In Honor of the Pencil

Today I have this insatiable urge to commit pencil to paper. Not pen, not a keyboard, pencil. I have railed for years against the use of pencil because it smudges, it’s too hard to read and on and on. Yet lately, pencil to paper soothes my soul.

Scans of my three handwritten pages.

Some days, I am content with a pen. Perhaps those are the days when I know I’m writing something worth keeping for sure. Some days, I can sit down at the keyboard and the words flow from my fingers. Usually when I’m drawn to the keyboard I have an idea in mind, a rant I want to relieve myself of, or character or scene just itching to be revealed.  It seems pencil is my tool of choice when I know I need to write but don’t have a particular topic in mind. Perhaps pencil is my warm up? Maybe pencil is the road that winds and the keyboard is the direct route?  I don’t know.

I’ve tried many kinds of pencils. The six-sided Ticondarogas are good and I like the round Mirado’s from Papermate. Some days I like the thicker diameter pencils the once designed for beginning writers. In general I’m not a fan of mechanical pencils. I prefer the kind that must be sharpened even as I bemoan the shavings and lead dust. There’s something about being able to sharpen things that is almost meditative, ritualistic even. Write, convey thought. Stop, refocus, sharpen, continue. Some days I’ll line up six or seven sharp pencils and go to town writing until the led is barely visible, moving on to the next waiting pencil until I am forced to stop and sharpen at least one. If it’s a good day and I get on a roll, I won’t want to take the time to sharpen multiple pencils so I’ll just keep sharpening the same one over and over. I do have an electric sharpener on my desk but typically I shun it. The grinding sound is too disruptive.  And, it doesn’t accommodate the thicker pencils. I have several handheld sharpeners that I employ on a much more regular basis. They are more portable and the sound is much less jarring. Also my handheld sharpeners accommodate both sizes of pencils I like to use. I would love to have one of those old-fashioned crank pencil sharpener’s, the type most commonly found in a classroom, but I don’t really have a place to install one.

I tried to erase a word but the crappy eraser just smeared things around.

The other key to successfully writing in pencil is having a high quality eraser nearby (see photo). It’s been my experience that the cuter the eraser or the pencil, the less functional it is. You would think that the eraser that comes on the end of a pencil would be effective at you know, ERASING the pencil. But my example above demonstrates that this is not necessarily so. I like to have a good old-fashioned soft pink eraser nearby.

Today was one of those days when I knew I needed to write but I didn’t know what I needed to write and I didn’t know what I was writing for. I didn’t start out writing a blog post for Live to Write Write to Live, but that’s what this has turned into.

Do you ever get the urge to write in pencil? Do you have a favorite brand or type?

I transcribed my handwritten words using Dragon Naturally Speaking for the Macintosh and headset. I’m kind of happy with the results if I do say so myself.

There is still room in the Deb Dixon “Book-In-A-Day Workshop” being held May 10th in Nashua, NH Sign up today!

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors.  Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is a member of the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America and is currently at work on her first novel. 

40 thoughts on “In Honor of the Pencil

  1. I love writing with pencils. I like the way it feels on the paper and I like the way it looks (the dark lines of a soft pencil are best). But I’m obsessive about keeping the point sharp. I hate writing with a dull point just as much as I love writing with a sharp one. I’m know, I’m weird.

  2. Interesting blog. You can’t beat the old fashioned way of writing with the pencil and rubbing out ones’ mistakes. Doesn’t take lot to jot down on paper with pencil any where but with laptops ect. takes time to switch on and get started.

  3. I’m the same way, I rarely reach for the pencil. But on the very rare occasions I do, there’s something beautifully satisfying about watching the lead be left behind on the paper. I usually find myself putting my head down on the table, like a small child and just watch the pencil dull as it makes marks, listen to it grate itself away.

  4. I thought I was alone! 😉 Yes! I keep a wooden (not those soft type non-wood weird things) yellow pencil by my bed with a composition notebook. For some reason, I simply must have it. But I only use it for my personal and private diary, not even my husband may read it. Fascinating.

    Ever read Stephen King’s “The Dark Half”? This was my second to most recent read, and in it the protagonist is only able to write in one of his pen names with a Black Beauty pencil. It was inspiring to me.

    • The only Stephen King I’ve ever read was “On Writing”. I can respect his body of work, but I just can’t handle suspense. When I Googled “Black Beauty Pencil”, images for the Mirado came up. Shannon Stacey, the romance author turned me on to the Mirados.

  5. I love writing with pencils. Two weeks ago I had the whole day to myself – no kids, no husband, no computer. I sat at my kitchen table and got vast amounts of writing done – by pencil. It was lovely – and very productive. There’s something satisfying about having to get up to stand over the bin to sharpen a blunt pencil. The next day, back in my office again, I transcribed all those pages into the various Word documents where they belonged, editing along the way.

