencils since my first post about wood-case pencils. I’d happily use any of these four pencils for writing, but I’m particularly pleased with the Staedtler Norica, the General’s Cedar Pointe #1, and the Musgrave News 600 in terms of reliable, pleasant to write with, attractive affordable pencils.

Staedtler Norica

Staedtler Norica

These Staedtler Norica pencils came from Office Depot; I saw them mentioned online as a back to school bargain. They were $10.00 for 36, or 0.28 each. I like the glossy black body, the silver print and the white eraser with the silver ferrule. They feel good in my hand; the finish is super smooth. The first pencil I used was great for the first page, and then I hit an unpleasant gritty section for a second. This repeated a couple more times, but by about an inch into the graphite and several pages down the road, the writing was consistently smooth and pleasantly dark. The Norica writes a little on the dark side of #2/HB. The eraser is not great, but not unusable, either. At .28 each, I’d definitely buy these again. If I were shopping for a school, I’d get this pack of 50 Staedtleter Norris pencils with 50 eraser caps for $6.00 from Amazon.

General’s  Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB

The General’s #333 Cedar Pointe 2HB is another natural finish pencil, made of unvarnished cedar with a dark eraser and an aged or bronzed looking ferrule. The General’s Cedar Pointe #2 is a perfectly reasonable HB #2 pencil. It’s not a favorite but I’d buy it again. A single General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB pencil is $1.00 at CW Pencils.

General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1

General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1

I really like this pencil. It’s definitely darker than the Cedar Pointe H/B2, with  the same natural finish cedar body, ferrule and eraser. I like this pencil very much; enough that I’m tempted to buy a dozen. It’s a solid, attractive dark-graphite pencil for writing. A single General’s Cedar Pointe from CW Pencils is $1.00. A dozen Cedar Pointe #1s with free shipping from Amazon is a bit under $10.00.

Musgrave News 600

Musgrave News 600

The Musgrave News 600 is a round, glossy black eraserless pencil with prominent san serif white print. I purchased it from CW Pencils for $0.50, and it was a bargain. As the CW Pencils description of the Musgrave News 600 suggests, this thick-cored dark pencil feels about like “3B/4B and looks a bit darker.” Musgrave News 600 isn’t terribly durable in terms of general hardiness (all that graphite is fragile) or point retention, but it produces a thick dark and very smooth line. Musgrave News is a great pencil for writing, despite its tendency to smudge. I’ll probably buy a couple more so I can always have one on hand. Musgrave News 600 are extremely smooth writers, produce a thick line, and are very dark.

Oct17 Wooden Alarm Clock

Oct17 Wooden alarm clockI wanted a way to see the time at night without constantly checking my phone. I was initially looking for an analog watch, but this Wirecutter review of alarm clocks caught my eye, especially the Oct17 Wooden Alarm Clock caught my eye.

The clock is shaped like a very large Toblerone chocolate bar, has a small footprint and can be set to display the time when you tap it. The wooden clock comes in several different finishes, including an attractive light bamboo. Oct17 Wooden Alarm Clock in the light bamboo finishThe time display is very readable, even without my glasses. The clock can be set display the date and time in alteration, or the time, temperature and humidity. The alarm sound (you can set several alarms) is really annoying, but the alarm would wake me up if needed. As the Wirecutter review notes, setting the clock is a little tricky; it’s modal and involves correctly pressing one of the three tiny buttons in the correct sequence. Setting the clock is manageable however, and for the price (under $20.00), this clock is a bargain.

The clock is powered by a USB cable and AC adapter plug; my clock arrived with a non-functioning plug, but the company replaced it immediately. The plug has a power light that shows when the adapter is working. The clock uses three AAA batteries as a backup power supply (not included). What I like best about the clock is that I have it set so the display is off unless I tap the clock, or make a loud enough sound to wake the display. This clock does exactly what I needed, is attractive, easy to read, and takes up very little space.

I couldn’t be happier.

NetNewsWire 5.0b4

Brent Simmons’ NetNewsWire is back. NetNewsWire 5.0b4 is a free and open source RSS reader for macOS. You can download the NetNewsWire 5.0 Beta version now, or wait if you’re not experienced regarding using beta software (this means being prepared to have bad things happen, like losing your data). Seriously, don’t use a beta if you can’t afford to lose data. That’s not a reflection on NetNewsWire or Ranchero; that’s the nature of beta software.

If you are comfortable with beta software, the NetNewsWire Help book is online. Don’t miss the keyboard shortcuts. Me, I’m already using NetNewsWire, and am so happy to have it back. It took me two minutes to import my feeds via an OPML file I exported from Feedly. They imported perfectly, including the folders I set up to keep the organizd. I’ve enabled the Safari extension to make adding new feeds something I can do directly from Safari.

