a pen and paper is always as good

By Caroline Crampton,

Published on Jan 2, 2022   —   4 min read


I think I have found my ideal pen. It is the Pilot G-Tec C4 and its extremely fine nib and smooth ink flow suits my tiny scratchy handwriting perfectly. I first bought one because it is the pen that Francis Spufford uses and I am not above imitating everything that one of my favourite writers does in the hope that it will work on me like a spell.

I already can’t imagine using another pen by choice. I don’t think I’ll ever completely abandon my two preferred fountain pens — a Lamy and a Cross — but even they can’t give me, good as they are, that frictionless feeling of there being nothing between my thoughts and the page that the Pilot G-Tec C4 provides.

Francis Spufford spoke about his pen choice on an episode of an excellent podcast called Better Known, which itself deserves to be better known. He talked about the satisfaction of having a growing shelf of filled notebooks, even if all they contain is shopping lists and random phrases, and the joy of finding that this best of pens comes in multiple exciting colours. “I’m partial to the black-black and the sepia brown, but if you want you can write in turquoise with them,” he says. “I’ve never had any turquoise ideas so far, but I’m open to persuasion.” I, too, dream of one day having turquoise ideas.

Related: my top three Spufford books, in descending order, are: Unapologetic, I May Be Some Time and Golden Hill. If you haven’t read any of his work yet, you have a treat ahead of you.

And what am I using the ideal pen for? Mostly writing lists of everything that I need to do, but also drafting sections of articles and chapters. I don’t normally write longhand like this, but I’ve found that when I’m struggling to make myself sit down to something using pen and paper instead of computer can somehow feel less pressured. Like it doesn’t really count if it’s just scribbled down on a random page; I can put the notebook away and pretend it never happened. Naturally, feeling the weight of expectations lift conversely makes me write better, and then I have to type up the scribbles because they’re worth saving. Being my own typist is a chore I quite enjoy.

The handwritten lists are also back because I’ve finally ditched the app I used to use for organising myself. Nothing against Todoist, which was just doing the job it was built for, but as the undone recurring tasks built up inside it I started feeling like I was receiving a nuclear nagging every time I innocently tried to check when my next deadline was. Also, I realised that it had done a good job of training me in the manner of Pavlov’s dog and that scared me; the little popping noise it made when I marked a task complete had begun to sound to me like the sweetest sound on Earth.

The notebook and pen feel much more like a tool that I am making use of, rather than a semi-sentient consciousness that is manipulating me and always telling me off. As an added bonus, the notebook really just has the one purpose, which is to be written in by me, and I can’t wander off and look at Instagram while thinking about my to do list like I can with an app.

If I don’t get to the end of the list by the evening — and when does anyone, let’s be honest — a quick stroke of the pen crosses the rest out and I start again in the morning. Hardly revolutionary, I know, but if you are like me and prone to being seduced by the lure of productivity systems peddling false promises perhaps you need to hear this too: a pen and paper is always as good, if not better.

What I’ve been up to

I haven’t published any new work this week, but I have been frantically beavering away on two exciting podcast projects that I hope are going to be very good. One of them will be available for you to put in your ears much sooner than the other; subscribe here to get it as soon as its published.

Other than that, I’m gearing up for a season of home renovation and the associated chaos. I have looked at so many near-identical kitchen worktop samples that I have lost the ability to tell the difference between shades of brown, but as long as the supply chain gods smile on us, the current crumbling laminate’s days are numbered.

What I’m listening to, reading, watching

Under the Influence did a good episode about bookstagram. How to write an email. How to start getting stronger. Malcolm Gladwell on… laundry? Why not.

I consumed Ruby Tandoh’s new book Cook As You Are very rapidly and then made the tomato and fennel risotto. Delicious. I also gobbled down Laura Wood’s A Single Thread of Moonlight with similar rapidity, which is a YA historical romance in the style of Eva Ibbotson.

The thing I am watching is under embargo so I can’t talk about it. What I am not watching: Squid Game.

Until next time,


Links to bookshop.org and Blackwell’s are affiliate links, I donate any and all money this ever generates to the Chester branch of Women’s Aid.

There are a few other places on the internet where you can find me: get my article and podcast recommendations in The Browser, listen to my murder mystery podcast Shedunnit, or follow me on Twitter (although I’m not really there anymore) and Instagram (where I am, arguably, too much).

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