How Not To Write

Method not approved by Ardleevan Press

No, no, no!

I’ve just been sent a photo on Twitter of a 21st-century author at work. She’s standing upright in front of her desk, tapping away at a keyboard while staring at an enormous computer screen, with electric wires all around her. I can’t think of a less appealing way to work. I know that too much sitting is bad for us, but so is too much standing – Michael Morpurgo used to write in that position, and it played havoc with his feet, so now he writes in bed instead. (He is not alone in this: as a schoolboy I attended a talk by Michael Holroyd, who revealed that he did the same. It made a great impression on me.)

But more importantly, I see writing as an organic process which should have as little to do with machines as possible. Yes, I sometimes write on a computer, but never anything important: if it requires real thought, I reach for pen and paper. (The pen, since you ask, is a battered fountain pen filled with blue-black ink.)

Why? First, because I love the sound and feeling of nib on paper and the gleam of the ink before it dries. But I also believe that the computer is a temptation to laziness: because you know it’s easy to change a sentence or paragraph, you find yourself thinking whenever you run into difficulties, ‘I’ll come back and sort that out later.’ With pen and ink you’re much more likely to stick with it and try to get it right first time – though that doesn’t mean you can’t come back and do some polishing (at which point you can examine your crossings-out to see whether you really chose the right form or words).

Of course, you’ll have to type the whole thing out eventually, but I see this as a valuable part of the editing process: because it looks so different from your handwritten draft or drafts, you can look at it with fresh eyes.

Make sure, though, that you have a spare pen: if you only have one, and come to see it as invaluable, the consequences of losing it could be disastrous. I divide my loyalty between a battered blue Parker and a much newer bright red Lamy. And a final tip: photograph each page as you finish it, just in case your manuscript – or computer – goes up in smoke.