Pencil Pusher

Posted on October 21, 2013

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John Steinbeck, the most read American writer of the 20th century, has been described as a romantic, a realist and a rebel. He was also a pencil pusher of the highest order.

“The pure luxury of long beautiful pencils charges me with energy and invention,” Steinbeck once said. As he explained to editor Pascal Covici in Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters: “I am ready and the words are beginning to well up and come crawling down my pencil and drip on the paper.”

I still like the feel of a pencil in my hands from time to time, although my Pentel P207 yields nothing of the clean magic that Steinbeck nursed from his beloved Blackwings. A pencil and a smooth sheet of brightwhite paper from the office supply store are my favorite note-taking tools. The 0.7 lead does a much better job of reproducing hastily scribbled words than any pen I’ve found.

in my early newspaper days, I loved the IBM Selectric typewriters. They were massive, even foreboding machines that took your copy seriously. But for writing today, there’s no denying the computer keyboard and a monitor that shows my words in real time, as they appear, disappear and magically rearrange themselves. I think I’m at least 15 percent better with a keyboard than with a typewriter or pencil. 

What would Steinbeck have done with a keyboard and a word processing program? Known as an inveterate tinkerer, he may have been fascinated. That is, until he couldn’t find the port to attach his pencil sharpener.

 

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