Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NaNoWriMo Pencil Reunion

That was then:
NaNoWriMo Arsenal

This is now:
NaNoWriMo Pencil Reunion
(Click the pics to view on Flickr if you'd like to see identifying notes).

They're all a bit battle-hardened (or shell-shocked) now.  They've seen things--terrible things: some of the worst prose ever penciled.  You young guns can't possibly understand until you've been there...

I did use some other pencils--Rhodia, a few different Staedtler pencils, a General's Layout...whatever happened to find its way into my pencil box on any given day. But those pencils took the brunt of the work. The relative length isn't necessarily an indication of how loved they were. I'm actually not sure how the Golden Bear came through so unscathed, for one thing! And I had trouble with the Oxford lead breaking, so that's part of how it ended up so dinky.

Another NaNoWriMo approaches now, and as I've mentioned, I'm starting off with pencil again this year, though I reserve the right to switch to fountain pen or typewriter or what-have-you (do *you* have a what-have-you?) if burn out or whim strikes.  This year's line-up looks something like this:
Somewhat in the same line as last year, with a few new faces.  Yes, that Blackwing 602 is already sadly shrunken and marked up.  What can I say?  It's getting used.  I really like it.  Once I use up the first Blackwing 602, I'll probably save the rest for journal writing and short story scribbling and other less crazed writing pursuits.  I can't resist using at least one in this mad venture, but it isn't as though I don't have plenty of other pencils to fill the void...

I'm still getting to know the Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencil (which needs a shorter and less fussy name...maybe I'll call them all Bob).  In feel, it's a little like the Helix Oxford HB, though slightly less...waxy?  Seems to hold a point better than the Oxford, which makes me wonder if I was over hasty in classifying it as something like a 2B.  I'm not really sure *what* it is, grade-wise, but so far I like it, despite its rather poor reviews in the pencil blogosphere...which makes me wonder if my opinion is at all valid, or if I'm too ignorant to know good pencils from bad.  Or maybe I just need to spend more time with it before disliking it...heh.  I may yet do a highly subjective mini-review one of these days, after I've had more time to develop an accurate opinion.

I'm pleased to welcome some Ticonderogas back into the mix.  I had a few newish Mexican-made ones around last year, but was unhappy with them: the lead was scratchy and pale.  At some point in the past year, I picked up some Made in China Ticonderogas (the unsharpened kind that come in paper boxes), and these are entirely different.  Not sure if it's batch variance, a different formula for boxed vs. pre-sharpened in blister packs, or the country of origin...but I quite like the new ones.

I guess I don't have to run through the entire line-up.  They're all good, solid, dependable and (most importantly, perhaps) easily obtainable, so I don't have to feel afraid of using them...aside from maybe the Blackwing, which is so pleasant to use I just don't care.

Out of the running: I don't think I'll bother with any Mirado Black Warriors this time around.  I *so* wanted to like these, but at least in their current iteration, they are disappointingly poor quality.  I think the lead itself is actually pretty nice, but of those I've sharpened so far, one was warped to the point where the lead rattled and clicked inside the bent casing at certain points in its life, and others had lead so poorly centered that they were almost impossible to sharpen and they wobbled as you wrote.  Maybe there are some good pencils in the package, but I don't have the heart to mess with them quite yet. I haven't had the same issues with the yellow Mirado Classic.  Just lucky? I'm not sure.

You'll notice I have more in the line-up as a whole. Part of this is just because I...um...they kept following me home. Part of it is because I learned last year that variety is the spice of NaNoWriMo, and because I found it was much easier to keep my flow going when I had a whole bunch of pencils sharpened and at the ready for each writing session rather than stopping to sharpen along the way. I'd sharpen before I went to bed, and work through pencils the next day, tossing one aside when it got dull and reaching for another.

Now if I just had some idea how to start writing this thing....


John said...

I've noticed the same thing about the Chinese vs. Mexican Dixons. Aside from moving away US production, it's disappointing that their quality is not just inconsistent, but predictably so.

That said, the Chinese versions are darker and smoother than the last runs of US-made Dixons. :)

mpclemens said...

"Once upon a time, there was a pencil..."

Quite the arsenal, Elizabeth. Personally, I have trouble using a woodcase for any length of time due to the annoyance of writing with a blunt point. But then, I have never dared reach beyond the classic #2 into the realm of boutique pencils. I made the switch to mechanicals in college, and even the disposable plastic Bic models held a point better. Then I moved to a Staedler refillable and a white "click" eraser and never really looked back. Good for you for not only embracing them, but becoming a connoisseur as well.

Are you still/ever using Rollabind? Now that I've found an alternate way to transcribe, I can feel confident in punching my draft again, since I won't need to run it through any sort of bulk page-loader (after a backup scan of the day's draft.) I picked up two sets of jumbo-sized discs at Staples, who now carry them branded as "Arc" products. They have a punch, too, for far less than Rollabind or Levenger.

Elizabeth H. said...

Glad to know the Dixon differences aren't all in my head! At least they're consistently inconsistent. Less chance of disappointment that way. I'm still sad they've been outsourced. Ah well. Such is the way of the world these days.

Mike, I still use Circa/Rollabind/Arc for some work purposes, but I admit, I've primarily been slumming it with my old faithful composition books and with standard three-ring binders. I bought up a bunch of that wonderful 32 lb. HP Premium Choice paper awhile back when it was $7 a ream (seriously!), which works well for either Circa or three-ring: no way it's going to tear without some work. And it's amazing for fountain pen use. I have mixed feelings about using it with pencil, since pencil doesn't really *need* the thicker paper: no bleed-through issues or anything. On the other hand, the thickness feels good and cuts down on the chance of ghosting between pages. It's almost too smooth for pencil. Almost, but not quite. I love that stuff.

