Wednesday, 30 September 2009

ONLY DISCONNECT


I’ve gone Wireless.

Viki (local white witch, astrologer and computer expert) spent several hours sorting this out for me. Part of the process involved me having to change into red clothes because of Mars. But let’s not go there.

You must understand that I am a Luddite of the first order. Technological change is anathema to me. I’m the one who tried to back up my work onto a mouse modem. Let’s not go there either.

I went Wireless because I wanted to be able to use my laptop in my attic study alongside my trusty old PC (1996 – the Luddite in me hates to let it go). And I wanted to do this because then I wouldn’t be continually drawn to checking my email at the kitchen table. Like many Luddites, I suspect, I am hideously addicted to any small technological thing I can do.

So now I have a sweet little white doo-dah with feet and a tiny tail (I keep wanting to feed it snacks because it crouches beside me in a permanent begging position) which sends magic rays to my laptop and allows it to work anywhere.

Anywhere. Suddenly, the umbilical cord which has tied me to the kitchen table has been cut. I sense freedom. For the first hours after Viki leaves, I wander the house with my laptop, drunk on all the possibilities. I can email in my attic! I can email in the garden! I can email in my living-room – here, where the sun shines! Ooh, I can email at the other end of my kitchen under the boiler! Oh my god - I can email sitting on the toilet! (which, given some of my output, may be the most suitable place for a Shitty First Draft.)

So why am I sitting back at my kitchen table writing this (in between obsessively checking my emails)? I suspect that this may be a turning point in my writing life. I thought I wanted to move forwards technologically. Now I think that I also need to move backwards.

Let me explain. Laptops and PCs are wonderful. In the click of a mouse they can take me to distant countries, can give me information on any subject I need to know about. I’m a very fast typist (I trained on old, metal-gilled recalcitrant typewriters, so the freedom of a touch-sensitive keyboard was like sprouting wings). I wrote my non-fiction book and my first novel on a PC – it came easily because the words seemed to leap straight from my head to the screen. Why, then, do I recently feel a deep yearning to write longhand, in a book?

Patrick Gale planted the seed. At a seminar, he passed around his first draft of Notes From An Exhibition – an A4 lined book, full of scribblings and notes and pages of longhand. For me, it felt like the Holy Grail, though I didn’t then know why.

Wirelessness represents freedom. Flexibility. Portability. Being able to pick up email anywhere is undoubtably an advantage. But where writing is concerned, I need to go back to basics. I need to go not only Wireless, but Machineless. After all, what’s the epitomy of portability and flexibility? The human hand. The pen, the paper. You can do it anywhere, plugless, wireless, bootless. There’s something intensely sensual and intimate about writing longhand. The contact between the body and the page. The way the words tumble out onto paper, ill-formed, awkward, scruffy, shitty.

So yes, I’m still scuttling back to my laptop-in-the-kitchen. But the seed is growing. Reculer pour mieux sauter. Because one day, one day soon, I will do it. I will roll up my sleeves and write longhand. And I will probably wear red.

19 comments:

Julie P said...

I find myself torn between writing long hand on paper or straight on computer too, Suzie. I keep a notebook and pen in my handbag and also by my bed to capture those pesky little thoughts that crop up when I'm out and about or in bed.

I like the romance of writing - the physical motion and feel of pen in hand and scrawling on paper. There's something spiritual about it. But with the computer it feels so impersonal. Althought I can write faster on computer and it cuts out the need to transcribe my longhand on paper to the screen, I find myself editing as I go along on screen. I think this takes the magic out of the rough first draft that'holy grail' as you called it. And it takes the spontaneity out of it as the inner critic gets to work!

I still use both methods and have yet to decide which I prefer - depends on what mood I'm in and the time factor.

Great post.

Julie xx

Roderic Vincent said...

Susie, I really enjoyed that. I could read anything you write, it's so alive.

You've also inspired me to buy a pen and have a go at this obsolete skill you mention. Do stationers still exist? I don't believe there is one in the city where I live.

Roderic Vincent said...

I also meant to mention - be careful with the wireless if you are playing internet poker. A short intermission in those magical rays can drop the connection and cost you hundreds of dollars.

Gillian McDade said...

Great tip, Rod ;)

I find my wireless connection to be constantly interrupted which is frustrating. And that's one thing I can never do - use longhand to write. My masterpieces have to go straight onto the computer. Forget the pens, it's what I'm used to!

CarolineG said...

Such a lovely post, Susie...I agree with The Rodster.

