Please tell us about yourself and what you do.
My name is Brent Acuff, and I am a middle school band director in Hutto, TX, a small town just outside of Austin. I teach music to students between the ages of 11 and 14, and also assist with the high school marching band. I have been a teacher for more than 13 years and an amateur writer for about five years.
For the last seven years, I have been a serious fan and collector of fountain pens, inks, pencils and journals. Lately, I have started encouraging my own students, and now my own daughter, to take an interest in writing and writing supplies. Over the past three years, I have sponsored a group of students in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program and have had many students successfully complete the competition.
What is NaNoWriMo and how did you get involved?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and takes place every November. It started back in 1999 with only 24 people, challenging each participant to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. I discovered the competition almost seven years ago while listening to The Dragon Page, a podcast about books and writing. The hosts said, “Everyone has a story to tell, they just have to write it down.” I had a new fountain pen, so I thought I’d give it a try. Three years, and two failed attempts later, I finally completed my first 50,000+ word novella.
Afterwards, I stumbled across the Young Writers Program of NaNoWriMo. Since my middle school students were so intrigued by my writing attempt the previous year, I thought I’d invite them to give it a try. I was surprised to have almost thirty students sign up that first year and, since then, the number has steadily grown. This year more than 50 students took on the challenge to write their own books. The Young Writers Program is somewhat different, in that the students set their own individual word counts, then write throughout November to reach their goals.
How did you become a fan of fine writing pens and pencils?
My father is the reason I got started using fountain pens. I can remember his “fancy” pen from my youth and the curiosity it stirred in me. Over the years, I have presented him with a couple of fountain pens, but it never occurred to me to try one myself. About seven years ago, my father gave me my first pen for Christmas: a Sheaffer Prelude in Barleycorn gold. As soon as I put pen to paper, I was hooked. Writing with a fountain pen was like nothing I had ever used before. Since then, my collection has grown to over two dozen pens, various inks, a handful of nice pencils and a stack of journals. I use them every day in class to get the students asking, “What kind of pen/pencil is that?” A few of them are now fountain pen users themselves.
Why is physical writing so important?
There is something about putting pen to paper that is unlike anything else. To hold an instrument that is beautiful to look at and a joy to use makes the writing experience something special.
A pen offers a wide range of experiences in look, feel, and color. Each pen writes differently, and even the paper you write on can alter that experience. The color choices are vast, giving the you the opportunity to choose any color to fit your current mood. I carry with me no less than twelve pens daily, each one inked with a different color to suit my whim. They travel with me everywhere, and are readily available to jot down a quick note or idea, or to scribble a few more lines in my story.
It makes me want to write. I’m compelled to put the ink down, to see the words that flow from the tip of the pen onto the paper before me. I think my experiences as a musician are very similar. In both cases, you have in your hands an instrument that holds the potential of unlimited creativity.
I also believe that the act of writing helps foster creativity by forcing you to slow down and take a little more time to get your thoughts in order. There is no “ding” of email coming from your journal, no text message or updating blog to draw your attention away from the task at hand. Patrick McLean of goodwordsrightorder.com says that when he handwrites, he focuses more on how his writing looks instead of what he is writing. This gets the inner editor to take a step back and allow the words themselves to come through. I completely agree with his assessment.
Can you share any stories of how your students have come to appreciate the writing experience and the pens they write with?
I have countless stories, many of which testify to the students' continued interest in writing because of the NaNoWriMo competition. Here are a few that stand out:
After competing in NaNoWriMo, one of my students became interested in my pen collection. I showed her the different kinds of pens available, from ballpoints to fountain pens, then sent her to JetPens.com to look around. A week later, she proudly showed me her three new Platinum Preppy fountain pens. Half a year went by and she was still using them. Her comment was one I completely agree with. “I pick up my pens and write because they are so much fun to use. I find excuses to write because I want to use them.”
This is the goal we should shoot for: writing because it is fun. And if a fountain pen or fancy rollerball is what it takes, I’ll do everything I can to get these items in their hands.
Many of my students continue to write with their pens in their regular classes as well. One such student regularly gets comments from students and teachers alike on her fountain pen. She even asked if I could order her a second one because she wants another one. “They are so cool,” she told me.
And not all students like the same things. One particular student never even considered the fountain pens I had, but went straight for a set of drawing pencils donated by Tombow for the competition winners. “I never knew how much these pencils could change my drawing,” she told me. I see her on a regular basis, drawing and writing with her prized pencils, using them with care to make them last as long as possible.
It is amazing to see the motivation that can come from the incentive of receiving a fountain pen. One of my 8th graders, after seeing the amber TWSBI Diamond 540 made the comment, “That pen will be mine. I’ll make sure I write the most. I have to have it.” She is now the proud owner of a TWSBI 540. Now if I can just help her get over the fear of breaking it and just use it...
What are your top favorite JetPens tools and why?
One thing that I love about JetPens is the variety of products available. Anyone can find what they are looking for, whether an artist, fountain pen user, pencil enthusiast, or notebook addict.
My favorite product that I have purchased from JetPens is the Platinum Preppy fountain pen. These are great pens for beginners and experienced users alike. They write well and are easy to maintain. This is my go-to fountain pen recommendation for any new user, and I have seven myself, all inked with different colors. I can experiment with nib adjustments and different inks at an affordable price and still have a good writing pen.
I also get a lot of use out of my customizable Uni-ball Style Fit multipen. This is my note-taking pen that easily allows me to notate in meetings, and also on sheet music, written stories and school work.
What's your advice to inspire writing?
Kids learn by example. At home, I try to write as much as possible. I have noticed that my 5 year-old daughter takes great interest in what I’m doing. Not necessarily what I am writing, just that I am writing. And I feel extremely proud when she turns off her cartoons, or puts down the iPad to sit next to me, pencil in hand to “do her work.” She will diligently write or color next to her dad as he scribbles his latest story in his journal. It was also flattering when she asked to take one of her dad’s ink pens for show-and-tell.
The reason I’ve had such success with getting band kids to write stories is because they have seen me write. Countless times I had conversations with one about the pen I am using or the story I am writing. They get interested in what their teachers (or parents) are doing, and once they are interested, it is easy to plant the idea of writing themselves.
I believe that if you want students and kids to write, it is important to be a writer yourself. What you write is not as important as just writing. To this end, NaNoWriMo excels. The first thing you learn when taking on the challenge of writing a novel in 30 days is to turn off your inner editor. It is okay to write something bad, you just have to write. And it is this concept that so confuses young writers since it is stressed in school that everything we write must be perfect. We forget that before something can be made perfect, we must first create it.
Do you have any upcoming projects we should look for?
I am planning to start an after school writing club for my students and any others in the school that are interested. There has been enough interest in the Young Writers Program over the last three years that it would be worthwhile. In addition to the writers club, my coworker and I are considering teaching handwriting since it is no longer taught in the classrooms.
Podcasting and blogs are other areas I would like to look in to, both personally and in the classroom. The podcasting medium would provide the kids with an opportunity to share their music and stories with family and the community. These mediums would also give me an opportunity to share my own stories with a wider audience.
Currently I am editing my own novellas and writing a new book, all of which I hope to have completed sometime this summer.
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