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As I write this letter…

Quills & Ink
Image by Serendoxity via Flickr

One of the very thoughtful and cool presents I got from Sam at Christmas was a quill pen set, the real old-fashioned kind with a feather pen, metal nib set and nut-brown ink bottle. I don’t know how he knew I would love this, since I don’t recall ever expressing a wish for one, but once it was in my hands, it was exactly what I didn’t know I needed. I’m fascinated by thoughts of what life was like before many of the technological advances we take for granted today, and I don’t mean just computers and cell phones. I mean no telephone lines, cars, air travel — Really old-fashioned. Like when ideas, philosophies, and news were passed through hand-written letters in the early days of the American colonies. Of course, being fascinated with the idea of it and actually doing it are entirely different things.

Since Christmas, I’ve sent out a few rounds of handwritten letters with my quill pen & bottle of ink, in each apologizing profusely for my terrible penmanship, lack of finesse with ink pressure and poor letter formation. They’ve gone to family and very close friends; obviously, it’s not the kind of thing you send someone you aren’t really close to! For one thing, the sheer effort and time involved in writing with pen and ink is astonishing. I know a lot of that is because I’m not very practiced in it, as it’s an acquired skill. I’m of a generation that grew up typing everything instead of writing it out by hand, and my elementary school days were the last time I hand-wrote anything significant.

But even more of a change than the time involved is the different thought processes you use when forming each letter carefully with ink. You must consider every word, and you must form an entire thought before even starting the sentence, because you can’t erase or delete anything in any meaningful way. Sure, I’ve scratched out a few badly-formed letters, but you can’t rephrase a sentence that didn’t come out right. That’s just not the way I’ve grown up writing, or even the way of writing I make my living from. Now, we think faster, type faster, and can change what we’ve written so quickly that the words mean less.

It sounds like a pain to write letters this way, and it is to an extent. But it’s also strangely addicting. It’s contemplative and almost meditative. It forces me to slow down, be mindful, and think my words through. And there’s really nothing neater than seeing a beautifully turned sentence from your own hand. (I find I use the letters ‘w’, ‘l’, and all the dangling ones way more often cause they look so cool!) When I don’t write anything with the quill set for awhile, I find myself thinking about how letters look on the paper, or the feeling of creating a bold, confident sentence with strong, elegant pen strokes. It’s truly writing at its most basic, and most satisfying.

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  1. April 19, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    It’s funny because I was thinking about this exact subject yesterday, how in the olden days, writing really meant something extremely special. Not only did it take forever to form every word, but paper was also scarce. Words that have stood the test of time should be treasured. I got an old type writer as more of a symbolic gesture to myself that’s sitting in my room, but I never use it. I think my next step is to get a feather quill and ink.

  2. Kim
    April 19, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    Shannon, go for it! I think you’ll find, like I have, that suddenly the writing becomes more meaningful and more fun. Also thanks for the thoughtful comment and welcome!

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