Do you know what the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution have in common?
None of them were written using Bic ballpoint pens. That’s why the words on these documents are fit for eternal preservation; the lines are smooth and fine, guided by hands gliding over the parchment like angels dancing on the surface of a pond, making nary a ripple. Had they been written with cheap disposable plastic pens, pressed into the parchment to force the ink out like a caveman using a rock to carve a picture of a mastodon (you have to know cavemen would have been better artists if they’d had finer writing implements), I wonder if they’d have stood the test of time so well.
The ballpoint pen, the little bastard that it is, killed handwriting. It was invented as an instrument for writing on rough surfaces like wood and leather, but soon users found it more convenient than fountain pens that risked bleeding all over your hand, clothes, and paper. But that convenience came at a cost; the writer’s muscles were conscripted into pressing onto the paper to make the ink flow. Form capitulated to function, style subsided to convenience, and the timelessness of the Constitution is great, but that signature you scribble on your credit card slip will never even be read, so why risk getting your pants all inked up?
Better then pencils
As bad as the ballpoint pen is, the pencil is worse. Its lines are gray, the sharpness diminishes quickly, and (must I be the one to say it?) erasures often make the paper look sloppy and illegible. Add in the noise and shavings produced by pencil sharpeners, and I’m sure you can sympathize with why I insist my students use pen.
I lend the cheap ballpoints to students when they forget about my pens-only rule (in fairness, I’m the only teacher in the building with such a draconian policy) because I’m never getting those back. But when I’m buying for myself, I get the slightly more expensive gel pens, or a refillable roller pen; the right one feels less like a writing implement and more like a direct conduit between your ideas and your paper. The line is finer, writing is less of a chore, my words are clearer, and I have to believe it makes the reader’s experience a little better.
And as a writer, that’s my number one goal.