Thursday, October 30, 2014

Your Starting Line

Zestful Blog Post #77

Since lots of bloggers are posting today about writing, what with National Novel Writing Month (check it out at starting on Saturday, I want to help you in a different way by giving you some info on writing materials, specifically paper. If you write first drafts by hand, as I do, your paper is your starting line.

I think many writers are closet gearheads. We're into gear but we're not supposed to be, because unlike painters and their materials, our materials don't figure in our finished products; a writer's materials become pointless when the story or article is published, because a new medium takes it over, so to speak.

But they're NOT pointless. They have power. 

If you use rollerballs, ballpoints, gel tips, or pencils, your choice of paper can be based on aesthetics and price. Writing with fountain pens is another matter, as their sensitive nibs will snag on papers that are even a little bit rough. As a rule of thumb, the cheaper the paper (that is, the higher the pulp-to-rag content), the rougher the writing surface.

For years I wrote my first drafts—novels, stories, articles, everything—exclusively on yellow pads, preferably Gold Fibre brand, as the paper is thicker, smoother, and more pleasing than the cheap pads, plus I liked the thicker cardboard backing. They took fountain pen ink pretty well. Then I started writing more with rollerballs and gels, and was able to save a few bucks by buying the cheapest spiral notebooks, as the paper quality just didn't matter as much. Then I got sick of throwing away empty pens or hunting for refills that cost almost as much as the pen itself. Now I write a lot with my pretty little neon-yellow Lamy with a 1.1mm italic nib, which is pretty sensitive.

I went on line and ordered a few different kinds of spiral notebooks, to see how different ones worked with a temperamental fountain pen, and to see how pleasing they were to look at and handle. (I have no business relationship with any of the following companies and their products. If only.)

Here's the review:

National Brand Narrow Ruled Eye-Ease Paper 1 Subject Notebook, 80 sheets, 10" x 8": I like the pale-green color and the narrow rules. Most important, the paper is quite smooth. The Lamy doesn't snag. The paper, though, is pretty thin, and some inks will feather (meaning flow out a little from the line written, causing a fuzzy look), and some will bleed through, making it hard to use both sides. No micro-perforation, which makes tearing out pages messier than one might like. Somewhat flimsy spiral wire, but doesn't seem to be a big issue. Extra points for the matte tan cover, which may easily be customized with a doodle or pasted-on label. $2.99 (all prices on Amazon).

Campus Wide Notebook, 70 sheets, 10" x 7", the cover of which sports the legend, embossed in silver, "Campus notebooks contain the best ruled foolscap suitable for writing". I first bought one of these in San Francisco's Japantown, years ago, and liked it a lot. Got some new ones, which are as good as the old ones. Excellent smooth paper, narrow ruled. Resistant to bleed-out and bleed-through, which means you can write on both sides of the paper, a practice that doubles the usable acreage. No micro-perforation. Excellent quality thick cover boards and double spiral binding. Costly, but this is a top quality item. $10.99 each.

Gold Fibre Retro Pad, wide rule, 70 sheets, 8-1/2" x 11-3/4", Antique Ivory. Love the features of this one: the brown mottled covers, the copper-look spiral binding, the buff-colored paper with brown ruler lines, the fact that the reverse sides are quarter-inch graph ruled, the micro-perforations. Apparently the quality of the paper these days is less than before, which is unfortunate. I get a fair amount of feathering and bleed-through with fountain pen ink, and the surface isn't as smooth as I'd like. Yet I love the appearance of this thing, and I often tote one around if I'm going to mainly use anything other than a fountain pen with it. $5.08 each.

Clairefontaine classic wirebound, 90 sheets, 8-1/2" x 11". The emperor of notebooks, as far as I'm concerned. Excellent quality paper, smooth and thick. Takes any ink and nib, no feathering, no bleed-through, so you can use both sides. High quality double-spiral binding, micro-perforations, and full page size make this one a joy to use. You pay for it, all right, but I think I'll probably always have a few of these on hand. So pleasurable to use. I've customized the one in the picture by taping a postcard of Van Gogh's 'Madame Roulin' on it. $15.42 each.

Do tools matter? Yes. Can good paper make you a better writer? No. Can it make you a happier, more productive writer? Damn straight it can.

Tell us about the papers you use, hey?

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  1. I'd be lost without my desktop PC! Yes, I have a laptop for travel.

    1. I'm thinking about getting a tablet. Maybe will blog a little about that next week.


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