I love notebooks and am very attracted by the idea of writing first drafts in them. Unfortunately, I'm a gal who needs her technology and to write properly, I have to do it on a screen. But for working out thorny plot issues, it can still be good to use paper and pen I find.

Susannah Rickards said...

Fab post Susie. You write beautifully.

There is something magical about longhand. Indefinable. I find better, more original sentences among the sections of work written longhand than I ever do in typed work. Perhaps it connects back to our childhood when we could pootle about on the page more.

"Patrick Gale planted the seed. At a seminar, he passed around his first draft of Notes From An Exhibition – an A4 lined book, full of scribblings and notes and pages of longhand."

Is it possible to like that man any more than I already do? I'd love to hear more about the seminar.

Samantha Tonge said...

We have wireless but i'm not entirely comfortable cos i worry about its effects on the children. Not that there is any point in that because their schools ie where they spend all day are wireless too.

I could never go back to longhand because, for me, even if you edit at the same time, typing it up is such a waste of precious time. My first novel fell out onto the page that way, and it took me my next book or two to get used to typing the story straight out, but now, for me, there is no other way. I do understand the appeal of it, though.

Great post.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, all - I think this shows the huge variety of approaches. I shall definitely be typing up my day's work on the computer, but like Julie, I do find myself editing as I go. No bad thing, but if I can put it off by a stage, it may be helpful (the wonderful Mr Gale also said: 'Keep it as loose as possible for as long as possible'.) I love it, Susannah, that you find nuggets of gold in your longhand that you don't find on the computer. Sam, I discovered something when I re-typed some chapters from my novel onto my laptop (from the trusty 1996 PC): in the act of re-typing, boring as it was, I found LOADS of things to edit that I'd never noticed before. So the act of typing up may just be a voyage of discovery too.
Rod, I will bear your advice in mind when I play internet poker tonight.
Susiex

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Whatver method you use Susie, I love your writing. But for me the thought of pen and paper brings me out in an extreme rash. I love Madge (my laptop) and wouldn't be without her. Actually at the moment her screen only seems to work at one angle. I suspect it may be terminal...

Samantha Tonge said...

LOL Fionnuala!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Madge!?! :)
At the gallery, our laptop is so ancient that it sometimes refuses to print the letter 'e' (a slight disadvantage). I complained to my boss, who told me that all I had to do was 'lift it up, hold it like a telephone directory and flex it.' Sure enough, it worked like a dream.
Susiex

Karen said...

Fabulous post :o)

I don't think I could go back to longhand. Like you I trained to type fast on ancient typewriters, and that way my fingers can keep up with my brain! I love making notes in notepads, but haven't written a whole story (never mind novel) that way for a long, long time.

Hmmm - maybe I should give it a try?

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Might be worth a go, Karen, just for variety. I've been doing Morning Pages recently, which involve writing longhand, 3 sheets of A4 per day. Yes, it's frustrating at times (often, even!) but it also encourages flow.
Susiex

emma darwin said...

Lovely post, Susie. I write all fiction longhand, very fast and furious, with gaps and bits missing if getting them right will hold me up. Then the typing (and I'm a reasonably fast touch-typist, probably about equal in speed to longhand) becomes the first revision process. Also means I don't have the computer on - no email/blog stats/WriteWords/.

And yes, part of what sent me to trying to do it that way was the morning pages/free-writing idea, that your first draft is just brain-storming, Shitty, thinking aloud. No need to get hung up on it, just get some words down...

Susie Nott-Bower said...

THanks, Emma - I didn't realise you did the longhand thing too!
Susiex

Derek said...

Hi Susie, wireless is great for writing around the house but there is something rewarding about having to sit in a certain chair at a certain desk and do a certain amount of writing. And one day I hope to do it!

I've found pen and paper better for projects shorter than a novel. They rarely malfunction apart from ink loss and nib jam. And there's nothing so satisfying as scrunching up a failed page and hurling it across the room. You can only do that once with a laptop.

Olivia Ryan said...

I love my laptop for the same reasons, Suzie - working in the sunshine (when it shines!)or in comfort from the sofa when I feel like it. But when I went wireless I got a nasty shock - not an electric one - my internet connection won't work as far as my lounge! I can connect from my kitchen or dining room table, but it dies as I walk down the hall to the lounge or garden! However, in a way it can be a good thing sometimes to write without the distraction of the internet - don't you agree?

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Olivia, I wonder whether this is a secret message from the universe,telling you that your living-room is for RELAXING in!
Derek, d'you know, I've never yet scrunched up a page and hurled it across the room -must try -may be therapeutic!
Susiex

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