Wednesday, June 13, 2007

We made the DiscoBlog!

Click here to read a GREAT entry about To Write a Mockingbird at the blog—the DiscoBlog!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Chief webhead at DISCOVER sends props!

Dear Mr. Eldred,

I'm the Web editor for Discover, and I just heard about your impressive
feat: writing all of To Kill a Mockingbird with one pencil. I'm glad you
picked up the implicit challenge from the article, and rarely have I
been so happy to found out that we were wrong.

I want to blog about your one-pencil challenge and link to your blog. I
wanted to ask if you might link back to our 20 Things story, probably
from the quoted section in the upper-right of the blog.

Congratuations on your record-setting triumph.

Amos Kenigsberg

* * *

Thanks, Mr. K, for the kind words and for suggesting the link! It's now in place, just where you suggested. We look forward to reading your blog.

Readers: Find Amos Kenigsberg blogging here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Our final word count is ...


That's our final count of the words in To Kill a Mockingbird. Our pencil copied every last one.

This includes the title "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the Section Titles "Part One" and "Part Two."

It takes in 405 pages of text in this edition, for an average of just about 248 words per page.

Our copying consumed 573 sheets of paper, giving an average of about 175 words copied per page.

We involved 26 volunteers for the first 32 continuous hours, copying about 32,000 words.

5 volunteers completed the task over the course of the following 4 weeks, in approximately 60 more hours. Probably more when you include the task of counting the words.

Please note that OUR count was 100,388 words. We feel this is accurate within 500 words. It's possible that another count would be different simply due to human error, as well as to different choices about how to count words, particulary hyphenated words or uses of dialect or common speech. For example, how many words would you count in each of the following uses?

't's right

We counted two words in each case. In cases like this, our process was to "translate" and count the words represented. For example:

't's right = That's right
he'da = he'd have
m'shoes = my shoes

Anyway, we've reached our major goal and intend to retire the pencil. It certainly has more words left in it, but it's fought the good fight and we want to have enough left to display in the library!

Actually, our original goal was simply to test the claim in Discover magazine that the average pencil can write 45,000 words. We're amazed to have written well more than double that number.

This entire project has been a challenge, a blast and a grind. It was wonderful to join with many volunteers and to amuse and surprise those hearing our story. We hope to do more pencil events, involve many more people and draw more attention to the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library and it's soon-to-launch building campaign.

See? You never know what might be going on down at the library!

P.S. This may sound like a final post, but it's not. What for updates!


We've copied the book to the end! Whew ...

We're still finishing the word count. For now, please enjoy these pictures. More facts and figures will follow.

The pencil in the "Bi-conderoga" mode that allows writing with a stub: The metal ferrule of another pencil joins the stub to an unsharpened pencil, and the combination is stabilized with tape and a splint (the shaft of a cotton swab).

The official final length: 1-3/16 inches (or 1.219 inches).

The completed manuscript has 573 sheets of paper and is 2" thick. And did we ever put the "manual" in manuscript!

The final page, written by five different volunteers.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

We expect to finish copying the ENTIRE BOOK by tonight!

We've copied through page 393, and the story ends halfway through page 407. Only 14 more pages to go!

We're shooting to finish the actual word count by tomorrow.

Current estimated word count: 96,678

Final estimated word count: 99,630

Monday, June 4, 2007

Latest estimate: 90,000+ words

We reached a count of 75,000 words on page 307. Text actually starts on page 3, so that makes 305 pages of text, for an words-per-page average of just about 246. We've copied through page 370, so our latest estimated word count is 370 x 246 words, or 91,020.

Note: That would be more than double the number of words (45,000) that Discover magazine said we could expect from the pencil.

The pencil is harder to measure now, taped up as it is in the Biconderoga (not to mention splinted for stability) but its length is about 1.25"

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Word count update: 70,000-plus! (we think)

We've passed page 300 in the book and have once again outpaced the counting of the words. Using the last words-per-page average that we calculated (249 words per page) gives an estimate of around 75,000 words. Just to be conservative for now, it's safe to say that we've blown by 70,000 words.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Word count update


Big winner

We just received this great picture of Andrew Lashinsky, the lucky lad who won the huge wooden pencil that was one of the decorations in the Library during the book copying.

Andrew is one-third of a set of triplets, so you know that at least two members of his household may be envious of his good fortune!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Definitely an above average pencil

We passed 45,000 words--the number mentioned in the Discover magazine article as average for a pencil--at about 8:20 on May 18. Ethan Eldred was writing at the time.

