I gave up on my fountain pen

When it all started

Around 2018 I bought a blue pen after a conversation with some writer friends. They talked wonders about their fountain pens and how they liked to write with them and how they were the most important tools for them, as writers.

I defined myself as a writer, so I obviously needed this so-called necessary tool, right?

I did my research and settled on a cyan Parker Beta Standard fountain pen. It arrived a few days later at my house and, well, the buyer's adrenaline wasn't as high as I thought it would be.

Tools, plural

It was... a pen. And, more than that, it was a pen that didn't work. It needed something else (I hadn't thought about): ink. I left my apartment to find which office material store sold ink for fountain pens near my place.

When correctly provided with a glass of black ink, the journey to fill my fountain pen started. It seemed easy: I had to put the tip inside the ink, pull the lever in the cartridge, and write.

Nope. I made a mess. I made several messes. I not only marked my table (forever) with ink but also got myself dirty with black spots everywhere, even on my face. But, alas, the pen was filled. Time to write.

Wrong.

I could write a few lines but the ink stopped running. It appeared clogged. I opened the casing again and the cartridge was there, full, without any issues. The ink was running where it should run but never getting to the tip of the pen.

I went on Youtube and searched why that could be happening. I found out a lot of information about how to reuse old fountain pens, how crooking the tip could ruin a pen, and how using ink for technical pens could cause clogging.

I don't even need to say what kind of ink I had bought, right?

There I went, again, looking for fountain pen ink, especially ink exclusive for fountain pens, that doesn't clog and can't be used on anything else.

I got my pen in the mail and, almost four hours after that, I was making my second round of messing everything with ink and hadn't written a single word.

I had to wash my pen with lukewarm water, and make sure it was 100% clean and without any other ink residue. Then, after that, I had to dry it thoroughly, using, if possible, a blowdryer not to leave any drying paper or tower fibers on it. In the final step, I should load the correct ink into the pen... and get to writing.

Writing isn't the same as reading

The pressure of the pen on the paper, the free-running watery ink, and the beautiful pressure marks my pen made throughout my writing. All of that felt awesome. But, after finishing the first line, I started a new one, and blurred every single character I previously wrote with the back of my hand. That wasn't awesome.

At first, I waited for the line to dry to start a new one. Waiting a few seconds wouldn't kill, right? Well, it did. There's some type of mental space a writer gets in that needs rhythm, continuation, flow. That's why there are people that like to write using typing machines or clicky mechanical keyboards. The sound soothes their minds and they relate them with this flow feeling.

Others love writing by hand exactly because you have a broader physical movement you don't usually have when writing an email or filling an Excell spreadsheet.

Waiting for the drying of a line was the same as putting a stoplight at a 120 km/h highway: no flow would survive it.

So, I had to find a way to write without waiting. I'd need to change the way I hold my pen, without using my hand as support while my fingers make the finer movements. I'd need to use my shoulder and elbows, movements usually seen in graphic artists and drawers.

I swear I tried, but the lousy handwriting — even worse than my normal lousy handwriting — and the pain in my back started making writing a tiresome activity. Often I saw myself writing in this new form and then giving up because everything was unreadable — lousy handwriting — or blurred — hand running over wet lines.

And that was the end of my experience with my fountain pen, a mere few days after I bought it.

Fast-forward to today

When I decided to move to Germany, I tried to pack as little as possible. I had an entire drawer of office supplies, those kinds of things you know you will need some day. Well, it was time to choose which ones I would take with me and which would sit on someone else's some day drawers.

The fountain pen appeared. It was dusty, the ink inside it had already dried, and the tip was hard and not moving much. It would need a good bath (with drying and stuff) and a refill of very specific fountain pen ink. I still had the old ink container.

I decided to give another try and put it inside my what will go bag.

On a lazy Sunday (like today), I opened it, washed it, left it out to dry, waited a few hours, refilled it, and started this brand new notebook I bought to try to start a journal.

Well.

Shit got all stained and blurry, right?

Why couldn't I use the tool of the trade my friends would brag about all of the time? Why was it so hard for me to reeducate my writing gestures, to use this pen as it was envisioned, to write like the wind and publish the best-written memoirs ever published???

Oops, went too far on that one. Sorry. Going back.

I was pissed with this, I wanted to write but couldn't. Well, unless I tried writing with this regular pen I had with me...

The good old Bic was the perfect fit. The oily ink that dried almost instantly, the lack of pressure and gesture feeling, and the simple and straight-to-the-point features, all of that made it unique in its way. Less elegant than the fountain pen, and ten times cheaper.

It just... fit. It worked as it should. The pen — the normal one — gave me the flow I needed to write page after page whenever I got the notebook on my hands. I was getting tired of writing too much, instead of from trying to fit myself into a new way of writing.

I think this is the moral of this story.

Tools vs Craft

I tried to follow a trend, even a micro trend just between my friends, to adapt my work to that way of working. I thought this tool would be game-changing, would make me better in what I did, make whatever I did more special and, of course, I thought I could show off with my fancy fountain pen and how hipster I was by using it.

But it didn't. It became just a fancy roadblock, in a cyan casing and black ink (specific ink). Instead of focusing on the tools at hand and the actual result of the job, I was trying to get this extra apparatus that would magically give me the power to do the things I wanted to do.

That's the whole lie behind the "buy this equipment" ads we see every day. We don't need all of that to get our work done.

But Angelo, didn't you buy a brand new keyboard these days and were boasting how typing with it was awesome and made you type more?

Yes, I did that and said it. It's true, my new keyboard is amazing. But I was writing before I got it. I was already doing the work with other, more accessible tools. I started with what I had available and built upon it, differently than waiting for the best tool to do the job.

In Lean terms, you have to work with what you have and iterate over it. Do it with your pen and normal paper. Felt the need for more? Try better paper, but don't let it get in the way of what you are doing. Want even more? Try a new pen. Hell, buy a fountain pen and get those inkblots everywhere.

That's why I officially gave up on my fountain pen. When writing by hand, I use a regular, office-provided ballpoint pen, and even knowing I will look for a fancy pen in the future (because the hipster in me still exists), I won't let this choice stop my work.

Don't let equipment get in the way of your craft.

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