The Importance of a Good Pen: Notes on finding and mastering voice in writing

It has long been said, that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” even when using pithy platitudes to start a piece of writing (which we all know is against the rules). And despite perhaps the mediums having changed (pen is now more like keyboard, and sword more like gun or bomb) the original intent of the metaphor is not lost, especially on those of us who believe ourselves to be talented writers or artists. Hopefully it is obvious that because this is a metaphor it was never intended to be taken literally, if you took a pen to a medieval (or any) battlefield you would be woefully outmatched. But even the metaphor in itself has meaning that is not often explored to the fullest extent.

On that note let me transition to the subject of pens. The wonderfully permanent writing utensil, usually cylindrical in construction, made of plastic or metal (wood or feathers not terribly long ago), and filled with a tube of ink, which slowly oozes out the tip of a variably pointy end when it is scrawled against a surface.

I have always had an affinity for pens. From a young age I would covet the pens in my father’s special drawer. He was (is) a particular man, well kept and organized in thought and material aspects. We of course were not allowed in his special drawer, I never knew all the contents of his drawer (car keys, wallet, mysterious letters) but I did know that one thing in particular was in that drawer. A package of four Pilot Precise V5 Black Pens. With the upper right hand corner torn back carefully from the plastic, just enough so the first pen on the right could be taken out without disturbing its gently sardined brethren (or sistren whatever you prefer). My father in all of his peculiar neurosis could not seem to manage keeping count of how many pens were in the package until his supply dwindled. So as a young man, if I could finagle one of these little black cylindrical treasures out of the package without denting the plastic or tearing the cardboard I could usually manage to take a pen here and there and stockpile them in my backpack. Which was a rather ironic place for me to have them as I was awful in my youth at taking notes of any kind.

What I loved to do with these pens was to write in my journal. My family was not one that embraced things like “open emotional dialogue,” so writing was my first outlet of expression, and those Pilot Precise V5 pens were my most bosom friends. For years after I could not even write unless I felt their familiar weight between my thumb and middle finger. They were perfect, flying across the page with precision, recording all of my deepest emotions on bound pieces of pressed wood pulp.

This is all well and good, but what about the entire point of this essay? There are certainly an infinite number of monkeys attempting to write Shakespeare late at night under the lurid glow of hidden desk lamps and flashlights while grasping, with the ecstatic joy of a toddler, their favorite pen. So what is the point of sharing that story?


Because it was never about the pen itself.


While I am sure that this statement is not necessarily as revelatory to some as it was to me, there is something profound about the realization that the delivery method of your artistic medium is merely a middleman between the mind from which the creativity flows and the symbolic portrayal and actualization of the amalgamous ether that, until that very combustive moment, no longer exists exclusively within your consciousness.

The pen is not the thing that creates art, it is the synaptic supernova that occurs in the infinite void betwixt two nerve endings reaching outstretched in Michelangelo nonchalance for each other that creates art. So it is the mind that is mightier than the sword, it is the existential gorge that we as artists must cross, each footstep falling laboriously on a bridge of rotten and creaky wood, moss covered ropes quivering and vibrating in low eerie tones as they stretch into the mist. When I first started to write, the bridge, the gorge, the abyss, they were my masters, my pen was a double edged sword upon which I would lacerate myself. My mind was a terrible and formidable despot. I knew nothing of mastering it. I didn’t know which planks would support me, and which planks would fall from beneath my feet leaving me paralyzed in precarious suspension. And it is in this terror that so many artists live, constantly afraid of the unending descent that awaits them after just one wrong step on this bridge from thought to realization. They have mighty pens which have been weaponized against themselves. And they (we) are hacking about on pieces of paper, spilling bile and tears in the form of colored dye across the thinned out bodies of once towering trees.

The power of the pen, the mind, is not something to be trifled with. Regardless of the accuracy of the CEO model of consciousness or the more determinist model, the mind, this bridge that exists in the creative space of our mind is too powerful to simply venture onto with naive juvenile jubilance. It takes discipline to take within your hands this small cylindrical writing utensil. It carries with it the weight of your ideology, your very personage. And if you do not grasp the importance of a good pen, it may very well bury you beneath its great burden. So we must learn to traverse this bridge, confidently striding across the singing planks suspended above the darkness by humming ropes. We will grasp firmly the rough and damp strands as we grope with our eyes towards the future shrouded in mist.

Keith Cook