I jot notes, physically, on paper, by hand, often, though I produce work predominantly through the abstraction of a computer screen. I’m notably less productive when I don’t scribble—even just a few words or fragmented incoherencies—over the course of a day. I tend to make sense of whatever faster when I scratch into matter, which isn’t quite replicated by way of the ephemeral processes of electronic journaling or noting. The act is akin to catapulting globs of stagnant, fetid goo out of the skull and onto stiff bedrock. “Here we are, thoughts: face to face. I see you, now, and you are demonstrably mine.”
We are cavemen at heart, after all, and it’s impertinent to constrain a spatial being. The keyboard is a straitjacket of sorts; it limits movement. Try to dismount. Try pirouetting away. It’s not easy. The right brain yearns to express at least slightly more than which it can computationally. (Kersplat!) So jot!
Tools of Trade
I choose to jot with pens, gel- and click-style, in particular, because they are effective and low maintenance. But there are many pens one could choose from. Too many, in fact: It’s perilously easy to lose oneself in the multitudinous aisles of online pen retailers (see: “timesuck”). I demoed about twenty pens the past couple of years because firsthand was the only way I could translate the practical scope of these objects in working contexts—and I advise readers to do the same. JetPens’ popular section (under $10) is a logical place to start. (ProTip: Use their filters.)
My formerly gross collection has been pared down to two pedestrian pens, in two categories, selected scrupulously for specific ends:
For Writing Quickly
The Pilot G2 (0.7mm) is my go-to in most circumstances. I write fastest legibly with this pen. Rapidity is mainly all I care about—fast, fast, fast; go and a minute ago. The pen doesn’t yield the most consistent lines, but I find the ink clear to read and the point satisfying to push/pull/yank across a page.
I write quickly with this pen because of how it’s balanced. I’m able to hold the pen in a way, with fulcrum (i.e., grip) distanced from the gel point, that allows minimal effort to write legible characters. The technique is similar to that of “choking down” on a baseball bat to swing with more force but less control. In this case, the ballpoint moves further with each gesture of the hand at the expense of precision.
I also use the 0.5mm G2, but in less instances, like when I’m scribbling notes while reading. Results from this pen tend to be sloppy; thinner points expose deficiencies in handwriting. I don’t particularly enjoy using the 0.5, but it’s the appropriate pen at times.
For Writing Neatly, in Small Spaces
I use a goofy, hybrid setup in these scenarios: I’m partial to the ink from the Uni-ball Signo 307 (Micro Point)—it’s grand!—but I abhor the Signo body. It’s thick and unwieldy, not unlike the jumbo crayons I scrawled with as a kid. And the clicker is a bore, no fun. But the ink!—it makes me want to attempt art. It flows smoothly and is consistently neat. I’m sure I could reproduce The Sleep of Reason… if I tried.
So: I attempted to transplant the Signo ink refill (while donning a surgical mask and scrubs) (“SCALPEL!”) into other pen bodies that I prefer, and found it’s compatible with the Zebra Sarasa Push Clip (any size). I really like the Zebra Clip. Its clip mechanism is novel and I think flat-out better than that of the average pen, whose mechanism is more susceptible to breaking and doesn’t engage with a pocket nearly as well. (I confess: I delight in clipping the Clip; I swoon when a marginally fussy, unthought task suddenly becomes a conscious cinch.)
Furthermore, the Clip is conducive to neat handwriting because there is little distance between the gel tip and where the pen is comfortable to grip in hand. It encourages the user to “choke up.” This gives way to higher precision than the G2, at the expense of speed. (Which makes sense: The faster one writes, the sloppier the handwriting. The Clip, by way of form, slows the hand down.)
Clip ink is okay—0.5mm I find to be best—but Signo ink is more reliable.
The most common use-case for me, for this Franken-pen, is addressing envelopes, which I don’t do all that often, truthfully. It sees sporadic use, now, though I wrote with it more in the past.
Uni-ball Signo 307 (Medium Point) ink is also compatible with the Clip body, but I almost always prefer to write quickly than neatly at 0.7mm size, so I seldom operate this combo.
Hastily, On Paper
When structure seems apposite, I write on cheap, yellow legal pads. Otherwise, I jot on plain, unlined computer paper (lightweight stock, high brightness, e.g., 20lb / 96 bright) to afford my thoughts abandon.
And Where to Buy
I’ve included product links above that point to Amazon. I get a small kickback if you purchase from them, which allows me to continue producing this type of content. But: The Pilot and Uni-ball can be found for the lowest price at Walmart. That’s where I buy them. The Zebra Clip is only available online (and at specialty stores, I assume); JetPens had the best price on the Clip, last I checked.