This article suggests that writing in longhand or by typewriter is a more stimulating method of creating a story than skating the surface of a soft-touch computer keyboard.
That there may be ‘hidden efficiency’ in pen, pencil and typewriter ribbon is intriguing. I agree that I remember information better if I’ve written it down, which is partly why I jot ideas onto scraps of card that are dotted around my laptop’s cooling cradle. I’ve got hundreds of documents stored in scores of folders on my desktop, which I’m sometimes glad to find while looking for something else, for I’d forgotten that I’d already done that bit of research!
I’ve written a few poems in longhand, but never anything in prose. I love relying on my laptop, which I also use to aid my concentration by playing music as I write. I even defy the common advice of not having an internet connection while I write, for sometimes it’s best for me to get a fact right at that moment, rather than doing it later when editing, as it will affect what I write next. I’m very focused, checking just that one fact and not wandering off to surf the web.
What about you?
Do you do everything on a computer?
Or by longhand or typewriter, afterwards producing a computer file?
It’s easy to become paranoid as a writer. After all, we work alone, hidden away from the world creating stories that we hope will be loved by the very people we’re shunning. But to do this, we need to make entreaties to mysterious wraiths—literary agents—whose websites appear to show them as civilised arbiters of taste, yet they’re also strangely silent when approached.
Querying takes on the feeling of throwing a message in a bottle into a tempestuous ocean: has anyone even read your submission, and if they have done did they immediately dismiss it or laugh their heads off at your ineptitude?
The old saying ‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean to say they aren’t out to get to you’takes on a frustrating twist for writers: ‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean to say they even know you exist.’
This state of disconnectedness and paranoia are well summed up in a poem by Phillip Lopate, called We Who Are Your Closest Friends. An excerpt appears in Anne Lamott’s Bird By Birdwhich is one of the best books about writing I’ve read.
We Who Are Your Closest Friends
we who are your closest friends feel the time has come to tell you that every Thursday we have been meeting as a group to devise ways to keep you in perpetual uncertainty frustration discontent and torture by neither loving you as much as you want nor cutting you adrift
your analyst is in on it plus your boyfriend and your ex-husband and we have pledged to disappoint you as long as you need us
in announcing our association we realize we have placed in your hands a possible antidote against uncertainty indeed against ourselves but since our Thursday nights have brought us to a community of purpose rare in itself with you as the natural center we feel hopeful you will continue to make unreasonable demands for affection if not as a consequence of your disastrous personality
Do any of you feel like you don’t exist, that what you’re doing is just a figment of your own imagination? How is it that mediocre authors get published when your immaculate manuscript can’t get a look in? Do you ever feel like there are more people who hate you and your writing than love it?
Should your paranoia follow you to bed and cuddle up with regret, then remember Fleur Adcock‘s poem Things:
There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public. There are worse things than these miniature betrayals, committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things than not being able to sleep for thinking about them. It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.
It’s an evolutionary quirk of the human mind, that we remember and focus on negative memories better than we do the pleasant events that happened to us. Partly, this is a hard-wired defence mechanism to keep us safe, but it can make your brain feel like it’s conspiring against you.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, and we writers must often have the feeling that ‘I’ll use that in a story one day’when we see or overhear something interesting.
I sometimes find myself foraging for goodies in my memory banks going back 50 years to my childhood. It’s interesting how we come to an understanding of the way that the world works through dramatic and confusing incidents, that are only half-explained to us by our parents.
I wrote a short story called In The Graveyard At Dawn, based on my experiences of walking my dog through the grounds of the local church. This included encountering a widower driven mad with grief, who used to lay on his wife’s grave. When I first saw him at 6:00 am, as an impressionable 13-year-old, I thought it was a corpse not yet buried and I looked around for the gravedigger. He became aware of my presence and sat up hinging at the waist like Nosferatu rising from his coffin. The hair on my dog’s spine and on the back of my neck rose in hackles before we ran from the scene!
I’ve been entering writing competitions recently, and have been casting around for ideas for new short stories to write, as most contests only accept previously unpublished material. I remembered seeing a mysterious and extraordinary woman when I was a youngster, who used to walk past my house. I grew up on what was once known as the Great North Road, a Roman road that’s arrow straight in many places. Playing with my toy cars beside the footpath, I could see this lady coming from half-a-mile away.
What made her stand out, was that she was short, about 4′ 10″ tall, and she walked between two huge dogs, an Irish Wolfhound and a Great Dane, her forearms resting on their backs as they kept pace with her. Her hairdo was unusual for the early 1960s, closely cropped to her head. She had an upright posture, one eye on the horizon as she had a black patch over the other one. At 8-years-old, the only people I knew who wore eye-patches were pirates, and as she lived in the posh houses of millionaire’s row, presumably she was a retired pirate captain!
I never did find out who she was, or how she’d been injured, but she’ll soon appear in one of my stories. You’re probably already making up theories about her—it’s impossible not to when you’re a writer—it’s what we automatically do.
Have you used any childhood memories in your stories?