I’m able to go through the 170+ feeds I subscribe to easily and mark the ones I want to come back to or blog with a star, which will save them locally so I can write offline. The keyboard shortcuts make it so much easier, and more time efficient than Feedly. I’ll easily save at least an hour a day just by using NetNewsWire.

I couldn’t be happier to have an old friend back. Thanks so much Brent.

Wood Case Pencils

As fond as I am of my Kuru-Toga mechanical pencil, lately I’ve also been using old-school wood case pencils. I started using mechanical pencils in the 1990s because the readily available wood case pencils I purchased at office supply stores weren’t reliable; a brand that was fine in January, when I went back and bought them again in May would be inferior. The graphite would break frequently when I tried to write, or was broken inside the pencil, or write in such a scratchy abrasive way that it was difficult to write at speed, and writing was already physically difficult for me. I hadn’t used a wood-cased graphite pencil since at least 2000 until late 2018. 

While Christmas shopping in 2018 I stumbled upon an amazing specialty retailer of wooden pencils, CW Pencils. I discovered that there were a lot more pencils than I knew about. There’s a lot of variety, and quite a lot of pleasurable-to-use pencils. This year I bought a bunch of single pencils in an effort to find some I liked enough to buy more of.

I’m primarily interested in pencils to use for long-form writing, and fairly long writing sessions. I draft a lot in pencil, as well as take research notes, and sketch out roughs for diagrams using pencils. In addition some specialist research libraries only allow you to take notes with wood case pencils (no pens, no laptops, no mechanical pencils). I asked CW Pencils for suggestions regarding pencils to try, and read a lot of pencil reviews and listened to some pod casts by people who are knowledgeable about pencils. 

Even the pre-sharpened pencils were sharpened with the Apsara Long Point pencil sharpener that came with an Apsara Writing Kit of Indian pencils I bought on Amazon. The eraser I used, even if the pencil has an eraser, was a Sakura SumoGrip eraser, though I did at least try the built-in erasers on pencils that have them. The paper I used was generic composition notebooks (made from sugar cane by-products) and Japanese notebook paper. I used each pencil for at least a week, including several 90-minute writing sessions per pencil.

The following list of pencils I’ve tried is opinionated rather than definitive. I’m buying pencils with the intent of using them, not saving them. Your mileage will very likely be different from mine. And I may well change my mind; I often do.

Perhaps in part because of good marketing and clever branding, the high-end pencils you hear the most about are the re-imagined and re-branded Palomino Blackwings made by CalCedar. These are sold by the dozen, and run between $25.00 and $28.00 a box.1)There are four standard Palomino Blackwings models, available always. In addition four limited editions are produced a year. The limited editions often sell out quickly and trade on the after market for more money, since they’re a collectable. People get a little religious about Blackwings. I agree that they’re fun and I really love seeing other people enjoy their pencils, but I’m looking for work tools, not collectables or investments. Blackwings strike me as the graphite equivalent of Montblanc fountain pens.

I tried pencils from  two Palomino Limited Editions, as well as other U. S-made pencils, German pencils, Danish pencils, Indian pencils, and Japanese pencils. I bought all but the Palomino and Apsara pencils from CW Pencils, who have been an absolute delight to deal with. 

For those who want to cut to the chase, the pencils I’m definitely going to order more of are:

I’ve learned two particularly useful things about my personal pencil preferences:

  1. I prefer slightly softer and darker than standard HB (the Viarco Desenho and CW Editor graphite are really harder than I prefer).
  2. I’m partial to natural finish pencils.

I’ve listed the pencils in alphabetical order, not the order I used them or like them. I used each pencil for at least a full day of writing (that’s several pages of writing). I am a terrible photographer, and am taking these photos with my phone. They really don’t do the pencils justice, particularly in terms of color; my apologies. 

Graphite Pencils

I mostly use graphite pencils for drafts and research notes, but I also do a fair amount of diagraming and crude sketches of layouts and UIs.

Apsara Wood World Extra Dark

This pencil has a pale beige-ish pencil body, with red and green images, green writing for the label and a green end, no eraser. I have no idea what the images are. This pencil sharpens beautifully, and writes very smoothly. One of the pencils in the Apsara Writing Kit.

Apsara Absolute Extra-Strong and Extra-Dark

Silver body, no ferrule, with white writing and the end is an attractive blue. Sharpens easily, writes smoothly. Maybe a little darker than a standard HB. This was one of the pencils in the Apsara Writing Kit.

