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Guest Post: How to Make a Cheap & Easy Custom Pen Holder

If you’re a freelance writer like me, chances are you’ve heard of Jenn Mattern, the brains behind All Freelance Writing (and about a billion other websites). Some of us who are lucky enough to know Jenn outside of her professional milieu have discovered her creativity knows no bounds. Whenever and wherever she sees a problem she always seems to find a solution.

A couple months ago she wanted a pen holder and decided to make one from found objects around her home. I broadly hinted that it might make a good guest post for Create From Scratch. Thankfully she agreed. Here it is. Thanks, Jenn!


Create a Custom DIY Pen Holder


When I decided to get back into writing poetry, I wanted to go “old school.” So I bought myself a new poetry journal, pen, and ink, and I looked for a pen holder that appealed to me.

No luck.

The closest pen holder I found to what I wanted was about $50 and a bit too small. I got fed up with the fruitless search before long. Then I was poking around my tools looking for something for a home repair project I needed to knock out, and a light bulb turned on.

I could make a pen holder.

After all, the simple wooden style I was after didn’t look too difficult to replicate. So I dug around the house a bit and found everything I’d need to whip up a custom pen holder. And I’ll show you that near the end of this post. But first…

When Paula saw my original pen holder, she asked if I’d be interested in a guest post to teach you how to make one. So I popped over to the craft store and picked up a few things (it’s super cheap, I swear), and I made a second one so I could take some photos and show you the basic process.

Here’s the gist of how to make your own inexpensive wood pen holder. You can swap out the two wood pieces with pretty much any material you’d like as long as you have a base and a ring of some sort to support your pen. I bet you can come up with even more creative ideas.

What You’ll Need

  • Wooden base
  • Wooden ring (Both wooden pieces are less than $1 each at a craft store like A.C. Moore or Michaels.)
  • 1 sheet of felt (or leftover pieces are probably plenty – about $.30 at the craft store)
  • Wood stain or paint of your choice (won’t need much, so whatever you have on-hand is probably enough)
  • 1 sponge applicator or brush for the stain
  • Glue (super glue, wood glue – anything strong enough to hold two wood pieces together)
  • Newspaper or paper towel to protect your work area
  • Scissors

What to Do

Step 1: Set up your work space.

I laid out some paper towel because I keep some around this desk when I’m painting anyway. But you can use newspaper, a rag, or whatever you have on-hand. You don’t need a large work space protected for this – just somewhere to stain the wood and let it sit until it dries.

Step 2: Prep the wood.

My mistake with this new pen holder was that I didn’t realize how rough the edges of the base looked until it was stained. I highly recommend sanding both pieces lightly to get a consistent surface.

Step 3: Stain the wood.

Apply your choice of stain (or paint if you prefer) to both pieces of wood. You don’t need to do the inside of the ring, as that will be covered with your felt later, but do make sure you stain the entire upper edge of the ring. Set both pieces aside to dry.

Step 4: Glue the ring to the base.

Apply a thin line of super glue (or wood glue, or whatever strong adhesive you have around) to the bottom of your wooden ring. Carefully place it where you want it on the base, and apply gentle pressure. You don’t want to add so much glue that it seeps out onto your wood base when you press down.

Step 5: Cut and apply your felt pieces.

Start with your base. In my case, this was simply a small felt circle. It’s okay if your base is slightly smaller, as your wall piece will cover any small gaps around the bottom. Push it to the bottom of the ring. No need for glue. It’ll actually go through the felt and make a mess anyway.

For the wall of your ring, simply cut a strip of felt as wide as your ring is tall. Leave it a bit longer than you think you’ll need. Then roll that felt strip tightly and insert it into the ring. Let it open, and gently press it against the walls.

If your felt ends overlap, pull the strip out and trim a little at a time until the two ends meet perfectly. If you do this, you won’t need an adhesive at all. You can use glue if you’d like, but I preferred to avoid the risk of any seeping through and making contact with my pen.

There you have it – your new pen holder!

What I’d Do Differently

If I were to start over with this project, I’d have done a few things differently:

  • I would have chosen a slightly larger base.
  • I would have sanded the wood first.
  • I would have sealed it with a clear coating to give it a smoother finish and some shine.

Those are just things to keep in mind that you can tweak to make your own pen holder a bit nicer than this one. But this isn’t the one I’m actually using, so I wasn’t too worried about it. You see, my first was made from “found items” instead – I had everything around the house already. Here it is:

For this one, the base was a rosewood flooring sample I had lying around from when we were looking into replacing flooring around the house. And the ring is the decorative ring from a WoodWick scented oil dispenser (there’s a logo on the back end that no one’s going to see from my desk). The wood of both just happened to match perfectly.

