People wonder about Stephen King’s pencil. Writers (including me) want to know what writing instrument he uses.
Maybe we all harbor a secret hope that if we get the same pencil as Stephen King, we’ll end up as prolific and successful as Stephen King.
Or if we discover what Annie Dillard writes with, we’ll produce the same type of literary prose as Annie Dillard.
Or if we use the same writing program as, well…fill in whatever writer you admire. If you use the same pencil, pen, writing program, or paper as your favorite writer, do you imagine you’re becoming a little bit more like them?
Stephen King’s Pencil
I poked around, and it sounds like King’s favorite pencil is the classic Blackwing 602, favored by such luminaries as John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, and Truman Capote.1
But while researching Stephen King’s pencil, I realized I wanted to hear from you—real writers at work.
What do real writers use?
Through social media, my newsletter, and a coaching call in my writing community, I asked:
What’s your favorite writing instrument?
And you told me.
I found out:
- There’s no one perfect pen for all writers.
- There’s no one perfect program for all writers.
- There’s no consensus on the best tool or writing instrument out there for every single writer to use.
Everyone’s simply using what they love.
Your favorite writing instruments
People seem evenly split between pens and pencils, and some weren’t picky at all. Any old ballpoint pen was fine with them, even the kind they swipe from one of the businesses they frequent.
Others were more precise on brand, color, and tip, preferring fine, medium, or thick.
Curious to hear what these real writers use to do the work?
Your favorite pens
Let’s dive into the pens.
Ballpoint pens are at the top with BIC. Yes, that common brand is a favorite option. They’re easily found, they’re really cheap, and they come in fun colors. And a lot of people prefer one particular color, like blue, or one particular tip, like fine point.
Coming up right after BIC is the PILOT brand. The PILOT Precise V5 seems to be the favorite.
Good gel pens are adored by a lot of people (and hated by a few).
TUL pens are also coming in hot with a lot of writers who are addicted to them. I also heard from writers who love Paper Mate InkJoy, Sharpies, and Flair pens, as well as a couple of fountain pen users.
If you’re curious, when I grab a pen, I like the Pentel RSVP pen in black, fine point. They’re easily found and affordable, kind of like the classic BIC ballpoint.
Your favorite pencils
As for pencils, well, again, BIC comes in strong with their mechanical pencils that a lot of people mentioned.
Others love mechanical pencils in general and aren’t particular about brands.
The Blackwing 602 is used by a few people who tracked it down and love it.
And a lot of people said they don’t have a preference—they’ll snatch any pencil within reach and start writing.
More specifically, I did hear about Paper Mate’s Mirado Black Warrior. A writer heard it recommended by author Daniel Silva and had trouble finding it, but once she did, reported that it’s excellent.
Someone mentioned they love writing with graphing pencils.
What are people writing on?
Whether they’re using a pen or a pencil, people are writing in all kinds of notebooks, and a few people love the freedom of writing on scrap paper with no lines.
Your favorite writing programs
Now let’s switch to writing programs.
Microsoft Word and Scrivener are neck and neck.
A lot of writers are using one or the other and sometimes both. After you export a Scrivener document as a Word document—and send it off to your editor—it’s much easier to track changes in Word.
Google Docs shows up as the next most popular option.
A few people use Open Source LibreOffice, and one person mentioned using Final Draft for screenplays.
Your favorite place to take notes
When it comes to the earlier stage of the writing process—like taking notes and doing research—people are using Evernote, Notion, random index cards, and Post-Its.
And one person mentioned Roam Research, which pulls things together and finds connections between ideas using AI technology.
Finally, a few people are using dictation or transcription.
One person simply speaks into the Notes app; others use Otter.ai.
How to choose the ideal writing instrument
This has been a delightful discussion and discovery, and the conclusion is loud and clear—it’s the same conclusion John Steinbeck came to years ago.
Steinbeck wrote about his eccentric “pencil trifling.” In Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, he describes at length his search for the best possible pencil to do his work.
He tries a soft pencil, and that works fine one day and breaks the next. Then he tries a harder one, but that’s not quite right. Eventually he concludes:
You know I am really stupid. For years I have looked for the perfect pencil. I have found very good ones but never the perfect one. And all the time it was not the pencils but me.2
If you’re like me or Steinbeck, or the hundred people who shared with me what they write with, you love to test out pens, pencils, programs, and apps.
Don’t let that curiosity—dare I say, obsession—with pens, pencils, programs, and apps keep you from the actual work of writing.
So, do you really need Stephen King’s pencil?
Do you need Stephen King’s pencil?
I don’t think so, do you?
Feel free to try out a Blackwing 602 pencil—that is, if that’s actually what Stephen King writes with.
(Side note: I can see him telling the world one brand and then using another just to mess with us, can’t you?)
I tried it only to realize I prefer to write with pens and keyboards. But even those tools don’t really matter, because what we’re really writing with are:
- the memories we store up in our mind and heart,
- the ideas and opinions we explore and develop,
- the stories we dream up each day.
- the words we piece together, one after another.
Today, pick up your favorite writing instrument—or any writing instrument—and write 250 words toward your work in progress.
As Steinbeck discovered, it’s not about the writing instrument. It’s about the writer.
As long as we can remember that, we can write everything with anything.
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- Abramovitch, Seth. “Why Is Hollywood Obsessed with This Pencil?” The Hollywood Reporter, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 Aug. 2013, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/general-news/blackwing-602-why-is-hollywood-600265/.
- Steinbeck, John. Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. Penguin Books, 2001.