Apsara Platinum Exra-Dark “for good handwriting”

A black body with silver stripes, and the end is black. Sharpens well, writes smoothly. I honestly can’t perceive any difference between the Absolute and the Apsara Platinum. They both write really well, and erase fairly easily. One of the pencils in the Apsara Writing Kit.

General’s Big Bear 909T

My first “jumbo” since elementary school, though this one is black not red. It’s large, round, and this one, unlike the pencils from elementary school, has an eraser. It was a little tricky to sharpen; I ended up buying a sharpener with a larger hole. The eraser is tolerable, but I wouldn’t want to rely on it. It takes more effort to write in terms of moving this pencil across the paper than I’m comfortable with. This one is not for me.

General’s Carbo-Weld Scribe  HB

This is a very green round pencil, no ferrule or eraser. It’s a bit difficult to write with for very long, both because of the shape, and because of the graphite. Don’t think I’ll keep this one.

Kitaboshi 9006 Academic Writing

My favorite pencil so far. I like everything about it — the darkness, the smoothness, the white eraser, even the gold print and the burgundy body. This pencil does seem to need more frequent sharpening than some, but it was so pleansant to write with I hardly noticed. I liked the Kitaboshi 9006 so much that I kept returning to it when another pencil became unpleasant. 

Mitsubishi 9000  General Writing HB “Made by elaborate process”

I like the green body. Seems softer and smoother than the Tombow 8900 HB. Maybe a touch darker? I’m not really sure. Certainly a good experience, though not a favorite pencil at this point.

Mitsubishi 9852EW Master Writing HB

This is a very pretty pencil, and easy to sharpen to a good point. I like the natural finish very much. I also like the black / dark grey eraser, which is pretty good, though my Sumo is better. The green foil labeling is attractive against the natural finish. The writing is pretty standard for HB in terms of darkness, but it’s exceedingly smooth. This may be my favorite of all I’ve tried so far.

Mitsubishi 9850 HB

This pencil has an attractive dark red body (cranberry or maybe burgundy?) with a white eraser. It’s startlingly similar to the Kitaboshi 9006 Academic Writing pencil. I like it; it writes well and sharpens beautifully though I think I like the Kitaboshi 9006 better.

Moon Products Try-Rex B46-2

This is an attractive pencil, with a slightly different “rounded” hex shape, and an eraser. It’s not truly triangular, but it is noticeably different from the standard hex. I like it well enough, but I suspect I’ll pass it on to someone who will enjoy it more.

Nataraj 621 Ruby HB

This is a pretty red and black striped pencil from India with gold foil printing on the body. Fairly smooth to write with, and sharpens easily. It’s a little darker, I think, than a conventional HB. Not a favorite, but perfectly usable. I’ve already passed it on, and forgot to take a picture. 

Palomino Blackwing 4

This is the first 21st century Palomino I’ve tried, and I got it mostly because of the Mars theme. It’s the “soft” core, and it does glide across the page. I like it fine, but it’s not necessarily the love of my life.

Palomino 811

I’m a lover of libraries, planning on returning to school for an M.L.S. so this pencil called to me at its release; how could I not like a pencil this pretty that glows in the dark? This is the “firm” core but it’s almost as smooth as the “soft” core of the Palomino 4. It has me curious about the Blackwing Natural, which has the Extra Firm core.

Palomino Forest Choice #2

I very much like the looks of this natural finish pencil. I’m apparently partial to natural finishes. Natural finish wood pencils are apparently a thing, which is very good news.  The Palomino Forest Choice is a perfectly decent pencil, especially for the price. Forest Choice is a great  pencil to give to the curious, and I like that it’s FSC. I expect I’ll buy more to give to people who want to borrow a pencil. 

Tombow 2558 HB High Quality “For General Writing”

This is a traditional yellow-body hex pencil with a pink eraser and a brass colored ferule. I like it just fine for basic writing. Sharpens well, and erases easily.

Tombow Mono 100 F “For high-precision drafting”

I like the dragonfly logo. I like this one a lot. It really keeps a point well. I will probably use this one for diagrmas rather than for long form drafts. This was one of the pencils Alyx of CW Pencils recommended. 

Tombow 8900 HB

Smoother feeling than the Viarco Desenho HB. A little darker, too. I like the dark green body and the gold dragonfly. Holds a point fairly well. I like it quite a bit.

Viarco Desenho HB

This one was a little odd feeling while I sharpened it; not bad, just different. It has really nice point retention but it required more effort while writing, like there was a little more friction. It’s a pretty thing, with dark cranberry and gold print, but not, I think, for me.

Viarco Desenho

Viking Element 1 HB

I like this pencil very much. It writes easily, and it’s noticeably darker than most of the pencils I use.  I like the slim width, the black body and the Viking ship logo (I confess to being inordinately fond of the logo).

