They’re an everyday writing utensil. They’re a stocking stuffer. They’re a revelation.
I’ve always appreciated a fine writing implement. At Popular Mechanics, my starting rotation features a Tetzbo ballpoint pen from Japan, a Koh-I-Noor mechanical pencil from the Czech Republic, and a billion Bic Round Stics from the supply closet. But a fountain pen always seemed like a utensil too far.
Not that a fountain pen doesn’t write well. It’s a perfect tool, and a joy to use because it writes so differently than a ballpoint or gel pen.
A fountain pen glides. Or it will if you’re holding it right. When your angle is wrong, it lets you know. The writing feels like scratching. When it’s right, though, it doesn’t even feel like you’re writing. It feels like you’re painting. You can sense the physics of writing: that the pen never actually touches the paper. The ink does.
There’s something weirdly intentional about using a fountain pen. You aren’t jotting. You’re composing. A grocery list feels like a poem.
The problem, of course, is that fountain pens tend to be too expensive and messy—what with the ink wells and the refilling and the thing in old cartoons where people squirted each other with ink. (Turns out, that’s a myth.)
Then I noticed a coworker in a meeting writing with what looked like a regular, cheap plastic pen, only at the end of it was that shiny, pointy piece of metal. (At the time I didn’t even know what it was called. It’s a nib.) The pen was the Pilot Varsity fountain pen, and you can get a pack of six for less than $15. She probably had 20 of them in a pencilholder at her desk.
The Pilot Varsity is cheap, but it does the job so well. Like with any fountain pen, you can write with two different lines. You can hold the pen perpendicular to your writing surface for a thick line or at an angle for a thin line. The ink release is consistent.
(Incidentally, the fountain pen is an elegant mechanical process. As you apply pressure to the nib, it separates from the “feed,” allowing the ink to flow onto your writing surface. This is a great explainer. This is a great video showing how it works. And this is an in-depth guide to fully appreciating the essential beauty of the tool.)
Buy a pen or 12 and stash them at work and at home. Use them for writing notes and addresses and shopping lists. With intention! (Then lose them all in about a week and not care because they’re so unbelievably cheap.)