The right tools for writing vary from writer to writer. What works best is determined more by preference than any hard and fast rule or price tag. More than anything, they should make you want to write, and should be invisible as you do so. Any focus directed at your tools is focus not directed at your writing, where it belongs.

What is Available isn’t usually optimal

When I first started writing A Boy Named Zephyr, I wrote with whatever was available. Pencil, pen, printer paper, legal notepads, anything was fair game. As I entered the first draft into the computer however, I became very aware of how my style of writing changed based on the medium. The right tools for writing were definitely not the ones I had lying around.

Mechanical pencils made my writing style impatient, the reasons for which were easily explained by the countless marks left from broken lead. Cheaper ball point pens showed writing that grew tired and lifeless the longer the sessions went. I attributed this to fatigue and discomfort from the excessive pressures they tend to require to write consistently. Even cheap, scratchy legal pads showed sub-par results. My most consistent sessions seemed to happen whenever I wrote with one of the more expensive Pilot Precise gel pens. I attributed this to their lighter pressure and smoother flow.

Eager to find a perfect match, I dipped my toes into the world of fountain pens with a Pilot Metropolitan. It was a night and day difference writing with it even when compared to the Pilot Precise. The wider barrel was more comfortable in my hand, and the heavier weight was pleasing in my hand. Pressures were even lighter than the Precise, and flow was impossibly smooth. My writing became more consistent and oddly enough, smaller, which helped me cram more onto each page.

Finding the right tools by experimenting

Fountain pens fit my hand better, were more comfortable, and wrote with far less effort. I was able to write more consistently for longer periods, and enjoyed doing it. It was still not quite perfect however. Confident I was moving in the right direction, I purchased a Lamy Safari fountain pen in an extra-fine nib. While the pen was vastly more comfortable than the Pilot, the extra-fine nib was scratchy, and tended to skip a little bit. Despite the minor issues with the nib, I found myself using the Lamy more often. It was so close to perfection that it hurt.

I changed the nib in the Lamy to a fine tip, purchased a bottle of Noodler’s Heart of Darkness Ink, and upon trying them together, I immediately knew – I had found the perfect combo. Even in day to day life, I found myself looking for excuses to write with the Lamy. Post-it notes, shopping lists, it didn’t matter. I seized every opportunity to write that I could.

My only issue with fountain pens was their habit of feathering on cheap paper. While the Heart of Darkness ink was more resistant to it than other inks I had tried, on cheap printer paper, it was maddeningly common. While the pen half of the equation had been solved, I now had to find an ideal paper to complete the set.

And sometimes, what is available is optimal

Expensive paper like Clair Fontaine and Rhodia are very deserving in their reputation. They are impossibly smooth, and a good nib will simply glide across them effortlessly. Where they are less than perfect however is where they interact with the wallet. In addition, on my less creative days, I crumple up a LOT of paper. Hard bound notebooks then, do not work well with me.

I tend to favor spiral bound notebooks and loose printer paper, but they are not without their downsides. Both are mostly available in low-end, lighter-than-desired paper weights. Dig through the reams of printer paper at your local Walmart however, and you will start to see heavier weights similar to that of the more expensive Rhodia-tier papers. Even better, 500 pages of it will run you about the cost of shipping for an expensive notepad.

While it works, the heavy weight printer paper is certainly not high-end, hand-made-from-unicorns, silken writing bliss. That said, it is shockingly close given the price difference. It’s taken a while, but I feel like I’ve been successful in my hunt. My quest for a set of the right tools for writing has yielded a surprisingly cheap combo that has made me genuinely love the act of writing.

With the right tools in hand, I feel like my writing has changed dramatically. I can now easily write a dozen or more pages in a sitting, and I feel almost disappointed when it’s time to stop. If you’re trying to write with what you have lying around, consider a bit of experimentation. A bit of time spent in search of the right tools for your writing can have staggering rewards.

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