I do a lot of writing on paper these days, and that means carrying around pen. I am almost never without 3 Pilot G-2 pens (black, blue, and red), or a Field Notes notebook. I write a kind of journal in a large Moleskine Sketchbook. And I write my fiction these days (first drafts, anyway) in composition books.
Measuring how much I write on paper is more challenging than at the keyboard. At the keyboard, I can put together all kinds of automation to track word counts. On paper, it’s trickier, especially when I have three different kinds of notebooks for three different types of writing.
Wait long enough, however, and a solution will present itself, as it did for me today. I was working on my novel, scribbling away in a red camouflage-covered Composition book when right smack in the middle of a scene, my pen ran out of ink. I keep spare pens in my backpack. I tossed the old pen and pulled out a spare, and continued writing. The pen had died mid-sentence, so there was a bit of momentum I had to regain, but it wasn’t anything particularly difficult. In fact, writing was going great guns today.
Later, when I finished, I wondered about that pen running out of ink. How long had I been using it? And I remembered that the last time my pen ran out of ink, I jotted a note in the margin of my journal. I wrote “New pen today.” So I went wandering backward through time, leafing through the current volume of my journal to see when that was. It turned out to be Wednesday, April 18. I think that puts it about 50 days ago. So my black Pilot G-2 lasted 50 days. That amounts to 30 pages of journal writing, about 100 pages of notes for the day job, and more or less an entire Field Notes notebook, to say nothing of the 15 or so pages of novel I’ve written in that time.
Of course, not all of that ink gets on the page. I typically keep my Field Notes notebook and all three pens in my back left pocket. I’ve got three or four pairs of shorts, each of which with black, blue, and red ink stains on the pocket. A few shirt pockets have been sanctified in similar fashion. I suppose I could get a pocket protector, but the ink stains are more colorful. They somehow legitimize my status as a writer.
Over time, I’ve grown tired of tracking how many words I’ve written. I much prefer to focus on writing. But I have to say, there’s something subversive about reporting the amount I’ve written in Pens.
“How long is the current novel?” someone asks.
“Well, let’s see. I started it on June 1. Today is July 20, so that makes it just about 2 Pens long.”
Or even better, imagine the delight of submitting a manuscript, and in place of a word count at the top right corner of the first page, seeing something like this:
“About 7 Pens.”