Pen Review: Cross Townsend

I bought this Cross Townsend quite a while ago, probably in ’99, on one of those trips to the pen store where discipline and good sense went for a walk around the mall while I was in the pen store. I don’t know what I was thinking, as I already owned both a Parker Doufold and a Pelikan M800, but there it is. I must have been thinking I wanted a more formal pen for business situations, that was a little more common than the Parker or Pelikan.

The pen is long. It’s about a centimeter longer than a Lamy Safari, and perhaps 2cm longer than my Pelikan M200’s. It is also heavy, at 44g vs. 16g for the Safari and 14g for the M200. Even the Pelikan M800 is only 29g. Writing with the cap posted qualifies as a forearm workout. I suspect many people associate weight with quality. I know I did for a time. But for real writing comfort I find a lighter instrument is much nicer.

The design is Cross, kind of like a Pillsbury Doughboy version of the Century. The reveal is large at 2.5cm. If you’re looking for something that’s going to really show in a pocket, this is the pen for you. They got the finish right – this one is in green pin stripe, and the finish is rich and flawless. The threads and overall construction are solid, and the pen is well made.

It has a 14k gold nib, which writes very much like most of the steel nib pens I have. The grip is a bit narrow, but comfortable and the pen can be held close to the paper, which I like. The ink system is cartridge/converter, with the same twist-piston converter I see on most pens.

20120217-110223.jpgThe cap is a friction fit, but it’s a tight fit, and while it stays on very securely it is hard to pull off. Unlike the Lamy 2000 which has a nice, crisp, positive feel, the Cross is more like shoving a rubber stopper in a bottle, and removing the cap as the same unpredictable feeling as removing a cork from a bottle of champagne. I find myself flinching when I take the cap off, which is the biggest reason I hate this pen. I do not want to use a pen that punishes me for using it.

Overall Cross Townsend is a competent pen, if unremarkable in the way it writes. It’s a pen for people looking more for pocket jewelry and conference room bling than writing performance, and it delivers that along with a very sturdy feel.

Freewriting to Free up Ideas

In my last post I mentioned freewriting. I bought the book Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content (AF link) a while back, and since it’s provided some value for me I’ll describe my experience.

The book is about the practice of freewrting. Put in simplest terms, Freewriting is sitting down and for a prescribed time limit writing about a particular subject without stopping. The purpose is to get our internal editor to shut off by forcing too much material through for it to keep up. There are a lot of interesting variations described in the book, and it’s worth a read.

My experience with freewriting is that it’s a lot like networking. A lot of work, not easy to do, feels very uncomfortable, and the results come in unexpected ways.

For example, I would write for 15 minutes solid on, say, post ideas for this blog. The first 5 minutes would be the usual areas of interest, and then there would be 10 minutes of stuff like “I don’t know what on earth I’m going to write about other than I can’t stop writing and I don’t have anything to write and this really sucks…” I would get done, be frustrated and more convinced than ever I’m doomed, close the book, get up and immediately think of 3 ideas.

Other times it’s a dry hole, but I don’t always go as long as the author recommends.

One place where the technique is absolute gold is for those writing tasks that just defy normal approaches. For example, summaries of things, or items like profile descriptions on social media sites, or other tasks where anything is better than nothing, but nothing comes to mind when it needs to be done. The technique forces writing, and that gets enough of the job done to move forward. Because it is a time based exercise, the idea of spending X minutes on something seems so doable.

I’m working my way through the book Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It (also an AF link) and one of the exercises is to answer 12 questions, and then use the resulting material to create ‘bragalogs’ which can then be used to tactfully promote myself. Freewriting has been a great way to answer such gems as “What new things have you learned in the last 12 moths, and how have you applied them toward your career?” In fact, in this case freewriting not only produced usable stuff at the time, but also kicked more stuff loose later. This book is also recommended, although I haven’t yet finished it and put it into practice.

If you’re someone who often needs new ideas, or to get over the hump of drafting copy, give freewriting a try!