Will a Pilot Pen make me write like Anne Tyler?
I was fascinated to read about novelist Anne Tyler’s working methods in this recent Guardian interview – the first face to face print interview she’s given for 40 years.
I love reading about how writers work ; whether they write longhand or straight onto a screen, whether they stockpile a particular kind of notebook, whether they sit up in bed balancing a laptop on their knees, go to the shed at the bottom of their garden or go out to cafes.
I can procrastinate my own writing for HOURS reading about what writers do.
As it says in the interview, Tyler writes on white unlined paper, using a Pilot pen, and then types it up. Then she writes it out in longhand again. She finally reads it aloud into a stenographer’s tape machine, using the pedal to pause it so she can insert the comma exactly where she wants it. Now that’s what I call meticulous.
As soon as I read that she uses a particular type of pen – a Pilot P500 gel pen – which she called ‘miraculous’, I knew I wanted one. I went out and scoured all the stationers in my city. They had rollerballs and hybrid gel grips and 0.7mm nibs and retractables. But no Pilot P500 gels. Perhaps there’d been a rush on them that morning because all the Anne Tyler fans had already beaten me to it.
The stupid thing is I don’t even write fiction with a pen. I type straight onto my computer. I find I can organise my thoughts better using cut and paste and delete and I like seeing the word count stack up. I usually have a plain old Bic in the pocket of my handbag that invariably leaks. Or a packet of children’s crayons. I’ve used eyeliner when I’ve been desperate to write something down before I forget it. Logically I know this pen isn’t going to help but, for me, there’s something almost fetishistic about hearing what another, admired, writer does- that if you do it in a certain way, perhaps some of their magic will rub off.
Although I type, I always have a notebook for when things come to me when I’m out and about, when I’m eavesdropping, for the middle of the night, for odd phrases. I have stacks of them. It was only when I took a picture of a small portion of them, that I realised that they’re nearly all blue. The bog standard reporter’s notebooks with the spiral bound spines remind me too much of journalism shorthand classes – the tutor patrolling the rows, barking at us that it had to be legible for if and when our notes were subpoaned by a court of law. I’ve recently started plotting using a system of coloured post it notes and wall planners.
I’ve always had a thing about stationery. Getting a new pencil case at the beginning of a school year, my Dad covering all my school text books with wallpaper or Fablon. As a teenager, everyone seemed to collect scented rubbers and those transparent pens that smelt of melon and spearmint, or used silver pen on black paper. My English teacher always corrected my work in green ink. I got through the loneliness on my French exchange by buying a lot of stationery – they had things I’d never seen before, like notebooks full of graph paper. A boyfriend I had at university who was back in my home town always wrote to me on Bird’s Eye Custard colour paper and I remember the thrill of seeing that yellow envelope land on the mat. Today I would rather have an hour browsing round a site like Present and Correct over Topshop any day.
What quirky little writing habits do you have? Do you have a thing about stationery?