Why I Bought 120 Pens

BiC0002The look on the cashier’s face said it all. She didn’t say it in so many words, of course, but I could imagine what she was thinking, You want 10 boxes of pens? There are 12 in a box, so that makes 120 pens. At $5.69 per box, that comes to a total of $56.90, or about 47 cents a pen. Hmmm.

“I’m a writer,” I said, “and those are the only pens I use.”

I paid the bill and left the office supply store, feeling her eyes boring into my back.

To me, BiC Classic Stic ball pens are a writer’s best friend.

I recently read the book, How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors. The editors, Dan Crowe and Philip Oltermann, asked several authors a single question, “Can you think for a minute about which object, picture or document in your study reveals most about the relationship between living and writing, and then send it to us?” The responses are revealing.

Will Self plasters his wall with Post-it Notes, which he organizes into scrapbooks, then turns into books.

Douglas Coupland devours Baker’s milk chocolate chips while waiting for his endorphins to kick in. “Without these chips, there is no work…. I keep them to the left of my keyboard and I eat maybe 50 or so medicinally once a day.”

Siri Hustvedt keeps on her desk a metal ring with seven keys of various sizes, on which her late father had written, “Unknown Keys.” Hustvedt explains, “These keys to phantom doors, suitcases, safes and diaries are linked in my mind to making stories.”

Nicholson Baker uses earplugs. “Some years ago,” he writes, “I bought an industrial dispenser pack of 200 pairs of Mack’s earplugs…. I can sit anywhere, in any loud place, and work. Everything becomes 20 feet farther away than it really is. The chirping, barking, jingling cash-drawer of a world is out of reach, and therefore more precious.” At least I bought only 120 pens!

Peter Hobbs believers that if he carries around with him red and blue notebooks, “everything in them would turn out fine, ease of writing attaching to the tools I was using, and the pages would easily fill with ideas for short stories and novels, drafts of paragraphs and scraps of overheard conversations, stray lines of poems, words I’d discovered, quotes I liked, diary fragments.”

John Byrne uses portable typewriters, currently on his twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth. “God bless the man who made it!”

Nat Segnit builds a barricade around his computer. “The barricade,” he explains, “is built of books that have had some influence on my writing…. It’s a defense against having nothing to say, I guess, my book-barricade, but as it goes with defense, it works best when it goads me to get on with it.”

Hanif Kureishi, who prefers to write by hand rather than type, keeps a supply of pens in his room.

Elif Shafak buys only purple pens, explaining, “Being unable to accumulate bits and pieces, even the most beloved ones, in time I projected all my passion for inanimate objects onto one single article: a purple pen. Every novel that I wrote so far, I started writing with a purple pen. Although I am a devout user of computers and laptops, all my notes I take with a purple pen. I must have lost so many of them, bought so many new ones, found some old lost ones hither and thither.”

I follow in their footsteps.

My BiC Classic Stic accompanies me virtually everywhere. It’s the last object I insert in my shirt pocket before leaving for work each morning. I, like Elif Shafak, am devoted to my computer. However, I use my fine-point ball pen to make diary entries, take notes while reading, and write while waiting to see my doctor or in the car while my wife shops.

Meanwhile, I’m man enough to admit I may have an obsessive personality. However, I take comfort when I read Hanif Kureishi’s observation, “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that many artists are as compelled by the rituals which surround their art … as much as by the matter itself. After a few years it becomes obvious that the art is there to serve the ritual, which is everything. If you aren’t an obsessive, you can’t be an artist, however imaginative you might be.”

Without my fine-point ball pen, I feel naked as a writer … and that’s not a pretty sight.

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