Thursday, November 4, 2010

Stephen Sondheim’s writing habits

Pencil and paper, but not just any pencil or paper:

For those who like me are curious about a writer’s habits: the pencils I write with are Blackwings, a brand formerly made by Eberhard Faber but alas, no longer. Their motto, printed proudly on the shaft, is “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed,” and they live up to that promise. They utilize very soft lead, which makes them not only easy to write with (although extremely smudgy) but also encourages the user to waste time repeatedly sharpening them, since they wear out in minutes. They also have removable erasers which, when dried out, can be reversed to resume their softness and which are flat, preventing the pencil from rolling off a table. The pad I write on is a yellow legal pad with thirty-two lines, allowing alternate words to be written above one another without either crowding or wasting the space. These pads are hard to find, as most legal pads come with fewer or more lined spaces. Having been warned by Burt Shevelove, a stationery aficionado, that stationery supplies are frequently discontinued, I had the good sense to stock up on them as well as the Blackwings before they disappeared, and now have a lifetime supply.

Some people write sitting at a desk, some standing at one; I write lying down on a couch (except when I’m at the piano), for the obvious reason that it allows me to fall asleep whenever I encounter difficulties, which is often.

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (New York: Knopf, 2010).
[“They utilize very soft lead”: utilize? Well, as Elaine observes, he’s not writing lyrics.]

Related posts
Stephen Sondheim on pencils, paper
All Blackwing posts

comments: 2

adair said...

I wonder if he has tried the Palomino Blackwing, and if so, what he thinks of it.

Michael Leddy said...

My guess is that you’d have to be tuned in to online pencil stuff to be aware of the new Blackwing. I kinda doubt that that describes Sondheim. :)