Longhand return, headlights & Italo Calvino

I just can’t be creative typing into a box on the screen, as I am now, after all. It’s too busy, too noisy, too bright, too oppressive. When are they going to make silent desktop computers? The one I have has a solid state disc drive but still runs a cooling fan. (Notes: “Still Runs a Cooling Fan” possible bodice ripper?) I had to seek out my writing book and call up the old fountain pen out of retirement. So how did I get on? I spent a while getting the ink to flow (hint: put the nib for a second under a warm water tap). Then I wrote out something about why I’m not writing anything.

That turns out to be because I have no end in view. E. L. Doctorow (?) said that writing a novel is like driving unlit roads at night: you can only see as far ahead as your headlights show but you can get to your destination that way, so not to worry. He might not have said not to worry. But that presupposes you know where you’re going. Otherwise you’re just driving around at night for no purpose. There might be novels that do that, perhaps Italo Calvino style, but more usually you need to know your ending. You don’t need to know exactly how you’re going to get there but when you start out, it helps to have an end in view, and I think in fact it’s essential, at least for me.

So I wrote something like that in my writing book (A4 hard cover, spiral bound), admiring the flow of ink from the gold plated nib. And nothing else.

The wet edge

My son is an artist, among other things, and told me about the need to keep the wet edge going in certain sorts of painting. Don’t ask me what sort, I’m here to talk about writing. So, right or wrong, and I’m not checking effing Wikipedia, I say that leaving a story unfinished for too long can make it hard to resume. This I suppose is like the wet edge that you have to keep going. Also, I read an idea recently from someone that you should stop writing each day (yes, in case you didn’t know, you’re supposed to do it every day – do as I say, not as I do) when you still know what you want to write next, instead of draining it all out, the theory being that it will then be easier to resume.

Writing: If I can’t do it with a light heart…

…I’m not going to do it at all. There are so many other things to do. Re-sealing around the bathtub, for one. What, that’s not important? It is. And when you realise that nothing you write will make a bit of difference, won’t stop your kitchen ceiling from coming down if your bath seal leaks, won’t stop the ivy from strangling your trees, won’t hoover the stairs, won’t do much of anything at all, then it had better be pleasing, amusing, joyful, exhilarating. Okay, let’s not reach for the stars, but it had better make me smile because if it makes me frown, it’s out the window.

Learning to write again

Imagine you were someone in popular music who, many years ago, made some records that were pleasing but that never troubled the charts very much and then you spent most of the rest of your life doing drudge work in an office till the mortgage was paid off. For your biggest hits, such as they were, you just bashed out the chords on a guitar and reeled off whatever words came into your head and it seemed to work. There was energy. People got enjoyment from it.

What do you do now? You’ve just realised that you don’t really know how to play guitar properly at all. You try to perfect some more Travis picking, learn a classical piece, try something jazzy. You feel like you’re back to kindergarten, trying to play London Bridge is Falling Down on a tin whistle and hitting bum notes. It’s the same with writing. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about deleting this website and throwing my hat at the writing game.

It’s not that I haven’t been writing, I have, but not enough and not purposefully. I start on a whim, noodle about for a while, get distracted and let it die. (Apparently you have to water these creations with words every day.) Or was it going nowhere because I never had any end in view? I think of new things I’d like to write every morning, and before I forget I write a clue to it on the whiteboard in my office. But then the day goes by, and another, and another and eventually, after weeks, I might even forget what the clue meant.

After organising my notes and fragments, which I wrote about in my previous post, I have not come to a place of easy progress with a clear road ahead. Instead, it turns out that most of what I have is unusable, poorly written and sometimes completely wrongheaded and amateurish. It’s better to know that. This is part of moving on, recognising where I am and finding a way forward. The image that comes to me most often is of someone recovering from a stroke, as if my day job had been a long coma from which I have only just awoken. The world I knew has gone. Everything is new to me.

Longhand chaos begone

Now that I’m a full time writer, I regret the years I spent writing everything longhand in notebooks, while doing the day job, which was computer programming. The first thing I’ve had to do while trying to get myself organised is to transcribe everything into computer format, where I can work with it, to “clear the decks” as they say. My mind tends towards chaos, as you would know if you saw how many different writing projects are jumbled and intertwined in the pages of my notebooks. One thing that can help to overcome one’s natural chaotic nature, is to make use of technology to the full, and let it deal with that part of the problem. I bought myself a copy of Scrivener desktop app a long time ago, for this very purpose, and I’m now using it for everything, and it’s great. Instead of having separate files in folders on the computer and having to open and close them, with Scrivener I can jump in and out of things just by one click in the list of scenes, works-in-progress, etc etc. It has other useful features as well, but it’s keeping everything together, yet separate in a list, that is so helpful. I don’t have to riffle through pages looking for bits of text, nor do I have to keep opening and closing documents directly from the computer, nor searching up and down through long computer files. I’d show you some screenshots only I don’t want to give away my work-in-progress, as that’s a sure way to kill it stone dead.

Boo(k)

Apologies to any goose I might have scared by saying “Boo(k)” to them. Although geese are not easily scared, by the way. I’m here to say that, contrary to appearances, I am writing things. If they get anywhere, you my imaginary friends, will be the first to know.

 

Co-Edited with Lane Ashfeldt

As announced on www.newshortstories.com

I have just sent a newsletter to our 1762 subscribers, with the cover reveal, biographies, publication details etc for Willesden Herald: New Short Stories 10 and other news. Link to view online: Newsletter.

Many thanks to Stratos Fountoulis for the cover design and once again to Lane Ashfeldt, to Liars’ League for continuing support over the years, and to the much-missed Willesden Green Writers’ Group, who helped keep this competition going through hell & high water. And all writers everywhere, here’s to you!

Available from: