I don’t know if it’s down to writing longhand, or the relief that the writing drought has finally been broken, but my ability to write returned with a renewed vigour this week.
Writing by hand in a book focuses you on the turning of the page. There’s something competitive in the physicality of it; you want to get to the end of the page, turn over, fill another with black scrawl.
It also discourages looking back at what you’ve written so far – not least because I can barely read my own handwriting. Being hunched over a notebook and pen and not faced with a blank screen feels more conducive to that horrible phrase storytelling, which should be the number one aim in my first draft.
Don’t get it right, get it written.
And there’s something about the scrib-scrib-scribble of my pen that gets me thinking about the next line, and the next, and the next. It’s still shapeless, with as much not going for it as going for it, but it’s a start, and it gives me something to cut, amend and improve.
I’m also at the heart of my story, which might account for my sudden speed and fervour. There’s lots to tell, and, suddenly, lots of people crowding in on it. I’ve previously worried that my main character is too solitary, but now she is a mere observer, a participant in action, and the relief is vast. She interacts with other characters, slipping from the present situation to remembered ones a little too easily, in a style that might be too bewildering.
But it is fun and lots of ideas crop up in the process.
This style also has, infuriatingly, a different tense and more focussed viewpoint. I try not to think about how the immediacy of this narration contrasts with the rest of the book, and plough on, out of tense and out of joint. This might represent a new style for the whole book, or it might remain dislocated from the rest. I don’t know yet.
And while my writing method took a step back a century, my reading leapt into the 21st century. I bought myself a Kindle.
“Real” books will always be number one for me. I read The Tiger Who Came To Tea this week too, turning each page to reveal an illustration that wasn’t a surprise but oh-so-familiar: I had seen and studied every stroke of the pen, colour and facial expression before, long ago, as a child. How could something electronic compete with that?
But the convenience of downloading books at your fingertips – especially ones you need for reference – is undeniable, and the reading experience hugely enjoyable. It brings a little bit of magic to reading that boring old paper just doesn’t have. I don’t think it had occurred to me how amazing it is – a little electric book that you can sling on your bed along with all the others or read while waiting for the pan to boil, and never get a sore wrist.
I bought it for two reasons: I wanted to reread Vanity Fair, a book I have on my shelves but is too big to carry to work every day, and I wanted to get my hands on The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd, recently published in hardback. I met Lloyd very briefly at the BBC, and have been interested to watch his experience of being published from afar. I bought both books straight away (although poor old Thackers doesn’t get any royalties any more, so Vanity Fair was free).
I never buy hardbacks, which is why I haven’t read Sense of an Ending yet, despite being desperate to. Having an ebook means being able to read books as soon as they are published, and while they still are being reviewed and hyped. I hope it brings extra magic to reading. It certainly has so far, as every turn of a page is replaced by a blink of the screen as it refocuses, the words surfacing in ancient ink shapes like runes.
Lloyd’s book sounds fascinating. It was published last week. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like. I hope one day to finish my book and find out.
Word count this week: 3,700
First draft: 94,212