Editing and Checking Pencils

I use these for edits and for annotations on hard copy and books, especially marginal glosses. 

Caran d’Ache Bicolor 999

This is a double-ended pencil with blue on one end and red on the other.  I like it very, very much. It’s smooth, it erases reasonably well for a color pencil, and I really like the shades of red and blue. Easy to sharpen, too, which is not a small thing for a color pencil. This is one I’ll be buying again. 

Caran D’Ache & CW Pencils The Editor 

This is another bi-color pencil, but this one has graphite on one end and red on the other. The red seems to be the same red as that of the Caran d’ache Bicolor 999. The graphite is a little scratchy, but I like the convenience of having both red and graphite on the same pencil, which I really like. 

Mitsu-Bishi Hard 7700 “Strong Needle Point”

A very pretty red pencil with gold printing. The red is a little pale, but it sharpens well. It’s a little difficult to write with, but the Mistsu-Bishi Hard 7700 works very well for annotating, particularly if I want to use fine lines to mark up text.


References   [ + ]

1. There are four standard Palomino Blackwings models, available always. In addition four limited editions are produced a year. The limited editions often sell out quickly and trade on the after market for more money, since they’re a collectable. People get a little religious about Blackwings. I agree that they’re fun and I really love seeing other people enjoy their pencils, but I’m looking for work tools, not collectables or investments. Blackwings strike me as the graphite equivalent of Montblanc fountain pens.

Clearing Recently Used Fonts from the macOS Font Panel

The macOS Font Panel, for apps that support it like Notes, TextEdit, and XX, allows you to quickly pick a font, point size, and color. It also displays categories of fonts, including a list of the Recently Used Fonts.

It’s not completely clear to me when and why a font is added to the Recently Used List, but the app in which I most frequently use the Font Panel is in Notes. Most of my notes are written in Georgia 14, because it’s easy for me to read even on my iPhone.

As you can see, my Recently Used Fonts is a list of repeated instances of Georgia 14:

macOS Font Panel showing Recently Used Font(s)

The Recently Used Fonts list is derived from the plist The plist is stored in ~/Library/FontCollections.

To purge the Recently Used Fonts List

  1. Close any apps that might use the Font Panel.
  2. Go to ~/Library/FontCollections.
  3. Drag to your Desktop or compress it in place.
  4. Open Notes.
  5. Press Command-T or choose Font/Show Fonts from the Format menu in Notes.
  6. Click Recently Used Fonts in the sidebar of the Font Panel.
  7. Your Recently Used Fonts list should be empty.
  8. Delete the file from your Desktop or delete the compressed version from ~/Library/FontCollections.


I’ve written about TextExpander before, because I’ve been a constant user for a little more than seven years. And now, with TextExpander 5, it’s even more useful.

Smile Software’s TextExpander is a macOS and iOS utility that saves keystrokes by expanding a short abbreviation that you type, with whatever text you have previously associated with that abbreviation (a TextExpander Snippet). When you type the abbreviation, TextExpander automatically expands it to a short phrase, a date, a name, a paragraph or or pages of text—whatever Snippet you’ve assigned to that abbreviation. You can even create Snippets that manipulate or format text from your clipboard before you paste the copied text to a document. You can share Snippets between your macOS app and your iOS apps.

I use TextExpander all the time for email, for Web pages, for HTML and CSS and for creating templates for various kinds of notes and glosses. I use ddate, for instance, any time I want to insert today’s date in a document, and TextExpander inserts the current  date for me. I write a lot html; while I use BBEdit for most CSS and HTML, when I’m writing blog posts in particular, I rely on TextExpander to quickly insert tags. TextExpander is particularly helpful in terms of short cuts for CSS I and tags like cite or blockquote that I use a lot. I type ,blockquote or ,cite and TextExpander expands the abbreviation to the paired tag, with my cursor right between the open and close tags, so I can easily paste the quotation or or the book title that I’ve previously copied.

TextExpander is a core part of my workflow, for writing of all kinds. I use TextExpander to add closings and sigs to my emails, letting me quickly customize the closing to suit the occasion without taking my hands off the keyboard to reach a menu,  and for the body of emails that I send frequently. I also use TextExpander for boiler plate paragraphs and URLs that I frequently need to send to people. I particularly like that I can rely on TextExpander for names of products and publishers, and be sure that I’m using the canonical name every single time. I have a group of snippets for words that I frequently misspell or mistype. TextExpander inserts the correct spelling for me. I also use TextExpander for templates for documents I create frequently. I have a review template, HTML templates for several kinds of Web pages, a proposal template, and, perhaps most importantly, an invoice template.

