Skip to main content

Mightier than the Sword

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

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.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Dismissing Stories That Aren’t From Books

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Dismissing Stories That Aren’t From Books

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is dismissing stories that aren’t from books.

Why You Should Beware Homophones

Why You Should Beware Homophones

Mistaking a word for a similar one is not an uncommon mistake, but an important one to catch when editing your work. Here, Audrey Wick shares why you should beware homophones and shares a homophone-catching test to practice with.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Blackmail

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Blackmail

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, one character blackmails another.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

30 Poetry Prompts From 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge

Get all 30 poetry prompts from the 15th annual November Poem-A-Day Chapbook Challenge here. Actually, 35 prompts if you're counting Two-for-Tuesday prompts!

How to Stalk Publishing Professionals on Social Media in an Appropriate Way

How to Stalk Publishing Professionals on Social Media in an Appropriate Way

Many people are self-professed "stalkers" on social media, whether they're following life events of friends or celebrities. But writers can learn quite a bit on social media by stalking publishing professionals too, and this post covers the appropriate way to do so.

Vérant

Samantha Vérant: On Romance and Recipes

Author Samantha Vérant discusses how her writing process changed while writing her new contemporary romance novel, The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 633

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a warm up poem.

Do I Pitch Different to Agents vs. Editors?

Do I Pitch Different to Agents vs. Editors?

Every so often writers ask if they should pitch different to agents vs. editors. This post answers that question and provides some extra help on how to successfully pitch both.

Urban Legend

Urban Legend

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, feature an urban legend in your story.