by Anura Guruge
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I guess, till now, though that can change in the future, we have all used pencils, extensively, at some point in our lives. I still use one, albeit a cheap mechanical one, each day, to write 10 words or less in my very minimalistic journal cum diary — mainly chronicling my exercise for the day and what movie we watched.
Growing up in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) pencils were a science. We knew all about the different types, or categories, of pencils — HB, 2B (and not to be) — and what tasks each one was best for. We had pencil boxes with these different types of pencils and we, like golfers, would pick out the right pencil for the task at hand!
I wrote my first book, “SNA: Theory & Practice“, all 551 printed pages of it, in 1983, in nine months (in between a full-time job as the Customer Support Manager for ITT (UK), umpteen seminars and lots of partying), by pencil. As I have chronicled in other places I was too incompetent then (as I still am) to use a typewriter and I didn’t trust computers (probably because I had been involved with computers since 1969). I am glad that I wrote that book in pencil. I would not have got it done in 9 months IF, like now, I used a computer! Writing with a pencil focuses your mind. There are no distractions. No spell or grammar checks. It is just you and a blank sheet of paper waiting to be filled. I still remember the process with a wry smile. I had already started to write in my head. My job at the time, a dream job really, involved a LOT of driving all over the U.K. I averaged 2,000 miles a month — which is quite a bit when you realize that the U.K. is a comparatively compact (but wonderful) country. So I had a lot of time, behind the wheel, to compose text in my head — IF I didn’t have to concentrate too hard on the driving, and sometimes one had to concentrate because high-speed driving was the norm in those days. So I would start each chapter transcribing paras from my head to paper — with a stubby pencil. But words look different when written than they do in your head. So during the first few paragraphs I would, like I do now, tinker with the words — hopefully trying to polish the words. This would involve erasing lines or just screwing up the paper and throwing it away (recycling yet to be invented). But, once I was past the fifth paragraph or 2/3 of the first change this desire to mess with what I was transcribing from brain would magically recede. That was what enabled me to get this done so quickly — given that I only, at best, had a FEW HOURS a week to work on the book!
So here is to pencils, everywhere, today.
Happy National Pencil Day.
I will drink to it, a few times, today. Cheers.