So...the plan this year is to use loose-leaf paper, primarily the HP paper for hand writing, and some more standard paper if I type any part of it, and then stick all the pages in a binder. The fancy new three-ring binders that open at the touch of a button are teh awesome. If only I could have had access to these back in my Trapper Keeper days...

As for the unpointy tendencies of woodcase pencils...it's probably less of an issue for those of us with kinda large handwriting. And sometimes it can be fun to experiment with a dull pencil. Lately I've been kinda seeing how long I can hold out, because you get interesting line variation as the point gets bigger.

"Once upon a time, there was a pencil..."

Har har. Seriously, I really hope I have *something* by the first. I have plenty of ideas once things get rolling, but I haven't figured out yet where to jump in. It'll work out, though. It always does, kinda.

Cameron said...

I must admit that this is the most in-depth thing I've ever read about PENCILS.

It's going to take me a while to chew through all of this.

Cameron said...

P.S. My partner James (artist) just told me that he could REALLY get into pencils.

Actually, he already HAS.

So I'm shutting my face! :-)

May you wield the mighty sword of the Pencil to create new and wonderful prose (50,000 words, no less) in November, Elizabeth!

Robert M. said...

Excellent lineup.

As for the feelings of being unqualified to issue pencil opinions, I can relate. I've come across very pedestrian pencils that seemed just fine, and I often wonder if I'm able to appreciate the subtle differences between different good pencils.

I don't know how much action my pencils will get during NaNoWriMo, but even if it's just for the planning and structure, I'm sure I'll have plenty of sharpening to do.

My tentative lineup is here (sorry the pic is a bit dark):

Some Mono 100 2Bs and Hi-Uni Bs may join the fight too, depending on how I'm feeling. I've got some Black Polymer 999s that would fit in nicely, but I only have a few left and should probably hang onto them for a while.

May the muses be kind to you next month!

Elizabeth H. said...

@Cameron - I'm a little afraid of just where this obsession might go if I ever truly decide to learn to draw! Even just for (primarily) writing, it's fun exploring the subtleties. And they take up rather less space than typewriters...not to mention are a bit less mechanically complicated.

@Robert - nice looking line-up! And it's fascinating as a sort of study of NaNoWriMo pencils on the other side of the world: a lot of those pencils, I've only ever seen in pictures. I do have some Staedtler Lumograph HBs around somewhere. I used one for NaNo last year--very nice pencils, those, if a little skinny. I should pull them out again. I've not tried a B. Bet that's nicely rich.

Do I recall you mentioning using clutch pencils for some of your writing last year? I came this close -> <- to picking up a basic Mars clutch pencil at Staples the other day, just out of curiosity, but I'd just purchased the Musgraves a few days before, so I refrained.

Robert M. said...

Yep, last year and this year I'll probably be using a leadholder for a lot of work. It's in the picture I linked above, as well as in an earlier snap I took: http://i.imgur.com/WuEnd.jpg

It is easily the smoothest graphite instrument I have, and with the SharPits lead pointer, produces a wonderfully fine point that is easy to maintain. Those Uni leads are superb.

I originally tried the Mars Lumograph in HB, but I wasn't particularly convinced until I tried a B and a 2B. They're some of my favorite writing pencils now.

The top-end Japanese pencils are great, but if I were more interested in saving money, I'd go for Mitsubishi 9800s or 9850s and Uni-Stars instead. If you swing by one of those Japanese websites I mentioned before, do yourself a favor and pick up a few...they're awesome for the price, and sometimes make me wonder if I'm wasting my time going with the premium stuff.

Elizabeth H. said...

You take lovely photos! I see the lead holder in the other photo now, too. Handsome--is it wood?

Lead holders may be my next pencil venture. Maybe I'll get one as a reward for finishing NaNo, if I make it that far.

Robert M. said...

Sorry for the slow response.

Yep, the lead holder in my photos is the Mitsubishi "Pure Malt Premium" leadholder, reviewed on PencilTalk (I posted another photo in the comments there). The oak for the barrel is taken from century-old whiskey casks. I wish I could get a few more of them, but they're hard to find nowadays (the 0.5mm mechanicals and multi-pens are easier to track down).

After a little discussion on an older thread on Blackwing Pages, I'm not completely sure I want to give my PBW602s that much attention for NaNoWriMo.

Elizabeth H. said...

I guess I'd be a little hesitant to ascribe motives to the CalCedar folks. Yes, they could be taking advantage of the name purely for marketing purposes, with no other aim aside from profit. Or they could be folks who truly love pencils who really did want to revive a classic, or at least take some of the things they loved about it as they created their own new classic...and inadvertently stepped on some toes along the way. I don't know them personally, so I couldn't say.

I continue to like the 602s quite a bit, but not enough for me to justify the price of using them much--but that's my own personal issue. I've actually been using mechanical pencils quite a bit this month as well, if I can say that out loud. I was out and about quite a bit this week, and they're convenient for such things: I can take just one, without worrying about it going dull.

Wesley said...

Where do you get those Eberhard-Faber Mongols? Thanks!

Elizabeth H. said...

At the time I bought them, Pencil Things was selling them in a variety of colors (in packages of 36) on Amazon. Sadly, it appears this is no longer the case.