    I have a writing deadline looming and so I’ve decided that, rather than come into work tomorrow and be distracted by emails and colleagues, I’m going to take myself to the public library for the day – just me, writing pad, pencil and sharpener, a large thermos of coffee, and a packed lunch! I can’t wait.

    • I’M JEALOUS!!! It’s been a crazy cold winter here and I’m just coming of a vacation week with my kids. I am SOOOO ready for some alone time. I wish you many many words tomorrow at the library!

  6. I love the soft scratching sounds of pencil on paper, and the tapping on the hard surface underneath 🙂 And here in Japan mechanical pencils are ubiquitous, and I love all the sounds that go with them – even the maniacal clicking and shaking of lead 😀
    LOL about the eraser on the end of the pencil – the same is true of mechanical pencils as well.
    And something that really surprised me was how diligent my Japanese students are at clearing up their eraser “crumbs”! I just sweep them onto the floor, but they collect them up and properly chuck them away in the dustbin – mindblowing!
    Who knew I could write so much about pencils? 😉

  7. I loved writing in pencil when I was younger…even have the little bump on my finger from it. I have to admit I haven’t written with one in ages, but reading this post is definitely giving me an urge to do just that. 🙂

  8. Typically I only use pencil for taking notes, writing down quick thoughts, lists, etc. I use a mechanical pencil. On the other hand, I draw quite a bit with pencil. Most of the drawings I put up here are either mechanical pencil or pen based (colorized later) but if I want to get some realism I use a variety of good drawing pencils that need to be sharpened, typically Derwent.

    • My mother was a lefty. She was probably the main reason I railed so hard against pencils. She was an incessant note taker and she wrote in small calendar squares in her pocket calendar and tiny sticky notes (think 1 inch wide). As she got older she’d ask me to find a note for her and I’d damn near loose my mind!! You have my sympathies about the smudges, but lefty’s have a lot of cool traits too!

  9. I do most of my writing electronically these days, but I sometimes miss the tactile feel and the sharpening ritual you mentioned. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Ticonderoga black barrel pencil. In a world of yellow pencils, a black pencil always made me feel unique and creative. They were especially useful since I tend to rewrite constantly and pens are far too permanent.

  10. I’m sorry, I couldn’t use a pencil to write. I’m so easily distracted that I end up doodling and then drawing something and before I know it, I’ve lost the time I set myself to write another chapter for my novel. Don’t get me wrong, the act of using a pencil feels very natural. I have a whole box of them! I know what you mean about having to sharpen them before you can use them. It comes with the territory. So, back to the boring old keyboard, no distractions for me. Sigh.

  11. This is great! While I will fluctuate between pen and pencil, the thing that must always be consistent for me is the paper– legal pads ONLY. I don’t know if it’s the extra space at the bottom of the page, or the hue of the paper, but writing on anything else seems like an unproductive, un-creative waste of time.

  12. I love writing in pencil! But the best kind of pencil is the three sided Ticonderogas that I do all my work in. I still consistently write in my journal, always in pencil. There’s something a little special about having only one copy of something so personal, and having to form all the letters that the emotion on the page is composed of. I don’t want a journal to be digital, I want it to be in a nice little book, where the wearing of the page indicates how many times the pages have been reread… Pencils for me write the best when they pencil is still long, the pink eraser on the end is still there, and when the tip of the pencil is pointy enough to write really small… I should write an ode to pencils, in pencil of course.

  13. My utensil depends on what I’m writing – I love pencil for beginnings. When I’m in the planning/brainstorming/note-taking stages of something, I go with pencil and lined paper. I think it’s for the same reason you stated – the road is winding and I’m not ready to commit to the idea and give it the permanence of ink.

    But almost everything else gets the pen. 🙂

    Wonderful piece!

  14. love pencils – even when my typing is super fast (like 110wpm). In my bag, I always have one ready with a sharpener. I use Staedtler and yep, if the point is not sharp, it’s annoying :))

  15. Whenever I write a story, my first draft is always done in pencil first. For me I have trouble writing on the computer for the first draft. I have a tendency just to stare at the screen. My ideas flow better when I write it down first.

  16. Thanks for paying homage to the pencil! My personal favorite is the #2 Ticonderoga. There’s a special relationship between a writer and her pencil…when the creative juices are flowing, it’s often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. A pencil is so personal–and more forgiving than a pen. For me, it represents writing in its purest form…it says, “be creative, every idea is worth merit, don’t be afraid to put it on paper…” But the pen? “You’d better get it right the first time; otherwise, things could get messy!”

  17. Pingback: The Perfect Pen – The Never Ending Quest | Live to Write – Write to Live

  18. Pingback: Pilot FriXion Pens | Live to Write – Write to Live

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