Charles Daly

Writer

Tag: fountain pens

I’m Writing a Novel, these are my tools.

It begins. I’m starting a novel. These are my tools:

Charles Daly writing desk lamy 2000

4”x6” index cards — For my notes. The plastic box is a dumping ground for scene sketches, setting and character details, and random tidbits I don’t want to lose. I started filling the box before I had time to get real about starting a draft.

I get a lot of card-worthy ideas in the shower, on walks, and when I’m driving. I jot them down as soon as I’m dry or have a place to pull over.

Lamy 2000 fountain pen — Anyone who knows me has heard me rant about this pen to all who will listen. It also happens to be Neil Gaiman’s favorite.

 

Yellow legal pads — I draft everything longhand first. Something about the flimsy yellow paper reminds me that it’s just a draft and anything I put down is subject to change and deletion.

My pace is “two crappy pages per day,” which I borrowed from a conversation between Neil Strauss and Tim Ferriss. If I want to write more, that’s cool. But by setting the bar low, it’s easy to have a “successful” writing day.

13” MacBook Air — The 2013 model. I’m not impressed with Apple’s latest offerings. From what I can tell, the touch-bar is just a better way to pause Spotify… The downside of writing longhand is the drudgery of transcription. Lately I’ve been playing with voice recognition, which is faster and also gives me a chance to hear how the page sounds. Taking words from the legal pad to the screen is like a first round of editing.

Yes, I happen to be starting in November. No, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. The “two crappy pages per day” rule won’t get me to THE END in a month, and I’m okay with that.

 

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. All Amazon prices and availability are subject to change, and only current as of the time of publication of this review.

Bic and Beyond: 5 Alternatives to Fountain Pens

As much as love writing with a fountain pen, it’s not always the right tool for the job. For jotting random notes, you’re better off with something you don’t have to uncap. Obviously the Pilot Vanishing Point  can do that, but its price kind of rules it out as the pocket pen that might end up in the wash.

Something about note taking or making grocery lists with a fountain pen feels like a slight to the instrument. Part of the fun of fountain pens is the ritual aspect. It’s nice to have a pen that’s just for long form writing.

That said, my fountain pen habit has raised my standards for what writing should feel like. I don’t have to  use a fountain pen, but I can’t settle for any old pen. Fortunately, I don’t have to settle. There are some excellent jotters out there that are cheap, easy to find, and smooth. here are my favorites.

 

Pilot G2

pilot g2 gel pen

The current go-to in my pen cup and the #1 pen on Amazon, the Pilot G2 excels at being average and dependable. This is the Honda Civic option. It’s reliable, everyone has one, and for those of us who move on to something nicer, this was often our first experience of a good pen.

I like it because it’s everywhere. This is the best pen you can buy at Rite-Aid or Walgreens. It’s cheap, and you’ll lose it before it runs out of ink.

Charles daly Irish lifeboat pen cup

My bouquet of G2s

There are smoother pens out there, even in the disposable category, but what brings me back to the Pilot again and again is its wide availability. For a look at its downsides, check out Office Supply Geek.

 

Bic Orange Ball Pen

Like Bic lighters, Bic pens are classics of functional thrift that outclass everything in their price range and many above it. They’re made insanely well and priced ludicrously cheap.

Bic orange

The Cristal  and Orange Ball models have hexagonal barrels rather than round ones which make them more comfortable to grip than the round Bics, that is until you get writer’s cramp anyway because, after all, you’re writing with a ball point pen.

 

Bic claims their ball points contain enough ink to lay down 2km worth of ink. But that doesn’t matter, because you’ll never be attached enough to a single Bic to do that much writing with it. At around $5 for a pack of 20, these cost $0.25 apiece.

 

Zebra F-701

zebra 701 tactical pen

Or the Jason Bourne option… The Zebra’s barrel is made of solid steel, so it’s indestructible. This pen could save your life. It can be used to punch out glass to escape a wrecked or sinking car or as a last-ditch self defense weapon. But it’s also available wherever cheap pens are sold.

zebra 701 tactical pen

This recommendation comes from retired commando Clint Emerson’s book, 100 Deadly Skills.

Uni-ball Signo

 

Japan’s Uni-ball makes a line of inexpensive gel pens, some of which are widely available in the States, all of which are a joy to write with. If you’re not into fountain pens, but want a smooth writing experience, look no further. I like the Signo because it clicks open and makes for a great pocket pen, but for some reason, the UM151 and the Vision tend to write better and feel more substantial in the hand.

uni ball signo gel pen

According to JetPen’s Comprehensive Guide to Uni-Ball, these pens owe their smoothness to an edgeless tip with rounded corners where the rolling ball meets the housing at the tip of the pen. The result is zero scratchiness no matter what angle you write at. Few fountain pens write this well.