Here's a picture of the word: hot. It's circled but still hard to see.

And here's a picture of the pencil after passing 45,000 words. What a champ!

Monday, May 14, 2007

The counting has caught up with the writing!

Words written so far: 41,518
The page we've reached in the book: 170
Actual number of pages from which we've copied, starting with the title page: 167
Average words per page: 249
Length of pencil remaining: 3.125"
Pages of filler paper used: 221
The most recent sentence written: It was a happy cemetery.

Finally ... the big reason that the number of words per page keeps dropping (pointed out by a friend ... Thanks, Carl!): There's more dialogue than in the earlier pages, and dialogue takes up more room on a page, because of all the paragraph breaks.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

End of Sunday update

I wish this were moving faster, but other areas of life keep intruding, and word-counting and word-copying are both slow endeavors. : )

I can report that we've copied up through the middle of page 168 in the edition that we're using, and that we still have over 3 inches of pencil to write with.

And we've counted up through the bottom of page 147. The total of counted words stands at 36,700. The projected total of written words stands at 41,745.

The average count of words per page keeps declining. That must be because Scout's vocabulary includes more long words as she ages somewhat through the book. Also, the farther you go, the more long legal terms there are!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Word-counting update

Our estimate of words written keeps changing as we keep writing and counting. Through 65 pages of text in our edition, we have counted 17,600 words for an average of about 257 words per page. We have copied the text through page 155, so if the average word count holds steady, we've already written 39,823 words. We still have a lot of pencil left and expect to complete the copying this weekend.

Monday, May 7, 2007

A final list of our writers!

Thanks to all!
  1. Jeffrey Ketner
  2. Shirley Bowser
  3. Crystal Crissman
  4. Rev. Marlys Hershberger
  5. Anna Sylvester
  6. Donna Riggen
  7. Suzanne Sylvester
  8. Pamela Johnson
  9. Janice Albright
  10. Connie Letscher
  11. John Letscher
  12. Janet Eldred
  13. Ethan Eldred
  14. Don Ruggery, Jr.,
  15. Julie Ansley
  16. Mark Michrina
  17. Carl DeCaspers
  18. Joyce Eger
  19. Mary Ann Keagy
  20. Ann Blough
  21. Diane Witmeyer
  22. Michelle Ewing
  23. Marissa Ewing
  24. Ken Sheppard
  25. Keith Eldred
  26. Emmett Eldred

The copying continues

Here we see Emmett Eldred, Keith's son, wielding the Biconderoga at Keith's kitchen table, the new site for copying. The pencil endures! As of our last report, we had copied through page 132 or our edition. Now we've copied through page 205.

We've also started a careful count of the words in the book. Through 23 pages of our edition, the word count is 6600, or about 287 per page. If that rate holds steady, we've already written out nearly 59,000 words--well beyond the 45,000 stated in Discovery magazine!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

A report after 32 hours into the effort

We were fortunate to have an excellent pencil sharpener at hand in the Library. We heartily recommend the Royal P40. The best feature is the little light labeled "SHARPENED." As soon as we saw that light flicker, our pencil was declared SHARPENED and thrust back into action.

As reflected in the chart below, we measured the pencil before each sharpening, and sometimes after. We used a borrowed Vernier caliper that measures to one-thousandth of an inch, though we general measured only to a tenth or a hundredth of an inch. Eventually, we realized that sharpening often didn't measurably decrease the length but only tapered the wood and the lead. The reduction in length comes as the lead itself wears away. We've sharpened the pencil 32 times in 32 hours, exactly once per hour--not by design; it just worked out that way.

Click here to see the raw data. Note the sudden drop in overall length of the pencil toward the end, before the decreases become regular once again. That's when the ferrule and eraser came off!

As of this posting, the latest measurement is 3.26 inches. The pencil started out at 6.65 inches minus the ferrule (That measurement actually comes from an identical pencil with the ferrule removed), so the total decrease is just about 3.4 inches. Over 32 hours, that averages out to a decrease of .11 inches per hour. So a 6.65-inch pencil would take 60.5 hours to wear away. That means we're only a little over half-way done!

