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Pencil for Long-Term Writing.

Little Flower Petals has an interesting post about the permanence of pencil:

“At one point I was worried about using pencil in notebooks I wanted to keep around for awhile, just because it’s erasable. But I got to thinking…*unless* it’s erased, pencil is more permanent than pretty much anything, and the chances of my notebooks experiencing heat or humidity are a lot higher than the chances of a stranger armed with a Pink Pearl breaking in while I’m out and going to town on my old journals. I’m probably safe to use pencil.”

Back when Pencil Revolution first surfaced in 2005 (and before a 4-year hiatus!), my friend was shocked to hear that I still used pens in my journal.聽 I realized I was probably being silly in my paranoia that my meaningless words would not survive a visit from The Eraser Monster or a few hundred brushes with a dirty hand.聽 Still, I worried and ordered a dozen No Blot “ink pencils” and tried them out in my journal.聽 Aside from them being scratchy, I also assumed, after a while, that the dye was probably not safe for long-term use, concerning both the paper and my own skin.聽 I might have been wrong, but there you go.

I went out late one night back then, listening loudly to Alice in Chains, and bought a new “large” Moleskine to begin my adventures in officially journaling in pencil.聽 Didn’t take long for me to sully my book with ink, however.聽 And, despite some forays into graphite journaling, I didn’t start really really really journaling in graphite until this past August.聽 Now my journal is completely archival safe and, strangely, completely erasable.

And, as it were, the pens I was using in my journaling in 2005, when I was too afraid to journal in graphite, were some of the least archival safe implements with which I have ever written.聽 I shudder when I see what only five years have done to the writing.聽 The black ink made the facing page turn yellow with the writing (strange effect indeed), while the blue just faded, especially within a .5-.75 inch border of the pages’ edges.聽 Everything written back then in pencil: fine, save where I rubbed my hairy mitts on some pages to test smearability, out of said paranoia.

Sure, journaling in pencil means that you have to be pretty careful not to go smearing things around.聽 But, well, who reads their journals everyday?聽 Does anyone pet her/his writing? And, anything but the most waterproof inks require at least some special handling.聽 Gel ink, for the most part, gets messy with even moderately damp hands.

Are there others who journal in pencil for the fun of it, or for the archival properties, etc.?

38 replies on “Pencil for Long-Term Writing.”

Pencil is great for journals, and note taking, but it is difficult to put a fountain pen aside when writing letters.

I use both ink and pencils. I don’t think there’s any perfect solution. Ink will fade and pencil will smear – I can’t decide which is most unreadable: smeared pencil or faded ink?
Anyway, you could use “fixative” like pencil artist – spray the page and it will be unaresable, whether it is ink or graphite.

Where I grew up in Western Colorado there was a mountain peak with a flag posted on it, just barely visible with binoculars from the valley. Right under the flagpole was a logbook in a waterproof container that hikers could sign–kinda like modern geocaching, without the satellites or coordinates or websites. The container also had a pencil or two and instructions that hikers should sign with pencil, not pen. The graphite, it claimed, was more permanent and waterproof than ink. That was the first I had ever thought such a thing. Before that, I had always been paranoid about writing my journal in pencil.
I hate smearing and “ghosting,” as our esteemed Editor has called it, so I have come to like a nice, scratchy #2 1/2 (F) or #3 (H) pencil. Lets me often go a whole page without resharpening. No buttery or velvety writing needed here. I like to etch my words in the paper with a hard lead more akin to its stylus ancestors.

Speaking of pencil sounds, have you heard the Eminem song, “Stan”? It has “the sound of the pencil scratching onto the letter” (Wikipedia) through most of the song. (Caution: explicit lyrics.) I thought it was cool he worked that sound in.

People often confuse archivability and erasability. I have a secret little black book that contains my multitude of login usernames and passwords. I use pencil for that because ink fading, etc could cause a problem in 5 years when my password memory has faded too. Now I just have to worry about losing my little book, or evil forces discovering it.

This is more directed at other visitors than the poster (who probably isn’t going to check for replies after three years ;) ), but writing down your passwords AND, apparently, not changing them for five years? That’s just begging for trouble.

Always change your passwords AT LEAST twice a year, more often for sensitive ones like personal email or online banking. Never write them down (they will either get stolen, damaged or lost), but yse something like KeePass or the LastPass addon (my personal favorite!) to remember them for you with powerfull encryption protection. Lastpass will even think up new ones for you if your own mind is drawing a blank.

Stay protected, stay silent, stay safe.

Whoa, I’m famous! I’m very honored to be quoted on one of my favorite blogs.

I think I’m coming to terms with the erasable-yet-archival nature of pencil. I’m also finding that my penciled journal is surprisingly neat. Yes, there’s a small amount of smearing on occasion, but I smear ink, too. And with pencil, I avoid a generous sprinkling of half-written words with lines through them from where my mind went one way and my pen the other. I can just clean those right up. Plus the slight friction/feedback seems to do nice things to my handwriting.