I send a lot of emails that are essentially the same, except for the name of the addressee, and a few variables. TextExpander makes that much more efficient and saves me time and keystrokes. Let’s pretend you’re thanking someone for a donation to a charity you volunteer for. Type the abbreviation you assigned to the form letter Snippet, and TextExpander creates a popup form. You enter a name, the amount of the donation, choose a category that the donation will go to from a list, and click OK. TextExpander generates the letter, places it on your clipboard, and you can paste it in whatever document you want, in whatever word processor or email app you favor. The new “Snippet Creation Assistant” (see below) walks you through creating similar Snippets yourself (In fact I stole this example from the Snippet Creation Assistant).

Snippet Creation Assistant

One of the new features in TextExpander 5.x is a Snippet Creation Assistant. This interactive tutorial walks you through creating your own Snippets—and it’s available at any time via the Help menu in TextExpander. The Snippet Creation Assistant walks you through adding several particularly useful groups of Snippets: Auto Correction, which automatically corrects commonly misspell and mistyped words, like that for that; a group of words that strictly speaking require accents, for instance, correcting crêpe to crêpe; and a group of CSS and HTML Snippets that will even create paired tags.

Shared Snippets

Other TextExpander users have created snippets that they share; you can download and install shared snippets, or, if you’re using the subscription version of TextExpander, shared snippets called Public Groups can be added to your TextExpander account.

TextExpander saves me time and keystrokes. At this point, I wouldn’t want to write without TextExpander. I even use TextExpander Touch on my iPhone and iPad. I have access to all my Snippets on my Mac, my iPhone and my iPad via DropBox syncing. With a yearly subscription, you can keep all your snippets (and share them with friends or the public) on TextExpander’s servers.

Suggested Snippets

A new feature of TextExpander 5 and later are “Suggested Snippets.” TextExpander watches in the background while you work, and when it notices you using the same phrases frequently, adds the phrase to a list of “Suggested Snippets.” You can choose to turn Suggested Snippets off of course, but it’s useful to leave it on for a while. You might be surprised at how often you use the same phrases, and Suggested Snippets makes it very simply to turn those repeated used phrases (and sentences) into a Snippet that can reuse with a few key presses.

I occasionally turn Suggested Snippets back on when I start working on a new book or project, and it makes creating project-specific Snippets a breeze.

Take Control of TextExpander

Purple cover of Take Control of TextExpander bookThe built in Help (via the TextExpander Help menu) is quite good, as are the user guides for the macOS and iOS apps, but I got a lot more out of TextExpander after reading Take Control of TextExpander, which is organized so that you can skip around and use the specific parts you need at any given moment, if you don’t want to read Take Control of Text Expander cover-to-cover. It also covers TextExpander Touch for iOS.

This post uses affiliate links.

NIXPlay 10 inch Digital Frame

I bought this NIXPlay Advance 10-Inch Widescreen digital frame for my mom after reading this WireCutter review of the Nix Seed. My mom doesn’t have WiFi, so the NIX Seed wasn’t an option for her. She loves her Nix Advance. It holds a giant amount of images and videos, and so the image is always fresh. And the clock function is useful too.

The NIXPlay Advance has a beautiful wide-screen display. The frame came with an 8 GB UBS thumb drive but it can also take SD/SDHC cards. It displays JPEGs and MPEG-4 videos, including sound. It also has a calendar and clock, and you can set the time to display on the lower right-hand corner.  The motion sensor can be set for a duration so the frame display “sleeps” when there’s no one around to appreciate it. You can have the images and/or videos play back in sequence or randomly, with a variety of dissolves.

The remote is easy to use, as are the button options on the back of the frame. There are a variety of sizes and features available, including NIXPlay frames with WiFi support. It took me all of 10 minutes to set up the frame after coping files to the USB thumb drive that was included with the frame.

I wanted this for my mom, but it’s a great gift for grandparents or other relatives. Pick out the videos and images you want to display on the frame, then when it arrives, copy them to the included USB drive or (the cloud for WiFi versions) and they’ve got a gift rich with memories and joy. Plus, it’s easy to pop the drive off the back of the frame and freshen it with new images. There are a number of options in terms of NixPlay digital frame sizes and WiFi support, including both smaller and larger frames.

NIXPlay Advance 10-Inch Widescreen digital frame Features

  • Photo & 720p HD Video Playback: Mix photos (JPEG) and video (MPEG-4) in the same Slideshow.
  • 1280x 800 High Resolution IPS (16:10) LED Backlit Display
  • Hu-Motion Sensor: Turns the frame on when you enter the room and off when you leave the room, with several durations.
  • 8GB Thumb Portable Thumb Drive Memory Included, frame accepts USB & SD/SDHC Card.
  • Small well-designed remote control, with batteries pre-installed.
  • Clock/Calendar Function, Stereo Speakers, Full One Year Warranty.

