Writers are a neurotic bunch. And we all have our own quirky little things we need to get into the zone. Some of us need a particular brand of notebook or a certain blend of coffee. Some need a quiet space. Some need the white noise of a crowded café.
I’m pretty flexible on where I can write. (Although of course, my office is my very favorite place to be).
I’m not flexible on what I can write with.
90% of my job is done on my trusty Macbook. But when I’m in the field, interviewing someone, or just sitting at my desk writing notes or doodling, I need a writing instrument.
It’s taken several years for me to find just the right pen.
I started out with the Papermate. Blue ink. Medium point.
But the Papermate didn’t do it for me. It’s cheap and functional. But it often skips, particularly when I start writing very quickly. And I just didn’t like how it looked on the page.
I switched to the Sharpie.
Now the Sharpie is a straight-up marker. But I discovered that they make different point sizes. They make the regular fat tip joints that we all know. But they also make an ultra fine version that can function as a pen. And I rocked with those joints, in black of course, for many years.
When I was teaching, the ultra-fine Sharpie was perfect. I could write on transparencies clearly with no smudges. And then I could use the same pen to write notes and then swap it out with a red joint to grade papers. It was perfect.
But a Sharpie is still essentially a marker. Which meant that the flip side of my papers were always marked up too. Not cool. And then, keep in mind, it’s a permanent marker. So if it got uncapped, there were problems.
I needed something new. Something perfect.
I tried garden variety retractable pens. The kind you can click click click and drive people insane. I tried different types of ballpoint pens and decided once and for all that I was not a fan.
And then I discovered: The Uniball. [Cue angels singing and harps playing]
Someone once told me, when I was single and looking, that when you’re not looking for something, it will appear.
I haven’t found that to apply to men. They often need to be hit on the head and dragged back to the cave.
But that does apply to my discovery of the best pen ever manufactured.
I don’t know how or when I first encountered the Uniball brand. But I know I started out with the Roller pens. They were smooth. No skipping, no smudging. And the fine point had a very nice, even flow.
So for many years, I was in love with the Uniball Micro-point pen in Black. He was good to me. He disappeared from time to time. But he was easily replaced. I felt a warm rush of relief when I picked up a box of twelve from Staples and saw him there, with eleven of his identical twins, standing at the ready, waiting to serve me…
And then, well, you know how it goes. People grow. Things change. And suddenly, the Roller pen and I weren’t on the same page, as it were. There was the Leaking Incident in my carry-on luggage on the way to Paris. There was the Stabbing Incident, in which I discovered that the Micro point was…well, the thing is sharp. It can double as a weapon. That’s another post for another day.
I was ready to move on.
And then I discovered the perfect pen. The epitome of writing instruments. The piece de resistance. A pen non pareil.
It’s the Uniball VISION Fine point. In black ink of course.
This pen is the bomb. It doesn’t skip, fade or smudge. Its smooth to the touch, both in your hands and on the page. And most importantly, it looks good.
I hate it when I have to grab an icky pen out of my pen bag. I don’t even know how these crappy pens end up in my bag in the first place. Even if it’s just signing a sales receipt, I die a little inside when I have to use a green ballpoint retractable freebie from TDBank. Ugh. Here are the icky pens in my bag right now:
I MUST have a collection of Uniballs in my line of vision on my desk in my office. It’s just as essential as my Macbook. I once read an article that noted three things you need on your desk to increase productivity:
1. A plant: the greenery uplifts you. I have a cactus since I’m awful with plants.
2. A framed photo. I have my fave photo of me and my younger sister. We’re up in the club at Diva’s in Montclair. Back when I was up in the clubs. You’re supposed to swap out your photo every month or so to refresh yourself.
3. A collection of the same exact pen, calmly resting in a nice container.
This is where my Uniball really shines. I love looking at them. All standing at attention, waiting to be plucked from obscurity and used in my next To-Do list.
A few days ago, I was pondering my love for Uniball pens. And I wondered if I was the only one obsessed with such a mundane item.
Of course not! I found several blogs devoted to pens. And there are several like-minded individuals out there in cyberspace who are Uniball fanatics. Uniball reps are even on Twitter!
I decided, on behalf of my dear readers, to track down the man responsible for making sure I can slide into Staples on Bloomfield Avenue and pick up my Uniballs whenever they’re running low.
A lesson to my up-and-coming writers. You can find ANYONE you want to interview. Anyone at all. It’s really not as difficult as it seems. I noodled around on the Uniball website until I found a contact for PR. And I sent her a very simple but professional email request:
My name is Aliya S. King and I am a freelance writer. My work appears in a number of national magazines, including Vibe, Upscale and many others. I am also an author. My first book, a collaboration with platinum-selling music artist Faith Evans was released this summer. It spent two weeks on the New York Times Bestseller’s List!
And it’s all thanks to my Uni Ball VISION fine pens.
Okay, maybe that is an exaggeration. But I really do love my Uni Ball pens and I am very territorial about them. I recently started a blog, (www.aliyasking.wordpress.com). And I will be writing a post about my feelings about Uni Ball pens.
My blog is brand new and I am generating quite a bit of traffic from other writers in my community.