I glued the ring to the flooring tile and use self-adhesive felt pads, cut to fit (the little felt pieces you stick to the bottom of furniture legs to make them slide easier).

The only problem I had left was the ridge in the front of the flooring sample. I happened to have some insulation tubing that fit perfectly. It was white, so I pulled out a Sharpie to make it look like a simple black rubber accent.

It was a project done on-a-whim, made from things that would have otherwise been thrown away. So, even though the craft store version is cheap (I spent less than $2.00 because I already had stain, a foam brush, the felt pads, and glue), you very well might be able to whip one up for free!


To check out another one of Jenn’s recent creative inspirations—a way to make her regular desk transform into a standing desk and back again—check out her recent blog post at All Freelance Writing.



Triple Cross Post?

A confluence of events beyond my control led to my inclusion in a couple of my favorite writing blogs today.

I posted about those posts in a new (and similarly sporadic) blog on my website,, and since I’m all about the blogs today, I thought I might as well cross post it here as well:

A Community of Writers

Does that make this a triple cross post?

Even if it does, it doesn’t negate the fact that I’m honored to be part of a welcoming, supportive, and inspiring community of writers.



Word Play

I love cooking, but never wanted to be a chef or baker because having to cook isn’t the same as wanting to cook.

As a full-time writer, I keep things interesting by covering different subjects. Learning something new with each project prevents me from getting bored. But over time, spending 40+ hours per week at the keyboard writing for fun became a foreign concept.

Until recently.

About a year ago, one of my best friends entered the first ever Rockford New Play Festival, and her play was one of the short plays chosen to be read by actors. Watching her play, and the others, read aloud before an overflowing crowd really inspired me – on multiple levels.

  • The plays were really good. The actors reading them were good, too. And the audience was enthusiastic. I was inspired as a writer.
  • It was impressive that a new and relatively unknown playwriting event in Rockford could draw such a large and diverse audience. I was inspired by the local arts community.
  • I was inspired that a relatively small group of people pulled it off.

Upon hearing entries were being accepted for the second annual Rockford New Play Festival, I thought it would be fun to enter, even if playwriting isn’t my forte. Encouraged by the friend who participated last year, I decided to give it a try and soon a rough idea that had been percolating in my brain for a while became a 10-minute play, The Grove.

I submitted it in May and forgot about it. But the creative writing bug had bitten again. Suddenly I wanted to test myself with different types of writing.

When I read about a 24-hour short story competition, I registered right away and counted down the days until they assigned the length and a general theme (they encourage writers to stretch and play with the theme) I would never have thought to write about.

Guess what? The contest’s prompts spurred my creativity and the ideas poured out.

In a weird way, having a tight deadline helped focus my efforts. By removing the luxury of obsessing over every comma, the 24-hour deadline made the writing process more visceral and less precious. I loved every minute of it!

Entering these contests was something I did for fun, and to stretch my creative writing muscles. The winners of the 24-hour Short Story contest won’t be announced for a few weeks yet, and I don’t hope to be among them.

Then again, I didn’t expect The Grove would be one of six 10-minute plays — out of 520 entries from across the country — selected to be read at the second annual Rockford New Play Festival. But it was.

[Date, time and other details for the event can be found here: 2015 RNPF.]

Accepting a creative challenge is never a mistake, but letting one slip past you is.

What creative challenges have you taken on lately, and what did you learn from them?


The Art of the Complaint Letter

When I was a child, I remember my mom saying I was so stubborn I’d argue with God. My reply? “Only if He’s wrong.” (Even as a kid I figured the odds of God being wrong were pretty low.)

The truth is I don’t like arguing. I just happen to be good at it.

In high school I toyed with the idea of one day becoming a lawyer, but I knew I could never remember all of the laws, statutes and case laws. Today I only unleash my argumentative skills when I have to, and it usually involves writing complaint letters.

I’ve incorporated all of these tips in my most recent (and on-going) real-life experience:

  • Only complain when you KNOW you’re right, then stick to the facts
  • Be firm but polite
  • Save complaints for important issues
  • Don’t ask for any extra compensation or freebies
  • Follow up as needed*
  • CC their superiors, watchdog groups, and other interested parties
  • Never use profanity or make personal attacks
  • Retain your sense of humor (a little sarcasm goes a long way)
  • Get your facts straight and document as much as you can
  • Leave the ball in their court
  • If Customer Service doesn’t fix it, escalate it to the CEO

Something major has to be at stake for me to sit down and write a complaint letter. I recently spent about four hours writing my third complaint letter to the same company within one month. Why? A glaring mistake on their part (which would have been avoided had they merely adhered to their own corporate policies) has led to a comedy of errors.