Purchase From: | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK | NIXPlay

Your NaNoWriMo Portable Writing Studio: No Computer Required

One reason a lot of writers tell me they’ve never tried NaNoWriMo, the annual November challenge to write 50,000 words in a month, is that they can’t fit in long writing sessions; they work and have other commitments, or they don’t have a portable device and can’t write at home because there are too many distractions.

Image Credit Green chameleon

One strategy for coping with the requirement to write every day for NaNoWriMo is to have a portable writing studio that doesn’t rely on digital technology and a convenient electrical outlet for writing. The “portable” part means you can carry the basic necessities to make any place your writing studio. The “basics” are what you personally need to be able to write. They need to be portable (and I really do mean “the basics”) and you need to have a convenient way to carry them.

Everyone’s Portable Writing Studio (PWS) is a little bit different. For some writers, it means having everything they need for several hours of intense writing, including food and drink. For others, it means their notebook and pen (or pencil), and grabbing ten minutes here and fifteen there, to write. Your PWS will reflect the way you write. You might need a small backpack; others will be able to pack their studio in a slim messenger style bag, or even in a back pocket, for the true minimalist.

It’s a matter of personal preferences, with the goal of being able to write effectively, without distractions, and without the need for electricity. For some, that means a battery powered tablet or minimalist laptop; for me, that means paper, pen and pencil.

It took me a couple of years to figure out what I really need to write effectively almost anywhere; there was a lot of trial and error, and it changed for me recently because it became  harder to rely on the ubiquity of the Internet for backup and the availability of electrical outlets for power. I mostly write in long sessions; 90 minutes or so, then a break away from my chair for 15 or 20 minutes.

My PWS consists of:

    1. 1 “large” A4 (c. 8.5” x 11”) or B5 (“composition notebook” sized) notebook with good paper (suitable for a fountain pen)
    2. 1 “medium” A5 (c. 5.7 x 8.3) notebook with good paper1)Good paper is a matter of personal choice and intended use; I want to be able to take notes with a fountain pen without a lot of bleed-through, or with a pencil and be able to erase the pencil easily without smearing
    3. 1 fountain pen with spare ink cartridges in blue or blue-black
    4. 1 fountain pen with spare ink cartridges in green
    5. 1 Kuro Toga mechanical pencil with spare lead
    6. 1 Tombow Knock eraser with refill
    7. 1 set over-ear headphones
    8. 1 iPhone with music/ambient nature recordings for writing

I fit this in a small messenger bag, with room to spare for a bottle of water or a snack. I do a lot of writing in places where connecting to the Internet or electricity is problematic, or downright impossible because the AC outlets aren’t usable or are in use. That means I’m often writing by hand, with handwriting that only I can read. I draft and take notes and plan by hand, and later, keyboard the actual draft. Often I don’t have time to type up the previous day or night’s work, so I begin the next session by making a clean copy of the writing from the previous session, and revise as I go. This process of making a clean copy and revising really helps me get back into the flow of what I’m writing.

I use the larger “composition” sized B5 notebook for drafting, notes, and planning; I use the smaller notebook for clean copies of drafts, to keyboard later. I use Mead Composition books that are made in Vietnam from sugarcane; they work well for first drafts with fountain pen or pencil (I can write on both sides of the paper) and cost less then $1.00 on sale.2)Look at the back of the notebook for a tiny label that says Made In Vietnam, and sometimes, the word sugarcane will be included I use an A5 sized notebook (c. ) with decent paper for my clean copies. This might be a Scribbles that Matter notebook, or a Baron Fig notebook, or a no-name similarly-sized notebook with decent paper (lined or dot-grid for me).

Test whatever notebook you plan to use with the pens and / or pencils you’ll use, to make sure they’ll work for you.

I frequently my rough draft in pencil, writing as fast as I can before the ideas melt away. I’ll revise in ink, or use a different color of ink, if I need to distinguish between versions or possible alternatives. I’m a multiple drafts/recursive reviser sort of writer, usually, so I’ll draft and revise, and then copy a clean draft in the smaller notebook.

I like the Kuro Toga mechanical pencil because it’s designed to rotate a little each time you press and lift the pencil up from the paper; that means it’s never dull. I like Tombow Knock erasers because they let me erase precisely and very cleanly.

I prefer to write with fountain pens because it’s easier on my hands; fountain pens glide over the paper. When I’m writing away from home I use pens I can afford to lose, like the Platinum Preppy.

