Thursday, October 12, 2006

How I Write

Films show how writers write in a formulaic way - witness "Sylvia" with draft after draft of poems thrown over the poor girl's head, most missing the waste paper bucket. I kind of think a writers' writing methods are a little like a confessional, between him/her and their maker. Yet if God had not wanted writers to talk about their methods, he wouldn't have invented literary festivals. The Cheltenham Festival is celebrated in todays Times, with the secrets of the writing room. What a wonderfully weird bunch they are! Mainly, I confess, because they use pens, in Helen Simpson's case, an £8 a bottle-of-ink, Mont Blanc, THAT explains why she's never written a novel, too darn expensive. There are quite a few long suffering spouses (and, one presumes, employees) hidden a little off stage, from Marina Lewycka's "lovely husband" bringing porridge, to "that wonderful woman" who types up John Mortimer's incomprehensible scrawl. And they use a strange array of paper as well. Say what you want about Microsoft Word, but its a great democratiser. At least William Boyd is honest enough to say he's too old a dog to be taught new (word processing) tricks, though I'm pretty sure that before I wrote direct to screen, I'd sometimes write direct to typewriter. Simon Armitage is only a little bit older than me, so I was a bit surprised that he's "awestruck" by his computer, and has real problems when it doesn't. But then, even I write (most of) my poetry on paper. You kind of still need to see the crossings out, I think that's what it is.


Ms Baroque said...

I sometimes think my problem is that I don't quite know HOW I work! I do love typing straight in and have written some nice things that way, and I have other things I've written draft after draft of, and others where I've sort of alternated.

I'd never dream of trying to write prose out longhand, these days.

And weren't we all impressed by all those movies, where people like Eugene O'Neill would get drunk and sit up till dawn bashing away on his old Remington?

Adrian Slatcher said...

A few years ago I applied for a creative writing lecturer post, and had to "present" about my "research ideas". One of which was a paper on how the method of writing affects the end result. So On the Road's a big long roll of paper, Hemingway's terse sentences area caused by those clunky macho keys. I think that if you write poetry direct to screen it changes - because most people's screens are landscape rather than portrait, so you'll write longer lines, but shorter poems than you would in a notebook.