Monday, September 15, 2008

Weapon of Choice (a politics-free post). . .

by Sean Chercover

Okay, folks, nothing heavy today. Before we begin, how about a little palette cleanser?

The following video is Fatboy Slim's Weapon of Choice, starring the incomparable Christopher Walken. Crank your speakers...



How's that for funky?

Now, let's talk about our writing weapons of choice. Mine is, primarily, a computer. I use a Mac, because they're best. Right, Marcus? Of course they are. (That might ignite more acrimony than any political post, but what the hell...)

On my Mac (the best computer in the world) I run Microsoft Word. Like everybody else in the world.

But in recent years, I've been hearing more and more about a program called Scrivener. Many writers swear by it, and none seem to swear at it. Anybody out there use this thing? Opinions? Please share.

Anyway, I write on a computer. (I should say, I write using a computer. I don't write on the computer, although I occasionally put a sticker on it.) Fingers on the keyboard just seems to work best for me.

Except when it doesn't. Occasionally, when the writing just isn't flowing, I put my keyboard aside and pull out the old typer.


I love the clackity-clack-clack-ding! of the thing. I have more than a few old typewriters (by "more than a few," I mean, slightly fewer than a dozen. It probably won't shock you to learn that the woman who sleeps beside me wishes I had fewer. I usually use my grandmother's old Royal portable.





Sometimes, when I'm feeling modern, I pull out the IBM Selectric. An awesome beast. The thing weighs a ton. Makes me feel like Raoul Duke. Of course, if I really wanted to feel like HST, I'd wolf down some mescaline before I hit the keyboard, but that might be taking things a bit too far.

I have two Selectrics. I couldn't tell you why. I keep telling myself that I'm going to sell one of them. I say the same thing to the woman who sleeps next to me. I rationalize. John Irving has six (6) Selectrics, so maybe if I get four more, I'll be a better writer...

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Weapons of choice. I do most of my brainstorming with a pen. Don't know why, but I write better with a keyboard and I brainstorm better with a pen.

I'm partial to fountain pens (Guyot? You there?), and (you guessed it) I have more than a few. Back in January 1988, I wandered into a pawn shop under the El tracks on Van Buren to get out of the cold. The guy had a bunch of Eversharp Skyline fountain pens from the 1940s. 14k nibs. Never inked. "New Old Stock" - they still had the orignal tags and stickers on them. He was selling them for eight bucks a pop. I bought a handful or two.


I'm even more fond of my green Pelikan demonstrator. A demonstrator is a clear pen that shows all its inner-workings. Like this:



But the fountain pen I seem to be using most often, these days, is made by The Sailor Pen Co., of Japan. Mine looks like this:


Okay, that's enough pen porn to satisfy Guyot...

I'm not saying that using a fancy fountain pen or an old typewriter or the best computer in the world makes my writing any better. Not at all. But it makes me feel better, and we all have our quirks.

Let's hear about yours. What is your writing weapon of choice?
---------------------------
PS: My two favorite fountain pen shops... In New York: The Fountain Pen Hospital (just down the street from Otto Penzler's Mysterious Bookshop). In Chicago: Ed Hamilton's Century Pens.

48 comments:

guyot said...

Ungh.... ohhhhh.... mmmmm.... pens... almost as hot as watches...

I love Pelikan. I have three. Wish I had eight. Or twenty-five.

I love Waterman, though, Sean only has a casual thing with them.

And the old Eversharps, was there ever anything cooler?

Now I want one of those Sailors... Sean, you know my birthday is in October, and since I did such a standup job for you and your product out in Hollywood...

Okay, typewriters? Why have we never discussed this? I own four Underwoods. I used to have six, but two went during the WGA strike. I almost bought a Royal porty last year.

I wonder why so many writers (you, me and a bunch of others) seem to get more out of pen-to-paper brainstorming than finger-to-keyboard.


Lastly, Marcus... sweet, lovable, blind-as-Helen Marcus... silly, Marcus, Macs are for artists. Or... anyone who likes functions to happen in one or two keystrokes as oppose to nine, or anyone who doesn't care for spyware or viruses, anyone who needs but one mouse button in life, anyone who doesn't want to constantly be forced to download the latest virus protection, or anti-spyware software, anyone who enjoys computers that don't crash regularly, anyone who enjoys their tech support to come from English-speaking people you meet face-to-face, or anyone who likes their cpu's not to become obsolete the week after they purchase them.

For those of you who don't want any of the above, I recommend a Windows machine.

Barbara D'Amato said...

I've been wondering where Guyot was when we needed him.

Dana King said...

