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Pen and Paper (plc.vc)
90 points by zds on Jan 3, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments

"I’ve found that having a pen and paper that you enjoy actually makes you use them both a lot more."

This is exactly why I experiment with pen and paper combinations every now and then trying to find something I like. I find the act of note-taking very beneficial, both for work and for self-study of math, CS, programming, etc. Just writing my thoughts down solidifies things a bit better, so encouraging that by making the writing enjoyable is what I've strived for.

I don't even spend that much, just allowed myself to pitch what didn't work and find something I like. My current favorite combination is National Brand Computation notebooks ($12) which I like for being quite large at nearly 12"x10" and having thick smooth paper and the largest (08) Pigma micron pens ($2) which are almost like felt tip markers. It almost feels like writing on a whiteboard.

Of course, what I like specifically isn't that important, but I definitely recommend experimenting with pen and paper if note taking is something you want to encourage yourself to do.

This is exactly why I experiment with pen and paper combinations every now and then trying to find something I like.

I tried many combinations of pen and paper in my early 20s, but I never found one I preferred to a keyboard. And not the fancy keyboards either, as my favorite keyboard is a laptop keyboard. The most important feature is that I don't have to think about my input device, my writing surface, or how to draw letters -- only on the message I'm writing.

I agree that you can't beat the keyboard for some things. But there are a lot of things I find easier to do with pen and paper than type: almost any and all math and any kind of drawing at all. Doing that with LaTeX or the mouse or something like GraphViz instead of pen and paper would require a lot of thinking about the tool, at least for me.

Oh, that's where tablet input is perfect. Just pick up the stylus and turn on drawing tools. Or mspaint.

A trick that Neil Gaiman mentioned, and I quite like, is to alternate your ink colour each day. That way you can quickly see how much progress you've made.

I like to keep some history. It's useful, and fun to go back to.

I've been using acid-free Strathmore sketch books (various sizes) for about 25 years. Usually with a fountain pen, but that's just an affectation.

Small, hand-sized notebooks for small ideas. Paperback-book sized notebooks for meeting notes. 8 1/2 x 11 inch notebooks for general engineering.

The friend that I stole this little system from said that he had a coffee-table-sized book at home that he'd never used, because he'd never had an idea that big. :-)

When I join a project and I'm in "sponge" mode, I usually copy down APIs and make class diagrams. There's something about muscle memory and the act of hand-copying that makes it easier to remember details of the system I'm learning.

TL;DR: OP finally bought an expensive pen on Kickstarter; they like it.

"I’ve never been able to prototype product on the computer; it always felt too clunky, too slow. Similarly, if you are in a meeting or—as I noticed during Y Combinator at a talk—typing on a laptop seems like a sure way to miss 70 percent of the content. I think typing encourages you to write more, to write for the sake of writing rather than for taking notes."

Your TL;DR skipped over a possibly important thought to many people.

Do people need to be told everything? I mean, they really can't figure out for themselves if they should rather use pen & paper or a computer for prototyping?

Even if somebody tells them, shouldn't they still try for themselves? Maybe it works for the person who tells them, but not for them?

No one needs to be told everything. But everyone needs to be told something.

It was only a couple of years ago that I discovered the benefits of writing on paper vs. computer. I needed to be told, back then.

> Do people need to be told everything?

No. But I like reading about personal experiences and the little details.

This reminds me of sunglasses. Never understood spending over $100 on them as I always lose them - so I'd get crappy $10 drugstore sunglasses and lose them in a week.

Then I got my first pair of Oakleys before a vacation and not only do I love them, I don't lose them anymore, and I take very good care of them 'cuz I actually 1.) care about them (they're super-comfy!), and 2.) care about the investment I made in them.

Not saying they'll ever pay for themselves (unlikely), but I probably had them in the same time span I would've had four crappy pairs that would've been scratched before now.

I imagine pens are very much the same - buy a crappy ten-pack of disposable pens and you'll lose them all in a month. Buy this titanium thing and own it for years.

My dad has used the same Mont Blanc pen since I was old enough to notice him writing. Probably 21 years.

> what is the deal with Moleskine notebooks

For better or worse, if you write in a Moleskine with either a fountain pen or a Pilot G2 ink pen, you will probably find that it bleeds through so much that you can only really write on one side anyway. I'm not sure that addresses his concern with thread-bound notebooks and writing on the "back" page, but that's been my experience with them.

The paper in Moleskines is really bad unless you stick with ballpoints or pencils. Rhodia pads and journals handle inks much better than a Moleskine and are pretty easy to come by.

Try a Rhodia Webnotebook. Stupid name, nice product, and availability in retail stores is improving.

