Today marks the anniversary of Hymen Lipman’s patent for the pencil eraser, granted in 1858.
The Philadelphian’s design was unique . The installed eraser sat at the opposite end of the pencil. The pencil could thus be sharpened at both ends, refreshing either the graphite or the eraser.
Interestingly enough, the patent was contested and eventually the case reached the Supreme Court.
Also interesting: numerous blog posts in 2008 marking the 150th anniversary of Lipman’s patent filing mistakenly listed the March 30th date as the anniversary of the pencil’s invention!
(“Is there an eraser in the house?”)
Numerous folks now unofficially consider today National Pencil Day and celebrate any and all pencil innovations and forms of self-expression.
Where would we writers be without our trusty, handy pink rubber friends?
Or their numerous relatives treasured over the years: Correct-O-Type, liquid paper (Wite Out) and our computer’s Delete key.
I personally consider the need for an eraser (or a Delete key) an unexpected Opportunity.
It’s a chance to choose a better word, a better detail, or to order my words so the meaning’s clearer or the flow’s more lyrical or the sentence structure reflects what the story’s truly about.
We writers don’t simply erase.
We refresh or revise, revisit, reconsider, amend, alter; choose your synonym.
And even if the need for an eraser does imply a mistake has been made, so what?
What’s so wrong with making a mistake?
How many of us get it right the first time?
We can simply say, “Oops!” and consider the result.
Beautiful Oops! (Workman Publishing, 2010). To Saltzberg a mistake is both an opportunity and an adventure.
Using pop-ups, lift-the-flaps, tears, holes, overlays, bends, smudges, and even an accordion “telescope,” the reader sees how blunders can magically become wonders. A smudge becomes the face of a bunny, a crumpled ball of paper turns into a lamb’s fleecy coat.
David Shannon and Arthur Geisert also wrote and illustrated picture books celebrating Life’s Oops!
So, Hurrah for Hymen Lipman!
Might the wonder of a story hinge on the writer's implement?
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett shares this Set Your Timer Exercise in her book PEN ON FIRE (A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within), Harvest/Harcourt, 2004.
“Experiment with different writing instruments. Choose a word or two from your notebook or file, sit down with a legal pad and pen, set the timer for five minutes, and write until you hear the buzzer.
Next, go to your computer, choose a few words, set the timer, and begin freewriting. Don’t stop until the timer goes off.
(Here’s the fun part!) Now pick another set of writing utensils: a crayon or eyebrow pencil and a brown paper bag, a manual typewriter, or anything else you can think of. Set the timer for five minutes and write nonstop until the buzzer sounds.
Which feels the best? Which instrument allows you to let go and even forget about what you were using to write? Consider using this mode of writing for the next project you tackle, whether it’s a story, essay, poem, or a novel.
Use paper of different sizes. You can even try freewriting with your nondominant hand.
Don’t fall into a rut. Every so often, experiment with other modes. Write in a circle, sideways, or diagonally across the page. By keeping your writing methods fresh, you help keep your writing original.”
Of course, if the results prove unsatisfying, thanks to Hymen Lipman you can always erase!