Wednesday, March 30, 2011


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.

That's what author-illustrator Barney Saltzberg shows us in his newest and most clever picture book, coincidentally titled 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!

Erase away!

Esther Hershenhorn

Writing Workout

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!


Faith E. Hough said...

Thank goodness for erasers! And people say inventing the wheel was a big deal. :)

Carmela Martino said...

Hurray for Hymen Lipman! And thanks for a great Writing Workout, Esther.

mary ann rodman said...

There is nothing so important as finding the implement that lets your words flow. Sorry, Esther and Hyman, but I dislike pencils so much it's phobic(perhaps having to do with my matching math phobia where I seemed to have spent all my time erasing holes in myu workbook or sharpening and re-sharpening the pencil.)
I am currently mourning the demise of my beloved Pentel Rollerball. I have used nothing else since my senior year of high school (you do the math) and I have not seen them in stories in several years (I learned to buy by the case when I found them). Well, I am doing something I've never done before...writing a novel by hand. Naturally, my last treasured Pentel faded into Eternity mid-chapter. And my computer is in the shop with a mysterious disease (probably known as old age)...I am writing this from Kinko's)
I knew this day would come, and hve been experimenting with other pens, pencils even other types of Pentels, but a decades old habit doesn't convert easily. In case I am wrong and Pentel is still making the Rollerball, please let me know through the blog. If not...well, I can always go back to what I used before computers and Pentels, ...a fountain pen.
RIP Rollerball

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Liquid Wite Out was a Shopping LIst staple for LOTS of years!
And, varying one's writing tools - can - indeed make a world of difference.
Instead of writing that April 1 poem in a notebook come Friday, the start of National Poetry MOnth, try crafting the words on the sidewalk or drive-way with colored chalk!- or - on the steamed bathroom mirror with your index finger! :)

And, I do hope you find your Rollerball, Mary Ann.

Melissa Taylor said...

Fun to know about the pencil! Add, I love Barney's book - it's a good way to live life!

April Halprin Wayland said...

As soon as I began to use a typewriter,I was off and writing. I loved my typewriter like a girl loves her horse.

Hooray for celebrating our mistakes and the different implements which help us write!