One of the best papers to write on with any pen (including fountain). But if you're interested in fountain pens you probably already know about it and which inks bleed more than others.

Moleskine's are pretty average quality, Rhodia and Lichtenstein 1917 are great papers and notebooks. Lamy Safari is a great starter fountain pen.

I use the Moleskine's with the cardstock paper. No bleeding and the paper just feels nice. The only downside is fewer pages, but I don't have an issue with that personally.

I've tried fountain pens and have never been satisfied. Perhaps it's my left-handedness or the inferior quality of the paper I use, but it never felt "natural".

I frequently purchase ballpoint and gel pens from JetPens.com and am particularly fond of the Pilot Hi-Tec-C: http://www.jetpens.com/Pilot-Hi-Tec-C-Gel-Ink-Pen-0.4-mm-Bas...

What are some of your <$10 pens that you frequently go back to?

Liquid Expresso Pens are my favorite by far, but you wouldn't like them if you like to write on both sides of the paper. I never write on both sides of paper because I can't live without spiral notebooks either. Expresso Pens are unfortunately difficult to find.

I used to work at a place that specialized in higher end pens. The pen body itself almost never matters: it's all about the insert. I can't withstand the feel of using ballpoints because my hands are highly tactile since I used to do a ton of drawing and massage, so every little skip -- that many people don't notice -- feels like a punch in my brain. For me, I can't stand to use anything but roller balls or felt-tips, but even then you have to be careful. Pilot roller balls feel just as "skippy" as ballpoints, IMO. For the most part, I find fountain pens to be pure torture to use.

Not exactly sticking to your criteria here, but what combinations of pen, inks and paper have you tried? If you ever want to get back into trying fountain pens, then you are unfortunately going to have to find quicker drying ink and paper to put up the with potential smudges.

Fountainpen-network is a great resource where members frequently post reviews of various inks and papers, incorporating drying time for lefties.

I have been using a Lamy Safari with J Herbert ink for the past few months and it has been great.

I have to chime in and exclaim the brilliance of the Lammy Safari. I asked on app.net for a fountain pen to replace my cheap old parker pen.

The only stipulations that it is long enough for my giant hands without the lid and that it not be made of metal. (I have trouble holding metal pens)

After getting the Lammy Safari two months ago I find my self writing much more. My notes are much more useful and are a pleasure to write.

The Pilot G2s are the best on the market, in my opinion. I use both the .38 and .7 in various situations. Both are exquisite and under $2 each.

Step outside the big box retailer and hunt down some Japanese pens. Start with the Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38 and the Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4. You won't go back to your G2.

Pilot is a Japanese brand, and having used plenty of Uni-balls and Pilots over the years, both companies make excellent pens.

I'm also a little bit of a (left-handed) pen geek, and I've used all three of these, plus the Hi-Tec-C. The Hi-Tec-C lays down a very nice, smooth line, but it's probably my least favorite because the narrow plastic barrel gets uncomfortable after a few minutes.

Out of the other three, the Zebra Sarasa Clip is comfortable to hold, but I don't think it writes quite as smoothly. The Signo and G-2 are both comfortable and smooth-writing... I've tended to favor the G-2 since I've been using some variant of it since high school (nearly 20 years now), and the 0.38 is even nicer. I'll probably end up picking up a few additional Signos though -- they write nearly as smoothly for me and I really like the blue-black color that the G-2 0.38 isn't available in.

I find the G-2 is the smoothest overall for me, but this may also be because of the relatively cheap writing pads I use at the office.

Every year or two I have a pen crisis and try out a few new ones. Last few years I've sort of settled on the Uni-ball 207 Micro as my default. $16 for box of 12. http://www.amazon.com/uni-ball-Retractable-Micro-Point-61255...

My brother has the same problem (and loves Pilot G2s). I think left-handedness is a significant barrier for fountain pen appreciation, even with Quink.

I have a Bic 730R in front of me that I like, but the article made me realize I left my expensive fountain pen that I like more at home.

Thanks for sharing. I've been on the lookout for a good but inexpensive pen. I just ordered a couple and can't wait to try them out! Stock Bic pens from the generic office supply box tend to keep be away from writing on paper.

the awesome thing about a lot of the kickstarter pens is that they use hi-tec c refills

I use the following pens (all of them are 0.38mm/0.4mm/0.5mm):

- Zebra Sarasa (0.4mm)

- uniball signo 0.38mm

- Pilot Hi-Tec-C

- Pilot G2 Pro (0.5mm)

Pentel RSVP is disposable, but writes like a dream.

I myself type much faster than I write, so it's personal I guess.