My first letter – addressed to the Vice President of Customer Service, with copies sent to a state-wide industry watchdog group and the person who initially referred me to the company –  pointed out their error and offered a simple, fair remedy. They sent back a letter spelling out how they would correct it with a reduced fee for September, and included a specific amount and the date it would be deducted from my account.

That should have resolved the situation, but….

The next day I received another letter from them about the “new” plan they claimed I’d requested (I hadn’t). Apparently they were hoping I was dumb enough not to realize the “new plan” was a downgrade from what I already had, but at the same price. Worse yet, it was retroactive.

Learning my plan had been retroactively downgraded led directly to Letter 2, where I pointed out those changes were made without my request, consent or knowledge. That downgrade essentially penalized me for what was clearly their initial error, so I also demanded that my original plan be reinstated immediately.

The date of the next automatic payment arrived before Letter 2 had elicited a response. I checked my bank account to see how much they’d taken out: it was more than double the amount they said, in writing, they would withdraw.

You guessed it: Time for Letter 3, and the gloves are off.

I copied the CEO in on Letter 3 and sent him copies of my two prior letters plus both letters the company sent me. I explained how the entire mess would have been avoided had the company simply followed its own protocol. His response, or lack thereof, will reveal how much (or little) this company values its customers.

Sometimes all it takes to get a lazy or incompetent customer service executive to do his or her job is to make sure the big boss knows about the problem. It’s usually pretty astounding how fast that works. If you present the CEO with a valid complaint, documentation about the issue and outline your efforts to resolve it, in most cases you’ll receive a phone call from an executive level problem solver who will find a way to rectify the situation.

The jury’s still out on my current complaint. (I just mailed Letter 3 today.)

Here are a couple more tips for dealing with customer service issues:

  • When calling Customer Service, note the date and time of the call, the representative’s name (and employee ID number, if applicable).
  • If your first call to Customer Service doesn’t work, create a paper trail by complaining via e-mail or regular mail. If the company has an online form, copy your complaint and save it in a Word file for future reference.
  • If you tweet a complaint, chances are someone from the company will ask you to follow them and continue the conversation via Direct Message. That’s because they don’t want your Twitter followers retweeting anything negative about their company, product or service. If you agree to follow up with a DM, don’t let it stop you from tweeting relevant, fact-based updates to your followers – including thanks to the company if and when they resolve the situation. Never tweet false or libelous statements.

If a company knows anything about good customer service, they’ll find a way to make things right and let you know you’re a valued customer.

Complaint letters are important, since most companies rely on customer feedback to troubleshoot problems and help them improve their products or services. Just remember that it’s equally important to compliment companies on great products or services, and single out employees who’ve done their jobs exceptionally well.

What customer service issues have you faced lately? What steps did you take, and how well did the company resolve the issue?

* A couple years ago the CEO of a certain utility company received monthly updates from me titled, “As the Meter Turns,” to highlight how long it had been since they’d sent someone to read the meter in my basement. They got back on track after about four “installments.”

Micro-budget Filmmaking

Talk about being creative. Not only does my super-talented brother-in-law Daniel Nearing write and direct indie films, he manages to produce them on micro-budgets. (And his idea of a micro-budget is a fraction of what Hollywood considers a micro-budget.)

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 1.54.18 PM

The poster (designed by my sister) for Dan’s latest film, Hogtown.

When I told the editor of the newly revamped Creative Screenwriting how Dan’s film Chicago Heights (later re-named Last Soul on a Summer Night) was named as one of the late Roger Ebert’s top art films of 2010, he asked me to write an article on Dan’s writing process and another on how he actually gets his films made. The first article was just published and you can read it here.

It includes a link to a YouTube video about the making of the film, so be sure to watch that, too!

6th Annual Writers Worth Week

Writers Worth Week is here again. It’s a shame writers still need to remind clients and potential clients about the value good writers bring to any project. Even sadder is that so many writers don’t value their own work or time like other professionals do.

To mark the occasion, Writers Worth Week founder Lori Widmer invited some writers to contribute guest posts for her blog, Words on the Page. I have the honor of being the first guest poster of the week.

If you’re a writer or work with writers, I encourage you to check out Lori’s blog this week. You won’t be disappointed.

Starting From Scratch

As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved the idea of making something from nothing. Well, maybe not from nothing, but by taking disparate elements and combining them into new and wonderful things.

Baking. Knitting. Writing. Felting. Crocheting. Scrap quilting. I enjoy all kinds of creative challenges, even when things don’t turn out precisely as planned. After all, creativity is a fluid thing so there’s always something to learn from a failed attempt.

I want this blog to be a place where we can share our creative pursuits, whatever they may be. I’ll post updates on my various projects and hope you’ll discuss yours as well.

Mika Doyle

Freelance Writer & Poet

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