Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cursive? What's that?

For those of us who frame our thoughts best with our pens on paper, this is sad news.

Margaret C. Galitzin wrote an article about the decline of cursive writing in our modern school systems. "Learning to write a beautiful, flowing, cursive handwriting is simply “irrelevant” in the modern world."

"It was kind of cryptic." Words from a girl trying to read her grandmother's journal.

Be sure to read the whole story here:

Leave a comment! If you learned to write in cursive, do you still use it now?

Writing at the Corner Bakery Cafe

I went to the Corner Bakery Cafe in Draper this morning. After a toasted sourdough panini breakfast sandwich I uncapped my pen and took a few minutes to write in my notebook.
There's a lady in one of the stuffed chairs in front of me. Laid back, reading and looking at pictures on her Kindle in the landscape position. Her fingers held thoughtfully to her lips, gripping a stylus that she never uses. Black windbreaker, matching stylish black cap, bright fuchsia shirt. Her blond hair in a faux wind-blown style sticking out from under the cap, narrow reading glasses, olive capri shorts. All the pieces in place, but the sum is less than the parts. In spite of all the effort it still feels like she's in a house dress with curlers—if anyone still wears curlers in their hair.
A couple tables away sits a soccer mom with her teenage son and his friend. They're in their high school soccer uniforms, she's pulled out knitting needles and a ball of dark grey yarn and is furiously knitting away while interrogating the friend. They're silently chewing and texting except for the occasional barely-audible grunt replies and barely-visible eye contact while she desperately pecks away at their teenage ennui.
After a few minutes to myself writing, I take a deep breath and the world feels right, at least for a little while. Not the best writing, not the worst. But at least I spent a few moments capturing my observations.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Early Morning Drawing

I'm drawing a new Leaky pen cartoon. The first new one in thirteen years. The tripod behind me is filming a video that I'll post in the future.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Original Drawing—Run Out of 'E's

This is the original drawing, showing all the fun, scribbly-pencil lines. After all these years it's great to see it on a mug!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

You're Not From Stink Onion, Are You?

I come from the Land of the Sun. Yes, it's a blazing desert, but not as bad as The Reborn in Small Springs to the south.

That sounds more exotic than "I'm from Utah, it's a desert, but not as hot as Phoenix, Arizona."

For writers, place names are as much a part of our characters' makeup as the times in which they live. We can feel the cold and gloom in New Bedford, Massachusetts, from Melville's Moby Dick. And the grime and soot of Dicken's London.

And wouldn't you love to read about characters from Dreaded Fort, Raven Breach, and Swampy Hole? Locations also form the identities of characters in our favorite movies and TV series. Would Walter White, from "Breaking Bad," be the same person we know if he was from Nebraska?

The establishing shot of Slough in the British version of "The Office" tells us something about all the characters. And for the life of me I can't figure out why it's so amusing to the british cast of "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" when the titular character first tells them he's from Leeds. But apparently there's innuendo of some sort, and it helps them understand his character immediately.

As a lover of maps and word origins I was happy to learn about the combination of the two by cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust from Kalimedia. I read about them in recent articles from Slate and Fast Company. You can buy their "Atlas[es] of True Names" for the USA, Canada, the British Isles, Europe, and the World. These atlases are the perfect blend of maps and etymology.

Spend a few minutes with them and you'll catch a glimpse into the history of where you and your characters are from.

As quaint and curious as some of the place names are, it's a good thing some names have changed. Al Capone and the Chicago gangsters would seem a little less (or more?) intimidating if they were from Stink Onion.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Secret To Writing

After our last writing practice session, it came to me, the Secret To Writing.

The Secret To Writing is to let the tip of the pen actually make contact with the paper, then flex the muscles of the fingers, wrist, and arm in such a fashion that words begin to form.

Sounds easy? Now comes the tricky part. You have to do it every day. Or at least so often that it feels like every day.

The amazing thing is that by forcing the pen to move, whether you have thoughts behind it or not, writing happens. Words place themselves in that unique combination that is yours. It's only with daily practice that the words start to feel comfortable enough that they're willing to tumble out of your head to the paper.

You just need to put the pen to the paper and get out of the way.

