My friend, the pen

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On National Writing Day, I’m celebrating the physical act of writing – and the often humble pen that plays such an important role in many writers’ creative lives.

Every writer is unique in the way s/he puts pen, pencil or felt tip to paper, exploring and expressing the work that’s developing with arrows, circles, question marks, underlining, ticks, flashes of highlighter and ‘notes to self’. Visual writers may well add little drawings, or show the work on the page to get a feel for scale, position, balance and drama, as I often do as part of my process.

“The freedom to experiment with words
on the page
is a wonderful gift to give a child.”

Every scribble, however cryptic, half-formed or throwaway it may seem, contributes to a story or poem taking shape, and is therefore meaningful. Are those early notes worth keeping? It depends on many factors, from the strictly practical (available space, urge to recycle) to the emotional (the work’s rubbish, take it away!).

For writers working with children, sharing chaotic-looking notes (especially ones with lots of crossing out, like the ones I’ve shown here – including early work for my picture books) can be a great way to show that no book arrives ‘fully formed’. Trial and error, starting again, exploring a new approach and giving yourself permission to get it ‘wrong’ are essential aspects of the creative process – a wonderful and enriching gift to give a child, akin to the freedom to daydream, that can last a lifetime.

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So today let’s celebrate those little idiosyncrasies that characterise our writing life when we’re not tapping away at a keyboard, ipad or even smartphone: grabbing whatever’s to hand so we can record that elusive new idea; settling down with a battered but familiar biro that feels like a friend; or perhaps selecting your favourite or only writing implement of choice, because it is enjoyable to hold and feels smooth and satisfying as it flows (along with your equally graceful prose, of course) across the page.

Personally, I like cheap biros in large quantities, as I’m constantly losing them. One of my best-ever Christmas presents was a box of 20 identical, clickable, basic, thin, black Bic pens. They just feel right in my hand, somehow.

“My keyboard is indispensable, but could I write
without a pen to hand as well?

Producing a finished manuscript in longhand would feel to me like an impossible task – although some writers do prefer this method – when I’m so used to the speed and ease of my keyboard and editing tools. But could I write without a humble biro to hand, to help shape my thoughts? I’m really not sure. Perhaps I’ll give it a try one day, when the last of my favourite cheap-and-cheerful pens disappears. For now, on National Writing Day, I’ll take a moment to say thank you to my simple, often overlooked, but vital writing tools.

What’s your favourite?

If you have a favourite (or only) pen, please leave a comment! Maybe we can draw up a ‘top ten’…