I wirte amost everything on a PC, using Word, though I'm not avere to trying Scrivener if the comments here are good.

On the other hand, I'm such a Luddite that when stuck, or sketching out the day's work, I usually resort to (oh the horror!) a pencil. Just a garden variety, followed me home from work or found in my desk somewhere, pencil. I like the way they feel when writing. And they have eraasers. I make mistakes. Many mistake.

Michael Dymmoch said...

guyot,

There's a reason those Mac commercials are so entertaining, even when you've seen them a zillion times.

Marcus,

I write with any pen at hand, on anything that will take ink. (Occasionally my wrist.) Then I rewrite on a Mac. I'm too old to bother with a PC--not enough years left to deal with the crashes.

Brett Battles said...

Mac. Every time. Everyday. Do they make anything else these days?

Sean Chercover said...

Guyot: You're right - I still hold a grudge against Waterman for a dip in quality that they've long since corrected. I admit, they're nice. I just don't want one.

You have GOT to try a Sailor pen. They are smooth like buttah.

Love Underwoods. I have two boat-anchor Underwoods (one from the '20s and one from the '40s) and an Underwood Leader portable from the '50s. And then there's the Remington Super-Riter ('50s), Remington Quiet-Riter portable ('50s), the Smith Corona Skyriter portable ('50s), Smith Corona Sterling ('50s), and a really cool Japanese model called the Webster XL-747...

Uh, I guess I should stop. I am such a geek. What can I say? I like typewriters.

Marcus: we will all pray for you, until you see the light.

Martel said...

My weapons of choice:

Pencil - purchased at the Salvador Dali museum in Florida. It says "I am not mad!" on the side.

Pen - good ol' Papermate - medium point, black or blue.

Computer - Mac laptop. Come on, Marcus. Join the cool kids...

If I'm writing longhand, I tend to use legal pads.

I have Scrivener. I've used it a little. It has some cool features for outlining and notecards. But I'm not hooked on it. I could take it or leave it at this point.

I wish my typewriters were still functional, at times. Someday I'll find a repair shop and seen if they can be saved.

David J. Montgomery said...

Hey Guyot... How's that Mac working since you dropped it? My Dell could hoist up your Mac and bodyslam it.

I'm feeling left out. I don't have any fancy pens or old typewriters. Maybe that's why my writing sucks...

Anonymous said...

See.. what you all haven't been writing about... is the action ... the action of the keyboard.

That's why the IBM Selectrics were so awesome. Pound out a couple of paragraphs out on that thing and your fingers will thank you. The keys push back and make a resounding BAM! on the paper with each letter. Damn satisfying.

A computer keyboard? Well, a few try to give you the same sense of accomplishment. Mostly -- and always with laptops -- you push a keystroke down, and your fingers hit up against a dead piece of plastic. No joy.

And that's what it's all about.

Anonymous said...

BUTTE, MONTANA. A mystery that had been baffling local police for two months was solved last night by twelve-year-old Bart Dweeb who was surfing his computer when he should have been doing his homework. The police were trying to find the writer of an Assassination Contract that had been mailed to a local resident. According to the Montana Department of Forensic Science, every word in the contract had been written by a different writing instrument: a Mac computer using Microsoft Word, a Royal Portable, an IBM Selectric, an Eversharp Skyline fountain pen, a green Pelican demonstrator model, and a Sailor Pen made in Japan which writes only in Japanese (the word was translated by police experts into “kill” in English).

Detectives had contacted IBM which gave them the names and addresses of all persons in the United States who ever purchased a Selectric. With the cooperation of police departments all over the country, detectives visited the homes of these persons and asked them whether they owned an Eversharp Skyline fountain pen. Forty-three states have been combed so far, but not the most populous states. Four persons were identified as being in possession of both writing implements, but when they were then grilled about green Pelicans none of them had ever heard of it.

But last night luck struck. Young Bart was reading a blog of some mystery writers in Chicago when he happened to notice that the writer of the most recent blog boasted of owning every one of the writing implements in the Assassination Contract.

A Professor of Mathematical Statistics in the Department of Hunting and Fishing at Montana County University calculated that the odds of any one person having all of the writing implements identified in the Assassination Contract was precisely 305,164,383 to 1. He arrived at this figure by looking up on Google the Census Bureau’s population count for 2008.

“That’s well beyond a reasonable doubt,” said state prosecutor Pouch Loiterer. “Nous avons trapper notre homme!”


-- Tony D’Amato

Sean Chercover said...

Uh-oh...

Gotta go.

ab said...

I use an IMac (the one with two cute round loudspeakers) and dread the day it has to go. Too bad you can't keep a computer in shape by letting it jog, or something.