The Leaky Pen, Vol.1 Issue 2, September 1998

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Re-Thinking Natalie

I did something this morning I haven't done for years. I blew the dust off my fountain pen, put a new ink cartridge in, opened a notebook (the paper kind) and wrote.

June 23, 2013

Words are nothing really. I mean you can't see them when they're spoken. Remember the last time you heard people nearby speaking in a foreign language? Those are words, floating around with no meaning. But when we write them down we give them shape. In some way they take form, give form to our thoughts.

I remember buying Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones" from a book club back in the '80s. Holding it in my hands, the answers. Here's a way to write, a way to get those tangly words out of my head and onto paper. That's all I was looking for. At least now 30 years later, that's what I think I was looking for. For many years I treated that [book] like the gospel for writers. Good news, yes. Truth crystalized and given form. I could hold it. Read it. And every time I read it, opened it, it told me the same things. It became a comfort.

Then I heard a recorded version of it. Natalie was reading her book. I could hear the same words I was familiar with. But then unexpectedly at the end of the chapters she had some new things to say. Things that have given me much to think on ever since. For example, she had said to buy a fast-writing pen. She said she uses a cheap Shaeffer fountain pen, the kind you can buy at a corner drugstore. So that's where I went, and that's what I bought. In fact, that's what I'm using to write these words with right now. Buy a college-ruled notebook, cheap, so you're not afraid to write stupid, crappy words, whatever comes to mind. I did that. I've got a box full of those notebooks.

Then the surprise came on the tape. She said she doesn't use fountain pens now. At least not exclusively. Just use whatever. As long as it's fast. I laughed. One of those times when your perspective shifts. And you see things sharper, clearer. Things about yourself. I realized what a trap the written word can be. The fact that it's tangible gives it importance. It's more important than any thoughts or words that I've ever thought or written. Because nothing I've ever written exists in as exquisitely tangible a shape as a book. If it's in a book it automatically has weight, in both senses of the word.

She talked about that. Lighten up people. Nobody has all the answers for you. Only you do. And the way you find out what those answers are for you is to put the pen on paper. Of course I'm paraphrasing. I don't remember what she said exactly. But I do remember how my own perspective on writing shifted. One day I cleaned my pen, put it in a cup on my desk with some other pens, and didn't touch it for thirteen years. I guess I needed some time to figure out if I had anything worth writing about.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Leaky Pen Cartoons

A main feature of the original Leaky Pen publication was the cartoon about the writer's life. The character started as a nondescript, balding, middle-aged man (who eventually acquired the name "Henry"), and his wife. They were single-panel cartoons with captions.

Ultimately I drew the Leaky Pen cartoons for myself. I wasn't trying to please a client or anyone else. Each cartoon made me smile—from the moment the idea first came to mind, to when it was inked on paper. Even now, thirteen years later, they make me smile.

And since I've seen others enjoy them as well I wanted to find a way to make them available on different products, like mugs, shirts and whatnot. Now, thanks to these times we live in, I've found a way! Here's a link to The Leaky Pen's Zazzle store where you can get the cartoons on a bunch of stuff. I hope they make you smile too.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Will's Corner

One of the small features from the original Leaky Pen was a quote from William Shakespeare. Occasionally I'll post them here.

Version 2.0

History Lesson

The Leaky Pen was a publication of the Salt Lake Chapter of the League of Utah writers from August 1998 to October 2000. It published stories, information, resources, and tips to the Salt Lake writing community.
Regular features included a cartoon by illustrator Lauren Ball (yours truly), a letter from the editor (yours truly, again) short quotes from Shakespeare, a column focusing on online resources for writers, and an example of a line well-written from books I was currently reading.

So what is this "Leaky Pen 2.0?"

Thirteen years later so many more resources are available to writers. I want a place to share them when I come across them.
Also I want a way to make the original cartoon designs available, as well as new ones that keep waking me up at 2 in the morning. I've set up a Zazzle store where writers can get—and give as gifts—their favorite cartoons on mugs, t-shirts, tote bags, and more.
And above all, I hope to share things that inspire and motivate me in the hopes that they will light fires for others as well.