Here’s my question. Is there any way I can get a quote from someone who works in publicity, marketing and/or promotion about writers and their need for the perfect instrument? I have some questions to ask. I’d like to know who is responsible for testing the pens? Do they use focus groups to see if they are comfortable? Is their research on how much ink should be released from a pen? Does Uni Ball get fan mail from writers? Do you know if then pen has any product placement or mentions in writings?
I’d appreciate any help on this matter. And be sure to check out my blog. I look forward to hearing from you.
And the very next day, I got this response:
Happy to chat about all things uni-ball with you. Love the blog by the way!
Let me know how you want to get in touch, happy to talk live or by email. Thanks!
Sr. Brand Manager
Sanford – A Newell-Rubbermaid Company
Steve Gradman, the Senior Brand Manager of the Uniball Division of Sanford was gracious enough to allow me to ask him a bunch of geeked-out question for my dear readers. Turns out Uniball just started a new campaign with S. Epatha Merkerson. And they’re really pushing the fact that Uniball pens are a good protection against identity theft because they have some kind of newfangled technology that protects against check washing.
Well, now. Why wouldn’t YOU use a UniBall?
I’m not so concerned about check washing. But I’m not going to get into the habit of not listening to S. Epatha Merkerson. I’m using a Uni-Ball!
At any rate, here are the best bits from my very in-depth discussion with Steve Gradman:
Me: My pen of choice is the Uni-ball Vision Fine. How does that pen compare in popularity to the other pens in your lineup?
Steve: The vision is an extremely important product line for uni-ball. Consistently it has been one of our top-sellers and currently is our 3rd best selling product line.
Me: Who designed the Uni-ball Vision? One of the reasons I like it is because it’s visually appealing. And soothing. When they are in my pen cup, nice and neat, it makes me feel tranquil. (I know, I’m a nut case). The black rounded logo is simple but it works. Where did this design come from and has it evolved?
Steve: All our pens are designed in Japan by Mitsubishi Company LTD (the creators and manufacturers of uni-ball) which has a huge Research and Design team.
Me: How are sales? Are pens recession proof? Uni-ball pens are not cheap! Are you seeing a decline in sales?
Steve: Certainly these are trying times but despite the economic downturn, our 207 and Jetstream product lines grew double digits in 2008. We attribute this to a strong advertising investment and great consumer acceptance of the security message across the uni-ball brand. People need to protect themselves against identity theft in good times and in bad, and something as simple and inexpensive as a pen may seem a small price to pay for that security.
Me: Which color is most popular for the Vision. My fave is black.
Steve: Black is the most popular by a long shot, followed by blue and then red.
Me: Can you give me a detailed description of the mechanics of the pen? Near the tip, I see swirled lines in a see through canister. Is this the ink making its way to the point? Or is that just a design? Explain to me exactly what’s going on in my pen.
Steve: The lines you are speaking of are little supports holding the reservoir (where the ink is stored) steady and secure. Basically the ink is held in the reservoir until there is pressure on the point releasing the smooth ink slow so the pen glides smooth and effortlessly across the page.
Me: How much ink is in the pen? And how long should it last?
Steve: About 2 grams of ink which writes a minimum of 1300 meters. The ink dries within 2 seconds of hitting the page.
Now dear, readers. Two seconds? Really? I didn’t believe him. I had to try it out myself…
So, yeah. Not quite two seconds. More like three. But close enough! Back to the interview…
Me: Be honest. Which pen do YOU use! Do you always use a Uni-ball pen?
Steve: ALWAYS! my favorite is the Jetstream RT (retractable); it is ultra smooth writing. My office is full of pens as you can imagine so I change a lot but the Jetstream RT leads my regular rotation.
Me: Tell me a bit about what you do as Senior Brand Manager for Uni-ball.
Steve: I basically run the brand, from advertising strategy and development to packaging. It’s my job to ensure we have the right product and right communication to hit our sales target. And like you, I’m a huge fan of my own product, which makes the work a lot more fun!
Much thanks to Steve for indulging me. If you’re a pen geek, you can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/UniBall_USA
Dear readers, can you please share with me your must-have office item? What’s your pen of choice? Is there a particular pencil you can’t live without? A certain marker with a smell you love? A notebook you covet? We all have that one product that makes us happy. I’d love to hear about it!
Contest Winner: And our contest winner from last night is TremayaR!! She was the VERY first person to respond and she was right! Down to the high schools that Mary and Mariah attended and the non-high-school that Mr. Lucas non-attended.
(Frank Lucas loves to tells me: “I only went to school for three days. And the teacher wasn’t there for two of ‘em.” Ba dump bump.)
So yes, the answers were: Ms. Mary J. Blige, whom I interviewed for Upscale last year, the illustrious Frank Lucas, whose memoir I just completed and will be published soon and Ms. Mariah Carey, whom I interviewed for america magazine back in ’05.
Congratulations TremayaR! You will be receiving both the novel and the CD! (Um, right Elise? Right!)
Honorable mention to Portia…since she’s the only other person who participated. =(
*scratches head, shrugs shoulders and starts writing next post…*