Back when I was a jobbing voluntary arts admin, I used to bemoan the lack of paraphernalia for novelists. You know, the visual artists would be there applying for studio space and promising a gallery show at the end of it, the actors would be asking the Arts Council to fund the development of a one-man show they’d present in the buff in a coffee shop, and musicians would be there with instruments and playing songs. What did authors have? A coffee budget and a print out of a story?
Honestly, I think that’s why you get so many bizarre projects from writers — like painting words on sheep to make poetry, or going on a boat trip to the Arctic. Some poor soul is just there staring at a funding application and trying to come up with something more dynamic than ‘time to write’ to put down on it.
In the end though, a writer’s needs always boil down to ‘something to make words with’ and ‘something to put words on’. Luckily for funding applicants, though, technology has provided us with many different versions of those two things.
Me? I type things out on a computer. It’s not wildly interesting if anyone asks me about my ‘process’, but that’s what I have. I think better at a computer, the words have the most direct route from my brain to the (electronic) page.
In fact, to be honest, I’m most more eloquent while typing than I am in person. It isn’t the opportunity to edit either, although I will admit it helps. I am bad at speaking — and hugging, but that’s probably a separate issue. Vocal communication just isn’t disciplined enough, my brain gets distracted by bizarre segues and blurts out whatever inappropriate thought was previously minding its own business in the lizard brain.
So, that’s one reason why I’m not narrating this article, or my work in progress. By the time I winnowed through my brain’s random chaff, I’d probably have three sentences out of three pages. Plus, as much as dictation software has improved since my first experiment — when my computer screeched ‘murder murder moor murder’ at me at one in the morning — my accent is still a challenge for it.
Well, I suppose it is more of a combination of fairly culchie accent — try making me say mirror, film, or phone sometime — and the speed at which I normally speak. Ask anyone that’s met me, when I get excited only dolphins and hummingbirds are able to follow what I’m rabbiting on about.
I don’t mind that too much, though. Frankly, the idea of trying to narrate smut to an empty room — enunciating every thrust, and pausing for pronunciation — is a terrible one. I have nothing but respect for anyone who get out of their own brain enough to do it.
What I would love to be able to do is pull a Neil Gaiman, writing my manuscript out long hand with a fountain pen in beautiful flowing script. OK, to be fair I don’t know if Neil Gaiman’s script is beautiful or flowing — I’m making assumptions. What I do know is that mine isn’t.
My handwriting is more…freeform. It’s kind of like a spider was thrown in a pot of ink, given a bunch of ecstasy, and then had strobes flashed at it until it thought it was at a rave. At school, I was actually forbidden from doing joined up writing because no matter how I laboured over it the final product was illegible to anyone but me
But wait, I hear you say (look, yes I paid that person to say it, just move along), if you can read it then surely the aesthetic value doesn’t matter? Just position yourself at some suitably atmospheric location and/or coffee shop and have at it.
Which sounds great — and is actually awesome for writing out ideas and scribbling notes — but founders on my inability to let it be. I will — and have, before I got my first computer — sit and rewrite pages over and over again, in block letters that get increasingly smaller with every go, until they look pretty and have no scribbles, crossing outs, or misspellings. It’s actually really frustrating. I used to fill up pages with the same paragraph, labouring over it until it was right and I could move on the next.
The weird thing is that I can only plot things out with pen and paper, on a computer my brain just seizes up and falls over. To plot, I need to be untidy…and hopefully twisty!