Now, another factor is the changing ergonomic situation. That's a fancy way of saying that it's harder to write with a pencil stub. On the other hand, there are two simple answers to that:

ANSWER 1: Switch to a second pencil
Hang on, this is not a cop-out. Think about it. We simply need to wear away 3.26 more inches of lead. If we do it in a second, easier-to-handle pencil, that's still the equivalent of using up the original pencil.

ANSWER 2: The Bi-Conderoga
Stub + Ferrule + A pencil with the ferrule removed + Stabilizing Tape = A more manageable pencil.

We couldn't expect to wear away the whole length, because we need to have something to hang onto to insert the pencil into Royal P40! We're still figuring out how much we more we could wear away, but at most it would be 2 inches. Our current estimate of our total words written, having worn away 3.4 inches of pencil, is 29,000 words. So wearing away two more inches would give us 17,000 words, lifting our total OVER the target of 45,000 words.

To be continued ... We're going to sleep on all this and form our strategy tomorrow.

What fuels Mockingbird writers besides love of literature?


Samples from the 163 pages SO FAR

After 30 hours of continuous writing, the pencil measures in at 3.45 inches. There's lots of narrative left in that baby yet!

The pencil just went topless!

Check it out: the metal band and eraser separated from the pencil while Ken was starting a fresh page. It was bound to happen after more than 29 hours of continuous use.

Now, we're operating with a golf pencil!

By the way, the proper name for the metal band is ferrule.

Thanks to all our writers! (Part 4)

How low can you go?

This low!

Mark Michrina, writing in the Saturday 9:00 am slot, really got the lead out! He finally reached a point where he simply could not leave any more marks!

Thanks to all our writers! (Part 3)

Thanks to all of our writers! (Part 2)

Thanks to all of our writers! (Part 1)


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Look! The book!

Here's the edition of To Kill a Mockingbird that we'll be copying from. We chose large print to make it easier to read and to keep your place. And larger print makes it APPEAR that there are fewer words waiting to be copied.

Note the word marked in pencil. We're going through and circling every hundredth word to establish milestones for progress!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

We help DISCOVER discover us!

On 4/26/07 6:31 AM, Keith Eldred wrote:

Dear Discover Magazine editors,

Little did I know what an interesting challenge I would discover in Dean Christopher’s article “20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Pencil” (May 2007, page 80). Point number 6 claims that the average pencil can write roughly 45,000 words but that “History does not record anyone testing this statistic.” Let history record this: I was inspired to organize an event through the local library for volunteers to write out a word-for-word copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” using one pencil. The event will begin on May 4 at 2:00 pm and continue around the clock until copying is complete. We’ll go into it realizing that we need a miraculous performance from our chosen writing utensil. Our paperback copy of “Mockingbird” has 288 pages, and online ( I found an estimate of 400 words per page in a standard paperback, for a total of 115,200 words. Nevertheless, we are determined! And we are pleased to have found this way to honor a literary treasure. You can track our results at I’ll also plan to report back to you after we’re done. Please communicate my thanks to Mr. Christopher.


Keith Eldred
413 Bella St.
Hollidaysburg, PA 16648

----- Original Message ----
To: Keith Eldred
Sent: Friday, April 27, 2007 5:52:12 PM
Subject: Re: Your May 2007 "20 Things" article inspires library's tribute to the greatest American novel

Dear Keith:

Best of luck with the write-off. We hope all the participants do appropriate finger-stretches before getting started to avoid cramps! We’ll be sure to check back for the final word count.

The Editors at DISCOVER

Thursday, April 26, 2007

An important safety reminder

Never run with a pencil. Or just look what can happen:

This happened yesterday when we were hanging the second big pencil for display. One of the Library employees, Kim (punctured, above) learned an important lesson. Chris, who is another Library staffer, helped Ken successfully extract the instrument.

Stop by the Library and see for yourself that Kim has recovered just fine. And while you're there—sign up to write a section of the book!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Would you believe an even BIGGER pencil?


Ken and I made this one, too. When you're at the new book section ... just look up. You can't miss it!

And as long as you're at the Library, how about signing up to write out a section of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Here's the perfect pencil!

Okay, okay, it's not for writing. It's for decorating the library, site of To Write A Mockingbird. Ken and I made it with utmost care (if not skill).

It's also a prize! Anyone who comes into the Library can enter to win it! Can't you just picture this in your bedroom ... office cubicle ... day care center ... classroom ... ?

Come on in and fill out an entry form! And while you're at it, sign up to help with the writing!