 

Blackwing 601 Pencil

 

John Steinbeck wrote about this pencil, calling “the best he’s ever found.” Quincy Jones used it to correct his sheet music, Nabokov wrote with it–in lawn chairs and passenger seats while his wife, Vera, drove—and the creators of MadMen put it in the hands of the copywriters and the art department on that show. The cult following of this pen has a home online at BlackwingPages.

blackwing pencil

If you’re into fountain pens for the history and the heritage, the Blackwing delivers that in an erasable media. It was discontinued in 1998, but you can still buy it online.

 

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. All Amazon prices and availability are subject to change, and only current as of the time of publication of this review.

Pen Review: Kaweco AL Sport

Kaweco is the Swatch of fountain pens.

This week, I’m breaking away from budget pens to bring you a splurge option: the Kaweco AL Sport.

“Al” stands for aluminum–as you may remember from the periodic table–and that’s what it’s made of. Other than the material, everything abut it is identical to the plastic Kaweco Classic Sport. But the metal  makes a difference in terms of writing experience, looks, and price. At $65, this is an entry into the world of so-called “fine” pens or pens that would make you say “who the fuck would pay that much for a pen?” depending on how you look at it.

The Nib 

See my review of the Classic Sport and my thoughts on paper fickleness. The two pens have the same nib in different colors.

Kaweco-sport

The Writing Experience 

This is a hefty pen. It’s not overweight. It’s not unbalanced. It’s just substantial. A light touch is all you need because the AL writes under its own weight. This saves your hand over long writing sessions.

So far this has been a smooth, reliable, no nonsense writer.

The medium nib feels a little bit too much like a magic marker sometimes, and the extra weight makes for a bold line. If had known that, I would have gone with an extra fine–which, in Kaweco’s case, isn’t all that fine.

Looks & Design

It’s gorgeous. Kaweco over-delivers in the looks department. Even their cheaper pens have an attention to detail way beyond their price point.

The Nibs are gorgeous. The parts you never look at, like the back of the feed, are stamped with the logo.

The AL improves upon one  minor aesthetic issues with the Classic. there are no cheap-looking seams on the body where it unscrews from the section.

There are more affordable aluminum metal-bodied pens out there–like the Pilot Metropolitan–but what sets this one apart is the matte finish. It feels amazing in the hand–closer to the Lammy 2000 than its plastic counterpart.

kaweco-al-sport-fountain-pen

From what I’ve seen so far, this is a durable little writing tool. It reminds me of those tactical pens that are popular at the moment.

It comes in a delightful, and useful tin box.

kaweco-al-sport

Also Available in Denim…

I love what Kaweco has done with the Sport line. They’re fun, they’re collectable, they give the impression that the company wants to innovate and delight rather than just cash in on their legacy. Kaweco is like the Swatch of fountain pens.

The AL Sport Stonewashed is the color of faded blue jeans, with the paint strategically worn and chipped away. This makes me excited to see how my AL weathers from years of abuse. The AL Raw Aluminum looks how they may have pictured pens of the future back in 1925.

The Bottom line

This is my pick for the best EDC (everyday carry) pen. Period. It’s unbreakable, reliable, and the design lives up to the Kaweco Sport slogan: “small in your pocket, big in your hand.”

Whether the advantages over the Classic Sport are worth the significant price difference is a personal thing. But if you’re ready for a more expensive pen, I can’t think of a better option in the $50-100 range.

 

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. All Amazon prices and availability are subject to change, and only current as of the time of publication of this review.

Kaweco Sport Followup: one Issue

My fountain pen reviews have found an audience on Reddit where they’ve prompted a discussion that has been extremely educational for me. It blows my mind how much there is to know about pens and how civil pen people are talking about them online.

In response to my review of the Kaweco Sport, one Redditor (/U/oyogen) pointed out an issue I forgot to mention about the pen.

“Kaweco nibs are often over-polished, leading to hard starts on smoother papers. I’ve tried on copier paper, it starts easier, but still skips a part of the stroke.”

I had read about this in some negative reviews of the Sport. When I got mine home and inked it, I noticed that it was skipping on a glossy legal pad. When I switched to my Leuchturm notebook, it wrote fine. I was so stoked about my new pen that I forgot about the false start and attributed it to the paper. Having tested it on glossy paper again, I can say this is an issue with the Sport.

So, should this scare you off the Kaweco? It depends. If you’re attached to one particular brand of paper, then you might want to test it and see if the nib agrees with your paper first. But if you’re not picky, this shouldn’t be a problem. You can always write on something different. As luck would have it, the paper that does work with this pen tends to be cheaper and more abundant.

 

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. All Amazon prices and availability are subject to change, and only current as of the time of publication of this review.

Pen Review: Pilot Varsity

The Pilot Varsity is a disposable fountain pen. I have to keep reminding myself of that fact as I review it.

