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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?

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh, me too, I live in hope of getting that teensy spark of inspiration if only I have the right paraphernalia! read somewhere about an author (ridiculous thing is, I can’t remember which one, maybe more than one) who only uses Rhodia notebooks, so I spent some happy hours researching their products and went out to bulk buy (in several sizes, just in case inspiration struck me at different times and in different places). Result? I mostly type directly into my laptop or use odd scraps of paper around the house.

    April 26, 2012
  2. Thanks Marina – that’s so reassuring I’m not the only one! Maybe all professions are like it. Off to research Rhodia notebooks!

    April 26, 2012
  3. I’m off to the stationary cupboard at work RIGHT NOW! (I too love stationary… I think one of the highlights of our trip to NYC was browsing in Kate’s Paperie.)

    April 26, 2012
    • stationEry! (Well, the cupboard is also stationary… but ..)

      April 26, 2012
  4. Thank you for pointing me in the direction of the Anne Tyler interview. She’s been a favourite of mine since I was about 15.
    I love stationery too. Perhaps a new pen and notebook will inspire me to start writing fiction again. Any excuse to go shopping…

    April 26, 2012
    • Absolutely, Sandy. Do it! Nothing like a lovely new notebook. Full of blank pages…

      April 26, 2012
  5. Yes I like Anne Tyler too. But I don’t understand how anyone can write anything on paper now. I delete and change things and tweak so much that it just wouldn’t be possible for me.

    Did you find the pen in the end?

    April 26, 2012
    • No, I never did. I know they’ve got them online in packs of 3 (as it were) but do I need the red? Dilemma! I suppose it works for her and it’s become a ritual – I would be really hard pressed to write with a pen now, which is sad in some ways.

      April 26, 2012
  6. metropolitanmum #

    Being an amateur illustrator (despite being a rubbish one), I’ve got the best excuse to spend hours and all my pocket money on the right stationery. I am sure there is a Pilot P500 gel somewhere in my cupboard…

    May 1, 2012
  7. I love stationery. Especially the French papeterie stuff. And I just love that they have a word for a paper store. Sigh.

    May 6, 2012
  8. Ben Dover #

    I’m a pen freak. Over the years I’ve collected lots of different kinds. Reading your blog, I was tickled to find out I had reached the same conclusion Anne Tyler did. The Pilot P – 500 and P – 700 are the smoothest writing gel ball point pens made – and cheap. Heretofore, I have always been hesitant about revealing my discovery lest everybody goes out to buy the pen and the price increases.

    September 23, 2012

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  1. Things I like but did not write #2 – Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant – Anne Tyler « 940 Sundays

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