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uhhh why are you carrying so many pens?
it’s weird dude
STORYTIME: I used to have a small, specialized design company. Most of the work was remote, but one time I was on-site at a client meeting and took out my pencil case to make some notes. The client, a normal person, saw it and responded the way a normal person would, which is to say something like “whoa why do you have so many writing implements on you?”
I had three. Two mechanical pencils (one with red lead) and a fineliner.1
I probably responded with something moderately coherent like “uhhhh I use them for different purposes,” which would have been true (writing, marking up, writing with CONFIDENCE) but taking that approach had happened so organically that I hadn’t put any thought into articulating it.
Moreover, the “liking pens and pencils” brain parasite had grown so stealthily in my system that it did not seem weird to me to have brought a small arsenal of writing implements to a regular meeting, so I was somewhat surprised by the question.
And on top of all of that, this was one of my first clients—so my brain’s ability to formulate a meaningful response was likely compromised by another part of my brain screaming at me YOU DUMB IDIOT, THIS IS WHY YOU CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS, JUST BRING ONE UNIBALL LIKE A NORMAL PERSON. (That part was wrong and everything worked out, but it was still there, shrieking.)
All this to say: many years later, when I routinely carry five pens on me, I am aware that this is weird to most people and am prepared to explain why.2
For example, here is what I was using recently:
And here is why:
That is, there are a lot of different ways you can organize your thoughts and work; I am somewhat envious of people like mnmlscholar who can use so many colors so effectively. For I am a simpler man, and my brain prefers questions like IS LINE BIG? BIG MEANS IMPORTANT. ICE CREAM YUM.
Or, in design terms, my brain likes a glaringly obvious hierarchy on the page. That translates into:
Big fat line: headings, titles, doing italic calligraphy to relax. Some type of stub/italic nib. (In the above picture, the BENU Tattoo.)
Kinda fat line: secondary headings. Broad/medium nib. (The Rotring Core.)
Regular line: body text. Fine/extra fine. (The Fantasia.)
Regular line, contrast color: body text. Fine/extra fine. (The Koloro.)
It also means I basically only use two colors at a time.3 The first three pens use the same color, the fourth uses a high-contrast color for telling Future Me that Past Me thought something was VERY important. (It usually is not that important, but I don’t know that at the time; Past Me is dumb.)
This does not result in the most exciting page, but it makes it much easier for me to tell what’s important and why when I come back to that page in the future. It also fits with how I like to work and write, which is often in a nonlinear mindmap; since those are kind of inherently messy, having a quick way to make sense of a mindmap I wrote a while ago is useful.4
Of course, you don’t need to use four different pens to do this; you could just do this via using all capitals and titlecase or whatever for the various levels of importance. That is, I’m not trying to justify wanting to use many pens on utility grounds, just explain why I carry five and not two or seven or whatever.
And on that: while I have reasons for the first four, the fifth is because my pen case has five slots and I like that case a lot. The final one ends up being something I just got and want to use, or something I want to use for drawing,5 or a rollerball if I know I need to sign legal documents or checks or whatever.6
I’ve been using this system for a long while and like it; it makes things pretty easy for me and makes sure I work through my pens regularly. It is also why this blog is about weird pens (or being weird about regular pens) and not about writing systems: I have a regular system that I use where the pens are the variable.
Is it still weird to normal people? Yes, but so is carrying literally one pen (you have a phone, right?), so you might as well swing for the fences.
Commenters, what do you guys do?
I am remembering this the best I can as this was a while back—I rode a plesiosaur to the meeting—so it’s possible I had more, but the overall point still stands.
At the same time, I care less. This is the best part about aging.
In the picture, the blue is KWZ Walk Over Vistula; the orange is KWZ Grapefruit.
For example, just this morning I looked at a mindmap I made of “Dumb Book Ideas” and was able to quickly refresh myself on concepts I came up with for a Taschen-style coffee table book (such as “socks from Costco”).
In the above picture, the Tom’s Studio pen is both “just got it” and “fun to draw with.”
I also stick to “what fits in this case” because I am not confident in my ability to remember to clean out my pens if I have too many of them inked up and laying around. Sticking to this means I rotate them out pretty frequently and don’t forget about one of them until the ink has fossilized in the feed.