“Raid a stationery store. There are innumerable pencils on the market, of all grades of softness and several colors. Try them all; you may find the ideal pencil for your purposes. A medium-soft lead is best for most writers: the pages do not smudge, yet no particular pressure is necessary when writing.
Try bond paper and “laid” paper- paper with a sleek, smooth finish. Try writing on loose paper, on pads of various sizes, and in notebooks. Have a notebook full of fresh sheets ready to take on any short journey. On a long journey carry typewriter paper and a portable machine, and make the most of your time. Don’t buy the heaviest and most impressive grade of bond paper for your finished manuscripts. It makes too bulky and heavy a package, and the paper shows wear more quickly than the less expensive grades. “A good sixteen-pound paper,” is the way to ask for what you need. If the clerk doesn’t understand you, find a better stationery store.”
This is the advice Dorothea Brande gives aspiring writers in the last chapter of her book ‘Becoming A Writer’ in 1934.
Once in a while I like to reread some of the old books I have in my library, just so to remind myself that we have come a long way since then. There was a time in my life not that long ago when I used to haunt stationery stores looking for paper, loose-leaf folders, pads or spiral-bound notebooks, big ones or small ones to carry around with me in my purse. I used to breathe in the smell of pencil and paper. I used to look for pens. Fountain pens and mechanical pencils were my obsessions. I used to buy ink bottles and cartridges of different colors, and lead in different types and sizes. As Marcia Golub said:
“Notebooks are one of my fetishes. Pens are another. I drool when I see a stationary store. I can’t walk by one without poking my head in, or at least ogling the window.”
Five years ago when I was leaving Dubai for good and moving to Montreal, I went with my husband and children to one of my favorite stationery stores, where I loaded up on notebooks, pads, envelopes, reams of paper, pens, pencils and other writing supplies like they were some kind of treasure I wanted to ship with me. And now as I write with my netbook on my lap, I can’t help but think how digital our lifestyle has become. Not a single day passes without a new update or new invention in the market. Whether it’s new software, a new app, or a new PC, or laptop, or netbook, ultrabook, tablet, smart phone, ereader, etc. And as Bill Gates wrote:
“Paper is no longer a big part of my day. I get 90% of my news online, and when I go to a meeting and want to jot things down, I bring my Tablet PC. It’s fully synchronized with my office machine so I have all the files I need.”
Within seconds I can send queries and manuscripts to agents and publishers anywhere in the world. Within seconds I can even publish my own book digitally. I still carry that craze for paper, notebooks, pens and pencils. A visit to the stationery store any time on any given day will put me in a good mood. I still browse along the aisles, checking out the new writing instruments, folders, binders. But I don’t fill up on them like I used to before. I move on to the electronics section, although, as Dolly Parton said:
“Truth is, I wouldn’t know a gigabyte from a snakebite.”
The internet and my laptop have become an essential part of my life. In the words of Bill Gates:
“I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.”