Btw - I don't se any Fatboy clip...? Or did I miss something funny, is the space supposed to be blank?

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

I really like that video.

And I like medium thick pens, in blue.

and cookies. I love cookies.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I keep it simple. PC & Word. A little regular maintenance and no problems. Although if I see Seinfeld and Bill Gates on any more of these monstrously expensive and totally idiotic commercials, they may have me scrabling for a Mac.

I tend to use a big white board for plotting and notes.

I'll have to get guyot to show me his pen collection. I have a Monte Blanc rollerball I like using for signings, but that's about it.

David J. Montgomery said...

I find most cookies to be disappointing. Why is it that cookies aren't as good as they used to be? Are they healthier now or something? Or is it the guilt that diminishes the flavor?

guyot said...

Can Sara please hurry and put up some incendiary political post?

Marcus Sakey said...

Aww, all you Mac people are so adorable in your love of the Kool-Aid.

Macs are great toys. I rank them right up there with the childrens things that go "moo" when you press a button.

As for fountain pens, I'm not smart enough to figure out how to write with one. I always just end up scratching the paper.

Cookies, though, I gotta go with David.

Libby Hellmann said...

I just bought a new laptop. It was a PC. I have it on good authority that the Obama campaign will make a 30 second spot about it. After all, John McCain invented the Blackberry.

guyot said...

Marcus,
Don't forget to keep updating your anti-virus protection and all your anti-spyware programs. And just try and ignore those popup ads and all that spam, and have fun with all that left-button, right-button, click here, then here, then here, then here maneuvering you gotta do.

I can't wait for your post next year when you talk about how amazing your new Mac is.

Sean Chercover said...

Marcus sniffed, thusly: "Macs are great toys. I rank them right up there with the children's things that go "moo" when you press a button."

Marcus, you weren't by any chance in the A/V department in high school ... were you?

Just asking.

David J. Montgomery said...

The bitter partisanship on this blog has really started to sadden me.

Mac, PC... When will the madness end?

Computers are tools. They're not a lifestyle choice.

Something that Mac people don't seem to get...

Marcus Sakey said...

"Left button, right button?" Oh, Guyot. You're adorable. My mouse has no fewer than five buttons. And I love 'em all.

And Sean, yeah, so what? I was in the computer club, too. That's where you met chicks.

Oh. Wait. All of a sudden things make more sense.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Hang in there, Marcus. Remember you can buy 2 or 3 PC laptops for the price of a Macbook. My trusty HP has been around the world with me countless times in the last 5 years. No pop-ups, no viruses, no malware. It does everything I need and more.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Oh, Libby, I think McCain actually invented the typewriter.

David J. Montgomery said...

You mean the abacus.

Doug Riddle said...

No David, that was cave painting.

Vicki Pettersson said...

Marcus,

Aw, my kid has that toy! You're right...
it's almost as reliable as a Mac.

Sean, Scrivener is awesomeness. It actually stays out of your way so you can write, and at forty bucks costs less than, oh say, Norton.

You're on your own geeking out over pens, though.

Sara Paretsky said...

Guyot, this one's for you: since Carly said that Palin wasn't capable of running H-P, the McCain campaign has switched over completely to Brother products. And fountain pens. Sean, I used to write with beautiful fountain pens, but I have trouble using my hands now--nerve damage--so I'm reduced to signing with Sharpies. Sigh.

RaB said...

Great discussion! Thanks to you all, my husband is going to try out Scrivener. Unfortunately, I think you also validated his collection of antique typewriters, 4 strong. :)

Rachel

Rob said...

That's it! I'm never reading this blog again. You Mac lovers are alienating 97% of your readership with all your goo-goo talk about Macs. I used to like it here when all you blogged about were safe, inoffensive political subjects.

GOOD-BYE!

;)

Linda said...

Well said.

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chefwrites2 said...

I read an article in Poets & Writers Magazine talking about in search of typewriters. I had to read, cause as you see we owned 3 computers (2 laptops- no Macs, and a HP), so I couldnt figure out who the heck would be looking for such a machine. But as the writer continued on to explain all the greats like Ernest Hemingway and Angela Lasbury the mystery author used several(Underwoods, Remingtons and Royals), then an award winning playright accepted his trophy and thanked his Hermes 3000. My search was on, since I published my poetry book, writers block had gotten the best of me.... Anyway, e-Bay had the curve -typewriters galore, and to get one in pristine condition required skillful bidding. So now I have a few myself and have discovered that there is a certain charm to the machines, to that which the computer just cannot compare.

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