WHY PENCILS ROCK

WHY PENCILS ROCK

Published date: 15 Feb 2019

We’re so in love with digital facsimiles of the real world. But physicality matters more than we might realise. The touch of a pencil on paper. The physical act of committing a thought in writing, a diagram, a doodle, even the classic cock ’n’ balls on a neighbour’s notepad; it’s a sacred thing. It does something to our minds, allowing us to create a fixed container that we can assess and build on.

INT: A CREATIVE STUDIO

2001 

CD: “Ah, here’s our newest copy recruit. Why the long face, young man?”

Me: “Tough brief, Chief.”

CD: “Well, you know what you have to do first?”

Me: “No?”

CD: “First…”

Me: “Yes?”

CD: “First you must…

Me: “”Go on?”

CD: First, you must sharpen your pencil.”

Me: “…”

CD: “Now crack on.”

He was right. First, sharpen your pencil. Because, actually, computers are not the perfect work tool, after all.

Grass can’t grow on a busy street. Writing copy on a screen means hours of dodging masses of digital traffic. And so much of it piffle.

And that’s the trouble. Computers are probably the worst place to concentrate.

As a copywriter, it takes me about three minutes to fall properly into the right headspace. Every distraction means another three minutes before I’m back in the job.

And don’t tell me to turn off my internet. Because it isn’t just about email. I’m my own worst enemy too. Just like any writer. Because true focus is always fleeting.

We’re so in love with digital facsimiles of the real world. But physicality matters more than we might realise. The touch of a pencil on paper. The physical act of committing a thought in writing, a diagram, a doodle, even the classic cock ’n’ balls on a neighbour’s notepad; it’s a sacred thing. It does something to our minds, allowing us to create a fixed container that we can assess and build on.

It’s different on a screen. You delete your scrim as you go, often losing precious stuff in the process. But on a pad of scribbles, you’ve still got the whole journey there for you to pick over again.

You can’t get to art without practising a little craft. Take David Bowie, cutting up phrases on paper to write his lyrics. Or David Byrne writing down the words of a radio preacher, transcending and translating them into “Once in a lifetime”:

And you may find yourself 

Living in a shotgun shack…

That’s pure preacher talk, doodled down on paper, then reframed and flipped into musical magic.

So don’t let your machine swallow your words before they’ve had a chance to percolate on a pad. You have to meander a little. Hold a few things in the air at the same time, not commit to just one path.

Writing advertising copy, it helps because it keeps your eyes on the prize (the conceptual truth driving your central point).

So I write in praise of that beautiful thing, the pencil.

And next time you’re required to actually think, give yourself a fighting chance. Pick up a pencil, sharpen it, and find a good corner, away from your desk. You’ll get more out of yourself that way. Trust me. I’m a writer.

One final tip: Try to avoid round pencils; they’ve a mind of their own.

Author:
Piers Eccleston

Job Title:
Copy Lead

Piers Eccleston

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