Do you do longhand, dictate or tap out your tales onto a tablet? It doesn't matter, as long as you're gettting something down. But don't just emulate the greats, says Daisy Stella Baldwin, find the write way for you...
I own a beautiful ’50s Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter, mint green and in mint condition, still in its original carry case. It’s an Italian design classic and takes pride of place on my desk. Visitors play their fingers lightly across its polished keys and ask me if I write much on it. “Occasionally...” I lie, and change the subject.
Confession time. The truth is – apart from the occasional letter to a friend – I’ve never really given the ribbon a good run out. That’s not to say I haven’t tried. When I first found the Lettera, nestled under a pile of junk in my local charity shop, I felt it would become the tool with which I wrote the next great British novel. To my regret, I soon discovered the way I write is simply not suited to the typewriter.
Whether it’s fiction or column writing, my preferred way of working is to whack a lot of words on the page then edit obsessively; re-phrasing, making substitutions, altering perspective, changing the order of paragraphs. It’s the equivalent of throwing paint at a canvas then painstakingly scraping it off. It’s a fairly common working method, and one that seems to have been brought about by the ubiquity of computers. When writing by hand, you tend to think hard before committing pen to paper otherwise you end up with incomprehensible scribbles and/or the off-putting pong of Tipp-Ex, plus a bin full of screwed-up pages. Even worse, on a typewriter you’d have to move the page back and ‘x’ over your original line to cross it out; to move paragraphs around you’d have to cut and paste in the old-fashioned way.
Will Self says he switched to a typewriter precisely for the precision it demands, as well as the fact it doesn’t come with an internet connection – no Google search spirals for him. Jack Kerouac famously wrote On The Road on a typewritten 120ft ‘scroll’ of tracing-paper sheets, cut and taped together, whereas critic AA Gill – who has severe dyslexia – dictates all his articles. I’ve tried most methods but find myself wed to the computer screen, and editing. My former Creative Writing tutor, author MJ Hyland, works in the same way, referring to the process as “assiduously moving words around on the page.”
In interviews, writers often explain how they like to work, making it easy for aspiring scribes to fixate on the craft of writing rather than the words themselves. You can get distracted trying to mimic Cormac McCarthy’s dedication to typewriter-ing, when closely re-reading his novels would better inform and improve your style.
Participants in National Novel Writing Month need know only this – however they choose to write, it’ll be hard work. Whether it’s writer’s block, sore wrists, aching shoulders or dry eyes, writing is less about craft and more about graft, whatever your tools.
...on too much information
...on fresh fields