How to s-l-o-w down your writing
To improve your concentration, word choice and sense of voice, try turning the clock way back—to the simple dipping pen
Published: April 6, 2010
|In today’s stream-of-consciousness world of e-mail, text, Facebook and Twitter, initials become sentences and words take flight before thoughts are well-formed. What to do? Well, are you ready to turn the clock back, oh, a few centuries?|
To hone concentration and put consideration back into your writing, and for a striking change of pace, try using a dipping pen. Consider the advantages: There is no insert, spell check, cut and paste, or delete; just your words drawn on paper with an ancient technique.
For those of you whose only writing instrument is a keyboard, a few words first about the mechanics, before I discuss the benefits. A dipping pen consists of a holder and nib, or pen point. Holders are made of wood, plastic or glass. The nibs are stainless steel, gold or gold-plated and have a channel cut down the middle and a breather hole in the center. Ink is fed to the paper by a combination of gravity and capillary action. Nibs range from stiff to very flexible, in sizes from extra fine to double broad.
You charge a dipping pen by dipping the nib into ink and brushing the excess off against the ink well, and it must be recharged time and time again while writing. Little pressure is needed to make words flow effortlessly onto paper. You can buy an inexpensive holder, a bottle of ink, and a selection of nibs for $20 to $30 in art stores or at Web sites such as www.pendemonium.com.
The dipping pen connects you to a time when written communication was truly treasured, not just glanced at. Care was taken in writing a letter, and the writing received in return was saved for a moment when the reader could dedicate the time to enjoy and ponder it.
Discover—or rediscover—the pleasure of writing by hand. A dipping pen makes you slow your thoughts and your hand speed. It takes patience: You must focus to achieve the order, logic and reason necessary to write with this method. You’ll experience a feeling of fulfillment from the deliberate care that is needed, and the sensory joys of hearing the gentle scratching of nib on paper and seeing your words drawn.
To write with a dipping pen, you have to be involved and to prepare, since you lose all the corrective functions available on your word-processing software. Be-fore putting pen to paper, your thoughts must be focused and in order—it is best to plan or outline your thoughts first. With a dipping pen you have to spell correctly, write in complete sentences, and follow a logical sequence.
This type of writing takes time and practice, and not just with your penmanship. If you make a mistake, the tradition is to X the error, or you may line through the error or begin over. If you are a perfectionist, using a dip pen is time-consuming and you’ll have a pile of crumpled pages around your chair before you finish your first page.
With names like Fire Fly, Purple Haze, Saguaro Wine, China Blue and Café des Îles, you can chose a hue of ink that will express your emotion. It can be messy, and many inks are permanent, meaning that if the ink stains your clothes, you can’t wash it out. Brush something over a freshly penned sentence and it can smear. Test your paper to insure that the ink does not “feather,” meaning that it will not soak into the paper and give the written line a jagged edge. Office supply, stationery stores and pen dealers carry paper specifically for ink pens.
The next time you’re inspired to bash out another bit of prose on your computer, consider the simple dipping pen. Over time, you’ll benefit from deeper concentration, better word choice, and a greater understanding of your writerly voice. It’s a method that never crashes, and never needs an upgrade.
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Dick Dickinson is a columnist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Magazine, Outdoor News, MinnPost and other publications.|
(This article appeared in the May 2010 issue of The Writer.)