One thing that I don't understand is why people start kickstarters for pens. I'm honestly curious here because I can't understand it: The market for pens is saturated, and 3000 people apparently back a pen kickstarter (for a non-remarkable pen) for an average of $98. Why?

I understand the value of having something special, but I fail to see what makes it more special than some expensive pen that you can get in shops.

Because you are stuck with crappy refills in those very, very expensive pens. Spending $150-$300 on an expensive rollerball in a store doesn't guarantee you good writing performance. That is the most important thing for me, not how often I can show off some gold plated Mont Blanc barrel.

With these Kickstarter pens, people are creating good quality barrels for good quality refills. Look up and down this thread and you will see how many people use < 0.5mm pens. You can barely get those type of refills on the store shelf, much less in a high-end pen.

The US pen market is far from saturated. It is bone dry from my perspective.

TL;DR - Just because you buy an expensive pen doesn't mean it writes worth a crap.

It sounds like you're more confused about why people back it then why the start it. They start it because 3000 people backed previous ones.

I spend a lot of time in front of the computer, but I am also very particular about my pens and paper. When I want a pencil, I only use a Pentel P205 0.5mm. I've had a single P205 for over 4 years now and it's never been lost or broken. For pens I've finally settled into the Pilot Hi Tec C 0.25 or 0.3mm in blue or black. I have two all-metal bodies for the cartridge I got from Kickstarter, the Render K by KarasKustoms and the P1 by PremierePen. I find that having a nice pen encourages me to write down my thoughts more often and makes my notes much more organized. For paper I'm less picky but I like Muji products for random notes.

TL;DR get a nice pen, it's the best.

+1 for the Pentel P205, it's by far the nicest pencil I have written with, and for well under $10.

Writing with pencil, especially when working through a problem, lets me work more effectively. Knowing you can erase something gives you a sense of freedom to explore ideas that I don't get when writing with ink. Kind of like having an "undo" feature in an application lets you be a little more cavalier with your experimentation.

>> "I do not understand why you’d want a notebook that was not spiral bound."

I don't like spiral bound and I have several different types of Moleskine. The spiral bound break too easily on me and the pages often accidentally tear out.

Also, good luck putting a spiral-bound notebook in a tight pocket.

To me, writing has always been an exercise in utilitarianism, and is done out of necessity. I can't comprehend why having a nicer pen would cause one to write more. Writing is not some sort of art that one is meant to appreciate (not that it can't be, but most people don't consider marking a sheet of dead tree matter with ink to be some sort pleasurable experience unto itself.) Writing is something that has to be done (generally because typing is inappropriate or impractical) regardless of one's enjoyment of it. I would write just as much even if I hated my pen, just like I would travel as much even if I hated commuting or I would wear my shoes just as much even if I hated shoes. All of the aforementioned things are things that life requires you to do, regardless of how one feels about them. Certainly, one can strive to maximize their enjoyment of those things, but a lack of enjoyment doesn't compel one not to do them.

Moreover, if he continues to use the .38 inserts, (which, I might add, are great) the only added utility of this $60 pen is that it has greater mass and, because it costs more, has some sort of innate "fanciness" value. I just don't understand why one would pay $60 for a metal shaft whose utility doesn't extend beyond making the user feel important or opulent. After all, he lauded this pen not because of its objective superiority, but because it made him feel good.

I just don't get it. I think I'll stick with my Pilot G2s.

Your argument applies to eating as well, yet people derive pleasure from food that goes beyond the act of nourishing their bodies.

Beauty, as they say, is in the eyes of the beholder.

You don't understand my point. I agree that one can try to derive pleasure from such things. I know I do. But that pleasure doesn't encourage people to eat more, and a lack of pleasure doesn't compel you not to eat. The pursuit of pleasure exists independent of necessity.

Even if you couldn't afford lavish meals, you would still eat what you could afford, because eating is a necessity. You wouldn't starve yourself just because you couldn't eat at at 4 Star Michelin restaurants every night. Conversely, you wouldn't gorge yourself just because you were at a 4 star restaurant.

So yes, my argument does apply to eating as well. In fact, eating is a pretty excellent example that proves my point.

An obligation can also be subject to hedonistic intent. What is you point?

Well, you made two points. One is that having a nicer pen wouldn't (shouldn't) make you want to write more. Two, that a $60 pen has no value besides making you feel opulent.

My response was to your second point where I assert that some people derive pleasure from things that others perceive as mundane. Eating at a 4-star Michelin restaurant for example can be loosely (very) compared to writing with a $60 pen. So it's not bizarre.

