Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Behind the Scenes: Writing Pen Reviews

I've been writing pen reviews here at A Penchant for Paper for about two and a half years, but the times are changing.  I have no plans to stop blogging here, but the focus of the blog will likely gradually shift from the tools (pens, notebooks, etc.) to what can be created with the tools.  It's not going to be an immediate change, however, and for now, I'm simply going to celebrate these years of pen and paper reviews by taking you behind the scenes for a close-up look at how these erudite, insightful, and witty reviews get written in the first place.

Step 1. Write a draft of the review, with the pen being reviewed.
The review begins in my draft notebook - a notebook that is dedicated to writing first drafts of blog posts.  I write out a draft review of the pen (preferably using the pen I'm reviewing) by hand.  To make things easier for myself later on, I also write in descriptions of the photos that I will take and insert the descriptions into the locations in the review where the photos will appear in the final post.  I'll also indicate any links to earlier posts that I want to include so that I don't forget them when I type out the review later on.  I used to write my first drafts on the computer, but writing things out by hand in this way seems to trigger my creativity better than staring at a computer screen does, so I start the majority of my posts this way now.  At any given time, I may have half a dozen or more posts (for both blogs) in draft in this notebook

Step 2. Write a short form of the review to be used as the writing sample.
Draft review completed, I write an abbreviated version of it on a fresh page of my Rhodia No. 11 Pad.  I always write the full name of the pen at the top of the page, and I try to write as neatly as possible, since this will later become the writing sample that you see in my final post.  I've been using the Rhodia pad for my reviews ever since October of 2009, and it had its début in my review of the Uni-ball Fusion - a pen that I later ended up being less than satisfied with.  I wish now that I had picked up a larger sized pad, because this one does limit what I can include in the writing sample, but I'll probably stick with this one until it is full.

Step 3. Take a bunch of photos of it all.
Finally, it's on to the step that is probably the most time-consuming and problematic of them all: taking the photos.  Despite all of the pen reviews under my belt, I have still not quite perfected the art of pen photography, although my technique has certainly improved since the early days of my very first review (I still cringe to see that photo!).

My camera has a macro setting but not an actual macro lens, so I can't get too close up in my photos.  It can  often be a challenge to get close enough in to show all of the details and yet remain in focus.  The pen also needs to be arranged in something of a pleasing pose (surprisingly difficult to do with a long, skinny object), and the background needs to be something unobtrusive.  I've experimented with different backgrounds, and simply placing the pen on a page of my notebook seems to be the most effective right now.  Lighting is also a considerable challenge; natural light is usually best, but on dull, cloudy winter days this is not always sufficient.  The lighting needs to be bright enough for the colours to show up well, but not so bright that the photos start to become over-exposed.  Shadows and reflections can also prove problematic if the lighting is not quite right.  Usually I settle for a spot in our dining room that has windows on all sides and turn on all of the lights in the room, for a mix of natural and artificial lighting.

Step 4. Edit photos and upload.
After the photos are taken, I transfer them to my computer for editing.  The editing is minimal - usually I just crop the photos and adjust the colour slightly so that it appears close to how it looks to my eye.  The colours often appear dull straight off the camera, so I typically need to lighten them.  Of course, monitor settings vary, and it is probably impossible to reproduce any colours completely accurately on a computer screen.  I convert the photos to a lower size and resolution for uploading to Blogger and then I am nearly finished.

Now, only the easy parts remain: typing up the draft of the review in Blogger, editing it as I go, adding in the necessary photos and links, hitting the Publish button, and watching the comments come in.  Overall, writing a simple pen review is a surprisingly lengthy process that requires a considerable amount of time and effort.  Still, they're a lot of fun to do, and while I do not foresee as many reviews in the coming months as there has been in the past (once I finish off the reviews from my last JetPens order), I'm sure that the odd one will always show up.  I hope that you've enjoyed this look behind the scenes, and thanks as always for your support and comments!

(Pen featured in this post: Pentel EnerGel 0.7mm Black)


  1. I love your organization. I blog everyday on one of my blogs, but the organization is not there. I'm going to try to develop my own method to make it a calmer process. Thanks,


    1. The organization definitely helps. I've been following this method for long enough that it doesn't feel like so much work anymore. I don't need to even think about it anymore - I just do it.

  2. wow that is a lot of work just for a "quick" read for most people..

    1. It may be, but the enjoyment I get out of doing it and reading the comments afterwards definitely makes it worthwhile!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...