It’s a disposable fountain pen, I don’t need to go too in-depth…

It’s a disposable fountain pen, maybe I should hold it to a different standard…

It’s a disposable fountain pen, isn’t that an oxymoron…

The Writing Experience

I mean, it’s designed to end up in the trash. That said, the Varsity is not an awful writer. Pilot seems to have made up for the cheapness by designing a very tolerant nib. It’s basically a ball that allows you to write from just about any angle. This is probably helpful for a newbie who’s used to holding a ballpoint pen vertically. I’ve given these to friends who write with the nib upside-down (metal facing the page) with no trouble.

pilot-varsity-fountain-pen

But a nib that doesn’t care which way you hold it doesn’t give you much of a writing experience. There’s no line variation even when you practically press it through the page. Based on feeling alone I don’t know that I could tell the difference between a Varsity and a gel pen.

Design and Looks

Not too bad, considering it has a barcode printed on the barrel. The lines are super clean and it’s much more balanced that the Pilot Metropolitan, which costs eight times as much.

Pilot-varsity-fountain-pen

This feels like a fountain pen, not just a cheap pen with a nib at the business end of it, which is more than you can say for a lot of the more expensive models.

The Ink

I’ve owned a ton of these and I’ve never had one run out of ink. But then again, I’ve never been attached enough to write one dry. There’s a lot of ink in there, I know that much. Whether it’s enough to be cheaper than buying cartridges for a non-disposable pen–I doubt it.

The Bottom Line

There’s two kinds of people who will love this pen:

Someone who thinks $2 is expensive for a pen.

Someone who refuses to use anything but a fountain pen, even for grocery lists and whatnot.
You can buy the Pilot Varsity in bulk. A seven-pack goes for $12 and a set of three is $8. You can find these at Rite Aid and Staples.

 

Pilot-varsity-fountain-pen-seven-pack

 

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. All Amazon prices and availability are subject to change, and only current as of the time of publication of this review.

Pen Review: Pilot Metropolitan

This week I’m checking out the Pilot Metropolitan: the number one fountain pen on Amazon and arguably the best beginner’s fountain pen ever made. This is the Honda Civic of pens. Like a Honda Civic, it delivers unrivaled quality for it’s price ($13) and it lasts forever even if you mistreat it.

The Writing Experience

I wanted to love this pen. A part of me even wanted it to usurp last week’s pen, the Kaweco Sport, as my go-to. But there’s one fatal flaw–for me at least–that makes this the five star pen I’m going to re-gift at the first opportunity.

Like so many great writers, the Pilot Metropolitan is severely unbalanced. The barrel and cap are made out of brass. There’s a commanding heft to it, which I do like. But when the cap is posted, all the heft makes the pen top heavy. Your experience may differ, but I couldn’t find a comfortable way to write with the cap posted. Even with the cap completely off–where it will inevitably go missing–the barrel is still so much heavier than the plastic grip.

This has more to do with the way I write and my personal taste than any fault in the design. But if this sounds like a writing experience you wouldn’t enjoy, may I suggest the Kaweco, which you could probably balance on your nose.

Design and Looks

On your desk or in your hand, this is a gorgeous writing instrument. No pen under $20–and very few at any price–can compete with the Metropolitan in the looks department.

Mine is from the Retro Pop series. Accented with an orange hippy flower print, it looks like the Porsche Janis Joplin died in. There’s also an Animal Print series, featuring white tiger, leopard, lizard, python, and crocodile. Those look a little goofy, if you ask me.

Pilot-metropolitan

The presentation is something special. It comes in a padded tin box and a boutique-ish little bag. The effect is charming like “awwww, you didn’t have to do that.”
Pilot-Metropolitan

The Nib

The Metro has a steel nib that still manages to give you some warmth and just the right amount of feedback. It’s not scratchy, but it doesn’t let you forget that paper has a grain and texture.

It’s a Japanese medium, which is more like a German fine. The “sweet spot” is generous, you can write from almost any angle and still get a clean line. It’s not super wet

pilot-metropolitan

When I varied the pressure, I could control the line in a way that reminded me of writing with a calligraphy pen. I don’t have the penmanship to make the most of this, but it would be a treat for someone who does.

The nib is long, like a less boxy Lamy Safari nib. This length could be where some of the springiness comes from. I found the Metro favors a vertical writing style, closer to an ordinary pen. I could see this being handy for a beginner who’s never given any thought to the angle of their writing utensil.

Looks wise, the nib is precisely engineered but totally generic. It’s about as exciting as the suspension on a Honda Civic. That’s the point.

The Ink

Mine takes an international short cartridge. I found this out after canvasing the city for Pilot cartridges, having read that it only takes those. (Weird that it didn’t come with one, I’ve since seen other Metros that do include ink.)

I have no experience with the converter, but the Goulet Pen Company had good things to say about it in their video review.

The Bottom Line

I didn’t like this pen but you’ll love it.

Everything about the Metropolitan is designed to give a good first impression to new fountain pen users and a reliable everyday writing experience to the ones who’ve moved on to something different. And you will move on. To go back to the Honda Civic analogy: you could say it’s reliable, you could say it’s boring. In either case, you’d be right.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. All Amazon prices and availability are subject to change, and only current as of the time of publication of this review.

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