To your first point, deriving pleasure from doing something does indeed encourage you to do more of it. Even eating - compare eating a mediocre meal at a food court to a scrumptious meal prepared by your mother (or whoever cooks well in your family!). Sure, writing is not an infrequent exercise, so perhaps the analogy goes only so far, but the point remains that if you enjoy it, you are likely to do more of it.

It does not encourage you to do more of it when it is solely an obligation. I think eating is a bad example because people eat for pleasure, whereas people only write for utility. People rarely if ever write simply because they enjoy writing. They write to convey or record information, If you remove the utilitarian obligation from writing, and make it solely an exercise in enjoyment, you have to disassociate the obligatory aspect of writing, as well as the functional result. I don't know about you, but I don't really see people transcribing the alphabet 1000 in a notebook for pleasure (or other such trivial applications of writing). When people write, they do it because they have to achieve some end. This is different from fine dining, where there is no end. You don't eat because you need nutrion, but because the meal brings pleasure.

My second assertion was not dismissing the pleasure found in using an expensive pen and feeling good, but merely an explanation of why I think it's silly. If one cares about having profligate writing instruments, more power to them. I, however, just want something that works well. In a pen, that is usually determined by the insert, which is why a $60 shell isn't important.

It encourages you to shift from other modes of recording information.

Taking pleasure in writing using a pen presumably moves you away from taking notes on your laptop, tablet or mobile phone. Thus it does encourage you to write more, even though in aggregate you are probably storing the same amount of information.

  > whereas people only write for utility.

  > When people write, they do it because they have to achieve some                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  >  end.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
I write stories for fun. There is no obligation to do so. Anecdotally, I'm not alone in this as several of my friends do the same. The only utility we ever get is that occasionally we turn these stories into games for each other or backgrounds for characters. So again, no obligation since a game ceases being a game when you _must_ do it, and none of us are obliged to run or play in them.

In that context, I've found that some writing instruments simply feel better. The Pentel Sharp mechanical pencils are particular nice -- for me -- vs other pencils, like the cheap Bic mechanicals. Same for pens, there are some 5-10$ pens that write so smoothly it's like they're gliding along the page versus many ballpoints that seem to drag along. Having a pleasant writing experience with good paper and pen leads to more nights or lunches spent just writing to write.

Have you never met someone who doodles and scribbles absently while bored? It's incredibly fun.

I'm incredibly persnickety about my pen and paper. I just don't feel as creative when I'm using writing instruments that don't "work" for me. Plastic pens just don't feel right; they're too lightweight and kind of clammy when you write for extended periods. (As far as plastic pens go, the only model I could really adapt to was the Office Max Tul line http://www.officemax.com/brands/tul/tul-pens/product-prod226... )

For awhile I used the steel-bodied Zebra 701 and 301. I preferred the gel ink option of the 301, but I liked the heavier body of the 701. (There are guides online for modding the 701 to accept 301 refills, but I never gave it a try.)

I ultimately stumbled on this pen/ink combo that I'm absolutely in love with:

1. Rotring Rapid Pro. http://www.jetpens.com/Rotring-Rapid-Pro-Ballpoint-Pen-1.0-m... It's small, lightweight, and feels adequately balanced. The knurled grip is perfect, too.

2. Parker Gel Ink. Gel is much smoother and starker than ballpoint. It does smear if you're not careful, though.

3. 20 lb legal pads, eg. Docket Gold. http://www.amazon.com/63950-Docket-Letter-Canary-Sheets/dp/B... Heavier paper feels kind of like writing on parchment. The pen glides better, and the paper won't tear when you remove it.

It's an investment, but it works for me. Also, I never lose my pens. Once the initial cost is sunk, it pays for itself in terms of daily contentment. I enjoy writing and drawing much more.

At first this looks like another submission about the value of objects, a la "The Best" https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4755470, "The Worst" http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4838109, and countless others in between.

However, it's really a (roundabout) way for Peter to tell us how much he likes using pen and paper, and what advantages he sees in them over the alternatives.

This is the right way to look at objects: suitability. Not best, not cheapest, not highest-quality, but most suitable for the job.

Crucially, by the end, the strongest point made in the first 80% of the article has not been addressed:

"The problem with pens that cost more than a dollar is that, well, you lose them at the same rate you lose pens that cost less than a dollar."

I look forward to a follow up post when he has misplaced it, given up using it for fear of misplacing it, or perhaps treasured this wonderpen so much that it is still faithfully by his side after 6 months of note-taking. In short: how suitable really is it?

