Six years ago, when I matriculated into Grove City College, I took all my notes by hand with a blue Pentel 0.5mm twist-erase mechanical pencil. I wrote in small sloppy print, but it was legible. I soon found that taking notes that way was not enjoyable and it was a pain to go back and reread my notes. So I did what any self-respecting millennial would do – I began taking notes on my computer for three years. However, spring semester senior year I went back to taking notes by hand for a very important reason: the Christmas before the semester started I asked for a fountain pen and ink because I had been convinced that handwriting my notes was better for my retention. I chose to write with a fountain pen mainly for two reasons, it looked cool and I found the rich saturated color of the ink very appealing. I am now in my third year of seminary and continue to use a fountain pen for all my note taking – tens of hours every week and hundreds of hours every year. Below are eight reasons why I continue to use a fountain pen and encourage others to consider it.
First, a fountain pen provides a much better writing experience than a regular ballpoint. There is a misconception that fountain pens are messy and that if you’re not careful you will spray ink out of your pen – those are simply not true. It is actually fairly difficult to get ink to come out of your pen by shaking it and if you use it correctly you won’t get any ink on your hands. Furthermore, a properly adjusted fountain pen will write just under the weight of the pen, thereby allowing you to relax your grip because you don’t have to bear down on the paper like you do with cheap ballpoint pens. This aspect allows you to write for much longer periods of time without getting writer’s cramp.
Second, fountain pens create less waste. If you are in school and taking notes by hand – you can go through pens or pencils very quickly. That means you are throwing away more plastic packaging and empty pens into a landfill somewhere. However, if you use a fountain pen you only throw away packaging once (although many pens come in nice packaging you will wish to save) and hardly ever an ink bottle. I’ve been taking notes by hand for three years and only used about one 2oz bottle of ink. Even so, the bottles of ink are made of glass and much friendlier on the environment than plastic pens.
Third, fountain pens look nicer. There’s just no way around it, fountain pens have an aesthetic appeal that most other writing instruments don’t have. You can get fountain pens with inlays, wood bodies, or gold nips. Now, you can get expensive ballpoints pens with those features too, but you will still have to replace the ink cartridges and create extra waste.
Fourth, using a fountain pen will make your handwriting look better. Now, a fountain pen will not magically transform your handwriting to look like that of Thomas Jefferson. When I got my first pen and started writing in cursive again it took me a few months to get comfortable and start working on writing faster and more legibly. But fountain pens will make your handwriting look better even without that practice because they (especially ones with broader nibs) allow for line variation that ballpoint pens do not.
Fifth, writing with a fountain pen is better for your eyes. This was one of the main reasons I began writing with a fountain pen, my notes taken in pencil were just too hard to read because there was not enough contrast with the paper. However, because fountain pens use a liquid ink they write a much bolder, saturated line than pencils or even ballpoint pens which use a gel ink.
Sixth, fountain pens are more secure than regular ballpoints. Noodler’s specializes in making “bulletproof” inks that are impervious to water, alcohol, solvents, ultra-violet light, bleach, and fading. No one will be able to remove these inks from checks or any signed document. In addition, each bottle of ink is handmade so no batch of ink is identical and your signature will be unforgeable.
Seventh, fountain pens are morally good. I take this argument from my college Greek professor T. David Gordon. His argument is as follows: First, whatever encourages the doing of a morally good thing is itself morally good. Second, it is a good think to write notes to people – whether you are rejoicing with those who rejoice or weeping with those who weep, a written note is always appreciated. Third, fountain pens encourage writing such notes because it is more pleasurable to write with a fountain pen (for the reasons listed above). Therefore, because fountain pens encourage the performance of a moral good they themselves are morally good. One reason I did not write many notes before having a fountain pen was because my handwriting was so bad. But after being given the impetus to improve my handwriting by using a fountain pen, I am much more confident in my cursive and regularly write notes to others as well as engage in regular correspondence via handwritten letter.
Lastly, the main objection to fountain pens is that they are too expensive. As a poor seminary student, I understand this objection all too well! For those used to writing with cheap pens or pencils, it can seem astounding to spend $20+ on a single pen when you could buy over 200 ballpoints for the same price. Two factors mitigate against this objection. First, fountain pens are becoming increasingly cheap; the Pilot Varsity and Jinhao 993 are both under $4. Second, even apart from the extremely cheap fountain pens, buying a $20-30 pen could still be more economical if you take into account the fact that fountain pen ink goes an incredibly long way. Even as a full time student, I fully expect a small 3oz bottle of ink (approximately $12) to last for years and therefore I will not have to keep buying more pens/ink. Add to this that you will be able to pass your fountain pens down to your children and very soon the economics favor using a fountain pen. This then is my eighth argument for using a fountain pen, that it is more economical, even for seminary students.
So, perhaps you have been convinced by my arguments and would like to put a fountain pen on your wish-list but don’t know where to start. Here is my advice. As far as pens go, the Pilot Metropolitan and the Lamy Safari are two great introductory fountain pens. You will need to get a converter for both in order to use bottled ink, but that is standard with almost every pen. The Twisbi ECO is another fantastic pen, and it is piston filling so you won’t need to buy a converter. As far as ink goes, get a color you will enjoy writing in. If you will be more likely to use your pen if you have a bright orange ink, get a bright orange ink! For a solid black ink that is waterproof and good on cheap paper, I recommend Noodler’s Heart of Darkness (which comes with a free pen!). I also recommend you watch the Fountain Pen 101 series made by Brian Goulet, will introduce you fountain pens and give you a lot of tips on how to use them well.
Remember, technology is a tool and each tool shapes the one who wields it. We shape our tools and our tools shape us. Fountain pens have shaped me by encouraging me to write more often and work on my handwriting. I now enjoy writing by hand and even as a full time student I often look for more excuses to use my pens. This has led me to the practice of copying down scriptures, hymns, and poems that I find particularly meaningful, a practice which I think is unquestionably good. I still use pencils for writing in books (so that I can erase my dumb thoughts later) and my computer for recording quotes (the search function is a wonderful thing once you have saved hundreds of quotes). But for the bulk of my handwriting I use a fountain pen because I believe it shapes me into a better person. How does your writing instrument shape you?