Mightier than the Sword - Writer's Digest

Mightier than the Sword

Whether fountain or felt-tip, your words are worth the added flair of a perfect pen.
Publish date:

People have been writing since at least 3000 BC, when the Sumerians first took a stylus to clay tablets, but once humankind advanced beyond stone inscriptions and clay tablets, new materials such as papyrus, paper and, later, vellum, required new writing instruments. The Romans converted bamboo stems into a form of fountain pen, with the front part cut into a point and the back filled with ink that had to be squeezed out as a scribe wrote—no doubt a messy process. And a bronze pen was found in the ruins of Pompeii, proving that pens have been known for quite some time.

But the quill pen was the most popular writing instrument for hundreds of years, adopted possibly as early as the 7th century AD and remaining most prevalent until well into the 19th century. This in spite of the fact that, with regular use, quill pens had to be replaced every week or so. And, quill pens had to be constantly sharpened, hence the "pen-knife."

It wasn't until the early 1800s that Peregrin Williamson, a Baltimore shoemaker, applied for the first American pen patent, and he described his invention as a "three-slit elastic" pen. After that, he disappears from history. In 1830, a man named Hyde applied for the first fountain pen patent, but his invention didn't catch on until World War I, possibly because so many soldiers were writing home. In 1920, approximately 1 million fountain pens were sold, and 5 years later, sales were up to 25 million and many companies were offering these writing wares.

Ballpoint pens were introduced in the mid-1940s, and caught on in the 1950s. Today, they account for the vast majority of pen sales throughout the world. And now we can choose from soft tips and liquid roller balls as well.

No doubt you've discovered the importance of the perfect pen. How many times has someone swiped your favorite pen off your desk? And why do banks always chain their instruments to the counter (very frustrating for this pen-klepto).

I prefer to write with my 1930s fountain pen rather than a readily available ballpoint. I've even sharpened my own quills from time to time?with little good result. I choose to write with my old heavy fountain pen because it feels solid and well balanced in my hand, and the words just seem to flow more easily.

For more information and suggestions on finding the right pen for you, see the October issue of Personal Journaling magazine.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: The 3 Prime Rules of Horror Writing, Contest Deadlines, and More!

Welcome to the first installment of a new series! There's always so much happening in the Writer's Digest universe that even staff members have trouble keeping up. So we're going to start collecting what's on the horizon to make it easier for everyone to know what's happening and when.


Lenora Bell: When Fairy Tales Meet Reality TV

Bestselling historical romance author Lenora Bell discusses researching, avoiding info-dumps while still charming readers, and how her latest book was inspired by her life.


Three Keys to Crafting Chemistry Between Characters

Romance author Michelle Major explains her three go-to tips for ensuring your characters have believable chemistry.

Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

Take Two: Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

No one wants to break the bank to learn how to write a screenplay. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares practical tips on saving money on the pursuit of a screenwriting career.


10 Epic Quotes From Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Here are 10 epic quotes from Watership Down, by Richard Adams. The story of a group of rabbits who escape an impending danger to find a new home, Watership Down is filled with moments of survival, faith, friendship, fear, and hope.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Quintilla Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the quintilla.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Fight or Flight

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's fighting time.


Vintage WD: 10 Rules for Suspense Fiction

John Grisham once admitted that this article from 1973 helped him write his thrillers. In it, author Brian Garfield shares his go-to advice for creating great suspense fiction.


The Chaotically Seductive Path to Persuasive Copy

In this article, author, writing coach, and copywriter David Pennington teaches you the simple secrets of excellent copywriting.