For those wanting more info about fountain pens (the most superior writing experience in my opinion), check out the following links:




What Peter has actually discovered is that the pen market in the US is severely lacking compared to markets like Asia. No major US pen manufacturer is willing to step up and expand their offerings in office supply stores to match what they offer in Japan, despite the fact they are all subsidiaries of Japanese companies. Pilot, Uni-ball, Pentel, Zebra are all based in Japan and offer much superior products across the Pacific.

This is why 95% of my pen and paper shopping is done online with vendors that import products from around the world. Going to Staples or Office Depot is like watching Groundhog Day. There is zero innovation, just the same old office supply cabinet stuffers that we have been stuck with for years.

"But why bother? Why bother spending any money or thought on pen and paper? Because, I’ve found that having a pen and paper that you enjoy actually makes you use them both a lot more."

I found that about instantly after I bought a Moleskine reporter notebook. If I enjoyed using it, then any use case I'd delegate to something inferior (i.e. quick note taking on paper versus a smartphone or tablet) suddenly transitioned quite easily to pen & paper. I don't have any special pen, and I rock the pilot G2 Peter says he's switched from, but the notebook quality balances it out fairly well in my experience.

Some things I just find easier with pen and paper. A pilot V-Pen (disposable fountain pen) and standard printer paper does me just fine. If I want to keep something for posterity, my mobile phone camera has plenty of resolution. If it's something ephemeral like editing I don't bother. I used to carry a notebook, but much prefer scrap paper + nice, scrap-paper-friendly, pen + camera.

Using a paper + pen definitely forces you to focus in on the most essential points of whatever you're listening to. Good observation, OP.

Fell in love with the .3 mm lead drafting pencils and the blue books from college -- the notebooks are so small that the traditional resistance to wasting a notebook are negligible, and the pencil is so fine that I can write and doodle without worrying about varying intensities.

An observation that I made recently during a multi-day brainstorming[1] session. The managerial attendees were, in every case, decked out with multiple high tech gadgets while the technical types all used pen and paper for note taking.

Just saying.

[1]: I hate that term

"I did not really understand the allure of having high-end pens. Don’t you just lose them?"

Yes and No. All my cheap pens get lost in a jiffy, and all the expensive ones are kept in their shiny boxes, waiting to be polished every new year.

Perhaps we should develop a "magnetic pen and shirt pocket" combo.

You tend to lose things you don't care about far more often than things you do care about.

I've had a lovely mont-blanc fountain pen for some time now, in my shirt pocket every day. There's a real effect on how much I write with it, and how much that helps me get my thoughts together, versus a regular ballpoint.

All of my fancy pens wind up coming out of the box when I figure I should do more than just polish them. They're all lost within a week.

I've probably managed to lose hundreds of dollars in pens, but I've also never bought myself a pen more expensive than a G2... they're always gifts.

To write on both sides of difficult notebooks, I flip the book upside down (i.e., rotate the writing surface 180 degrees) when writing on left-hand pages. It's much easier to write that way with a fairly small loss to readability.

A nice non-spiral notebook that is easy to write on from both sides: http://fieldnotesbrand.com/ This plus a the same .38 Pilot G-2 is my pen/paper stack :)

That has been my combo for a long time. I've switched though to the uniball sign 0.38mm and zebra sarasa 0.4mm which I seem to enjoy more (non scratchy, nice ink flow)

Here's another shout-out for the .38 G-2. This is a great goddamn pen, and I have at least 2 boxes of them in my desk right now.

I prefer pencils to pens. Certainly, pens are more theatrical, with the finality of ink, but pencils allow for more mistakes to be corrected, and graphite smudges are less annoying than ink ones.

I do as well. This past semester I switched to using Generals brand cedar point #333 2HB pencils and they are great quality I recommend trying them out.

LAMY makes beautiful pens.

The Lamy Safari is cheap but perfect for my uses. The clip on the cap is especially good: it's big, sturdy, and attractive. I bought the pen, a refillable cartridge, and a big old bottle of blue ink. It's serving me well and works great on most paper and pretty good on the rest.

They're gateway drugs to other fountain pens :-) I had a lamy fountain pen, tried with noodler's ink, and eventually gave up on the fiddliness of it. It was always dry.

I had the same problem with Lamy, but not other brands. But it had a plastic nib, and that was probably 10 years ago.

A plastic nib? Are you sure that's possible?

It wasn't awesome but I'm pretty sure that's what it was. $20 would have been a bit cheap for carbon fiber.

Like Sailor. Damn they're expensive. But they're also the best.

my marine friend introduced me to write in the rain, http://www.riteintherain.com/

the reporter notebook is perfect and you can dump the notebook in a pool, and the paper will still be dry.

I'm done with paper like I'm done with pens.

Bic, Med, Blue, 29c. Best pen ever.

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