There’s nothing to writing – all you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein. That was the advice of early twentieth century songwriter Walter Smith. It’s a thing that fascinates many. Just how do you write?
Jeffrey Archer, now an amazing sixty-eight, hangs onto the older methods. He uses a pen, scratching his words onto a pad. His secretary then types the stuff up, triple spaced, for the great man to correct. He admits he’s old fashioned like many out there who still work like he does. But they are beginning to fade.
Being in command of your own keyboard and using the swift and spell-checkable skills that computer process comes with is now the way for us all. Those that don’t sing their words into digital recorders for transcription later that is. It’s true that I’ve had words come upon me while walking the streets in the rain and, lacking any other method, phoned the ideas home and left them on the answerphone.
Hemingway, apparently, could only ever compose while standing up. He had a special stool and table fixed onto the back of one of his boats so he could work from there. There are other writers, naturally, who can only ever manage anything while lying down.
William Burroughs, the drug master and major twentieth innovator, author of The Naked Lunch and creator of the cut-up, needed endless dope. Without the push and the haze that gave him he couldn’t write at all. Dylan T also demanded additional help, his however in liquid form.
There’s no one best method. Work out your own. Writers, not unsurprisingly, need to write. Not boast about it, talk about it, or remember how it once was. They need to get out there and start. Best advice in the world. Start and then go on.
I’ve always found the mornings the best time. Fresh from sleep. Don’t speak to a soul to avoid wrecking the mood. Set up a place where there can be no interruption. Unplug the phone, turn the mobile off. Have settled in advance all the things that might come creeping in at you. No visits by repair men or cold calls selling you cheaper electricity. Make mental space and use it all.
I know this system won’t hack it for much longer in the age we are now in. This is a time where communication is constant and instant. Sound drips from the pores of the world. To write today the author needs to be able to manage it between multiple distraction, in small and readily consumable slices. Attention spans are no longer the length of a chapter. The text message novel is gaining ground. Watch it come.
This posting appeared, or a version of it did, as The Insider in the Western Mail of 26th December, 2009