“Plus the slight friction/feedback seems to do nice things to my handwriting.”
Me, too! I learned to write in Catholic school, in pencil and we were eventually allowed ballpoint pen. I swear my writing looks better in cheap ballpoint than anything else. But, best in pencil. :)

Neat Link – actually writing on WET paper and underwater – special paper makes it possible

I just watched a tv programme about a group of people who fought in the First World War.
An elderly lady was showing a journal written by her uncle in the trenches. It was found on his body after he died from wounds in a field hospital.
She reads it regularly.
Even on tv the writing was clear.
It was all written in pencil.

Very interesting, Sapphire–thanks for that. And your post jogged a memory regarding another example: a local antique mall has one section with old post cards, some of them filled out. Many date back to the first decade of the 1900s. I looked at them last time I was there (though it felt a little voyeuristic, even a hundred years down the line) and was fascinated by how many were in pencil, particularly among those sent while traveling. Presumably it was far easier to carry a pencil box instead of dealing with the messiness of ink. And most were still perfectly readable in spite of being post cards, exposed to constant rubbing and touch. A closed journal would be far better protected.

This is getting long, but I’ll add one more bit: I’m curious, has HB grade or the equivalent generally been what most people used when writing? I wonder what the typical writing pencil used, say, during the Civil War would have been in today’s terminology. Harder? Softer? Or did they have lots of choices? Anyone know?

I know these comments are years old, but a few years ago I went through the dilemma, ‘pencil or pen’? Given the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, I did a simple search, “What did Tommy use when writing letters home from the trenches?” It was universally ‘pencil’ from the front line. When the troop were taken out of the front line and put in a rest area, then they had access to pens and ink, but at the front, pencil every time. I checked a few comments by First World War troops and one that came up quite a few times was, “we had more important things to carry than bottles of ink”. From that moment, I used pencil all the time. Writing is a craft and sometimes I do like to go back and make changes, particularly if, with hindsight, I have a much better word I could have used.

Pencils don’t leak ink, fountain pens do.
Fountain pens have variable nibs, pencils don’t.
I just carry both.

For writing a letter (at my desk) I prefer a good fountain pen with nice ink (like green or orange). For taking notes in the field, I prefer a small book and a good pencil.

Than you for this very nice post!!

Grab a few hard grade graphite carpenter pencils. Bingo,….now you you a stub nib and a variable width line. Done.

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Thanks very much for this! I’ve always loved pencil for writing and drawing, and was under the false belief that pen would last longer in a notebook. Thanks for confirming my suspicions and saving me much time wasting debating to restart journaling in pen or pencil. I’m off to sharpen my pencil.

hmm, interesting. It sounds like a nightmare for lefthanded writers though…

In my experience, colored pencils (“Pilot Color Eno” mechanical pencils for the win!) seem less prone to smearing, with turquois and green producing slightly better results than red and purple. It could also be that it stands out less than a normal ‘grey’ smear, but either way I prefer the colored pencils instead. I just wonder if those have the same archival qualities?

Late comment, but I heard from some artists that Pilot Color Eno might be prone to fading over time! I would be cautious about using it for long-term projects. I鈥檓 not sure how they compare to artist grade colored pencils though.

I am a scrapbooker and in my latest project is my family’s memories. Since handwriting seems to be a dying art and journalling will personalize the presentation, I want to record my reflections in an “unhurried” manner and using a pencil encourages this process as my thoughts seem to flow more readily than when I use a pen. Also, I was wondering if the pencil’s lead is archival and you have nicely answered my concern. Thanks for your article!

I see this post is still live four years later! I was searching on how to write archivally and found this. Great info and confirmed some thoughts I had. I just bought a ten-year journal and have been writing in ballpoint (4-in-one so different colors), but vaguely remembered oils might “blossom” and bleed thru over time. I love fountain pen, and have been searching for archival inks, but fear it will bleed thru the paper, or bleed if it somehow gets wet. I will have to try the Pilot Enos! PS must follow YOU!

i have been trying to decide whether to use pen or pencil for journaling and i could never decide but now lil me has come to the conclusion that i shall use a pencil.

I’ve always used a pen for writing, but love using a pencil when brainstorming ideas. After reading this, I will definitely give it a go with journals. Thanks for the information!

It seems that historians would prefer you to write in pen on heavy paper.

Here is a post form Reddit:

[鈥揮BuddytheWunderDog 3 points 2 years ago
“I work in 19th century documents. My dream journal, diary, or letter would be written in pen, with clear handwriting, on a decent heavy paper. The ones I dread having to sort out are written in pencil, on thin onion skin paper (the federal government loved that stuff in the 1890s), or with absolutely horrific hand writing (if you want people to read your writing in 100 years, penmanship matters kids).
I think the question of digital copies is super interesting. I think the digital age is absolutely decreasing how much we rely on hard copies of things. There are some efforts to preserve online communication. The Library of Congress is backing up some websites related to specific themes like elections. The Internet Archive has a bunch of other websites.

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