I listen to a playlist of downloaded local music or ambient nature sounds on my iPhone to help mask background sound.

A Possible “Minimalist” PWS:

      1. 1 Pocket sized notebook (c. 3½” × 5½” c.30–48 pages)
      2. 1 multipen or a pencil.

The idea behind the minimalist PWS is that you can fit your notebook and pen in your pocket, literally. You can write anywhere you happen to be. The poster child for “pocket” notebooks are the small paper bound Field Notes; there are similar notebooks on Etsy, and from a number of other companies. Some writers use one small notebook per chapter, and carry a second notebook for background note, plot ideas, etc. Some people like to use a single small bound A6 notebook like Moleskine or Leuchturm; they still fit in a pocket.

A multipen means that you have more than one color of ink available, and even a pencil or stylus, depending on the base pen. You can write wherever you are, whenever you have ten minutes, with the intention of either keyboarding your current work later or making a “clean” copy by hand after you edit.

It’s not too late to create your own PWS for NaNoWriMo. What’s in your PWS for writing anywhere, anytime?

Originally published on

References   [ + ]

1. Good paper is a matter of personal choice and intended use; I want to be able to take notes with a fountain pen without a lot of bleed-through, or with a pencil and be able to erase the pencil easily without smearing
2. Look at the back of the notebook for a tiny label that says Made In Vietnam, and sometimes, the word sugarcane will be included

Journaling for Writers during NaNoJoWriMo October

Image of a page from John Steinbeck's hand-written journal for The Grapes of Wrath.
John Steinbeck’s journal for The Grapes of Wrath

Fall is here, and that means we’re getting closer to NaNoWriMo.

One way to start thinking about what to write for NaNoWriMo is to keep a writer’s journal, one that’s primarily about prepping to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days during the month of November.

Writers’ journals are a venerable tradition, used by many writers in the past and increasingly popular today. A writers’ journal can be a conventional “dear diary” journal, of the sort Samuel Pepys kept, or it can be a record of where you are in a writing project, where you need to go, what plot points and character traits you want to remember and emphasize — even your emotional response and impressions about your writing.

John Steinbeck kept a writers’ journal from the beginning of his work on The Grapes of Wrath, later published as Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath. For Steinbeck,  journaling helped him cope with and mitigate his anxiety and stress about writing every day. Sample entries include short notes like these:

May 31, 1938: I shall try simply to keep a record of working days and the amount done in each and the success (as far as I can know it) of the day. Just now the work goes well.

June 18: I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability. Honesty. If I can keep an honesty to it… If I can do that it will be all my lack of genius can produce. For no one else knows my lack of ability the way I do. I am pushing against it all the time. Sometimes, I seem to do a good little piece of work, but when it is done it slides into mediocrity

September 7: So many things to drive me nuts… I’m afraid this book is going to pieces. If it does, I do too . . . If only I wouldn’t take this book so seriously. It is just a book after all, and a book is very dead in a very short time. And I’ll be dead in a very short time too. So the hell with it. Let’s slow down, not in pace or wordage but in nerves.

October 4: My laziness is overwhelming. I must knock it over . . . I’ve been looking back over this diary and by God the pressures were bad the whole damned time. There wasn’t a bit that wasn’t under pressure and now the pressure is removed and I’m still having trouble. It would be funny if my book was no good at all.

Other writers are less interested in their emotional response to their writing, and more interested in counting the words; they often write short notes about the current word count, the daily word count, and what they mean to start writing about in their next session.

567 words this morning; 31789 total. Must figure out who Bryan really is, and why he wants to find the crater. What is his driving need? What will finding the crater do for him?

As a way of prepping for NaNoWriMo, consider starting a NaNo journal. Starting a NaNoWriMo journal now allows you to plan, plot and work on characters and backstory without actually drafting. Consider the NaNoWriMo journal a sandbox for your writerly imagination. A journal can not only be really helpful in terms of concentrating on writing during NaNo November, it can be a great deal of fun.

A NaNo journal doesn’t have to be elaborate; a .99 cent composition book from the corner drugstore, a spiral notebook, or even a small pocket notebook that’s meant to fit in a back pocket or purse are all perfectly fine; whatever works for you. You might be happier and more like to use a journal app that runs on your smart phone. Like a pocket notebook, an app for journaling on your phone is convenient, letting you make quick notes about your WIP while waiting for the bus or during your lunch break. There are journaling apps for Android and iOS. You might even want to use a bullet journal as a writers’ journal.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of journaling, October 1 starts National Journal Writing Month:

National Journal Writing Month (NaJoWriMo) helps you start and maintain a journal writing habit in 30 days. NaJoWriMo is geared toward personal growth, reaching your goals, and recording your life as you live it.

