should be “on pencils and needles”

A friend responded to my crossword puzzle picture  (below) by congratulating me for doing the puzzle in pen.  My first reaction was:  I wish I used pen, but I lack the derring-do.

Then I realized that, unless I’m taking notes or drafting something, I NEVER use pen.  I always use pencil.  I use pen when I jot down a to-do list or a grocery list, when I annotate my own writing, when I write letters and notes to friends (but in the event of an error I either a.) tear up the letter and start again or b.) make a box of ink over the mistake and move on [and then only if I’m writing to a friend or family member.])  In other words, pen is for when I don’t care about mistakes.

As I sat down this evening to work the crossword—in pencil—a student paper from this year sprang to mind.  He wrote an entry (as part of an autoethnography) about the way that pencils “hide” the mistakes/thinking a writer does in a way that pen can’t.  Said another way, the revisions and reworkings of an essay, or letter or notes or whatever, are visible when the writer uses a pen.  He argued that, in terms of the writing process, pen is actually a better medium because mistakes have to be addressed and acknowledged.

And he has a great point!  I use pencil when I want it to be perfect.  I use a mechanical pencil (Alvin Draft/Matic 0.5) and a Staedtler Mars eraser (leaves nary a trace of lead).  More importantly, when I read and respond to student papers, I only use pencil.  Heaven forbid I should make a spelling error or want to go back and edit my comments.  It occurred to me then (as it does now) that this practice doesn’t square with my stated beliefs about writing, teaching, or revealing my process to my students.

Anyway, something to think on.

What do you all use?  Pens?  Pencils?  And for what?

Back to my crossword, which will be pristine when finished…just how I like it!

(By the way, yesterday’s post was written on January 1st around 6:30, but I didn’t have the time set correctly.  As I hit “Publish” the time here is 6:39 pm.  I hope I’ve corrected that setting…)


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