NaNoJoWriMo is a quarterly event (January, April, July and October) meant to encourage people to try journaling. It’s not terribly rule-bound; you can journal as you see fit, with a goal of journaling every day for 30 days. There are daily prompts, as well as lots of tips about starting and maintaining a journaling habit. NaNoJoWriMo has a theme every quarter; this quarter’s theme is Unleashing Your Creative Mind Through Journal Writing. That sounds perfect in terms of NaNoWriMo planning. The NaNoJoWriMo website has a free newsletter; sign up for a free downloadable with lots of tips about starting and maintaining a journaling habit.

Journaling is a great way to start your writing day, and it can be freeing to be able to write without it having to be your WIP. You might want to keep a journal to remind yourself of the good things in your life (an awesomeness journal). Journaling is a one way to freewrite and start your writer brain, especially if you’re struggling with writers’ block or your well of inspiration is temporarily dry. If you’re in front of a keyboard and screen for much of the day, or working on your WIP on your computer, consider journaling with pen and ink (or pencil) as a way to free your writer brain to work on your story while you write differently.

Originally published on

On Fountain Pens

I returned to writing drafts in long hand (as a respite from keyboard-related carpal tunnel) in 2012. I used fountain pens fairly often before that, but mostly for letter-writing. Since late in 2016, I’ve been writing long form drafts, note-taking and planning almost exclusively with fountain pens.

I already knew that I remembered notes I wrote by hand better than those I keyboarded. I’m not new to handwriting, but I quickly discovered that writing with a fountain pen was much easier on my hands than using gel or ballpoint pens.

With conventional pens, you’re physically moving the pen across the paper, and exerting force to move the “ball” so that it coats itself with ink, and transfers it to the paper. Because the pen needs to be impelled with some deliberate force to move, writers grip the pen, creating tension in the hand and arm, which often leads to writers cramp or dystonia.

With a fountain pen, the nib (the pointed metal object at the business end of a fountain pen) spreads the ink; the ink is liquid and the pen is inclined to glide across the paper with little force being needed. Moreover, the fountain pen’s tendency, because the ink is liquid, is to join letters, requiring less effort from the writer. Ball point pens, on the other hand, use thicker ink, and require more effort.

Other reasons to consider using a fountain pen, if the ease of writing alone doesn’t tempt you, include the enormous variety of inks; there are hundreds of shades and a number of different kinds of ink (permanent, archive quality, waterproof,  . . . ). If you sometimes need to draw or sketch a diagram or chart, a fountain pen can be a marvelous tool for sketching as well as writing. And, like other analog tools, fountain pens are extremely portable; if you’re not comfortable with the idea of carrying a bottle of ink with you, you can find ink cartridges for almost any fountain pen.

If you’re new to fountain pen writing, a fine point nib or even extra fine (rather than medium or broad or italic or stub) is usually easier to use and still produce legible writing. If you want to use bottled ink (it’s economical, environmentally kind, and there’s an enormous range of color options and ink types), make sure that the pen comes with a converter (an expensive device to fill a fountain pen with ink from a bottle) or that you can purchase one for that specific pen.

There are a number of economical options for those interested in trying writing with a fountain pen before buying a more expensive keeper. There are low-end pens that are $3.00 to $5.00 dollars each, including disposable fountain pens like the Pilot Varsity. The Platinum Preppy fountain is an affordable (c. $3.00) alternative to a disposable pen; it uses Pilot cartridges, so it’s refillable. There are also a wide range of reasonable pens that are under $30.00, like the Lamy Vista, the Lamy Safari, the TWSBI ECO, or the Pilot Metropolitan. These are perfectly good pens and will last for years, but you should try one in person, first, especially the Lamy Vista or Safari; the triangular grip isn’t for everyone.

Mottled black-and-white Mead composition notebookYou’ll have better results  with fountain pens if you use slightly better than average paper; a Mead 5 Star notebook is tolerable, but heavier weight paper (c. 70 gsm or better) will work better and you don’t have to break the bank. Ordinary “composition notebooks,” those mottled sewn binding books are often just fine for long-hand drafts in fountain pens; look for composition books manufactured outside of the U.S. (often made with sugar cane or rice bran fibers). Buy one on sale and take it home and try it with whatever you might use to write. If it works, look at the colophon on the back cover, and the copyright date, and get exactly the same model.

Moreover, you’re not limited by the offerings at Amazon; check out the options at or The Goulet Pen Company, both of which offer reasonable “starter pens” and notebooks or pads of paper suitable for fountain pens.