|Dark Dates 2 - the first draft (and my feet)|
An unused notebook jettisons me back to the ‘start of term’ feeling of my youth; it speaks of possibilities, of projects not yet started: but also of finiteness. A notebook runs out, you come to an ending – you get a sense of achievement and completion when you fill a notebook. On a computer, you can just keep typing: opening a notebook, you know that at some stage, you won’t be able to write anymore.
I write all of my fiction in longhand, a fact that continues to boggle many around me. In fact, it’s even more arduous than that first sounds, because for longer works, my progress goes like this: do ‘character notes’ and scenes in longhand (roughly: 7 notebooks’ worth). Pull all of those together into first draft, written in longhand (roughly: 10 notebooks), then do another longhand draft, tidying up and rewriting as I go (another 10 notebooks or so). Only then do I even consider starting to type: sometimes, not even then (I did 3 handwritten drafts of Dark Dates before I transferred it to a computer).
|Unbelievably, this is only about half of my current stash|
This is a project inherent with risk: I once had my bag stolen and the thing I was most upset about was I lost a notebook that included two weeks’ worth of work; work that, being handwritten, had no back up anywhere. But it’s also an incredibly rewarding way to work and, I think, ultimately benefits my writing. I write incredibly quickly (as anyone who attempts to read my unruly scrawl will attest), finding that nothing gets the ideas flowing faster than just sitting with a pen and letting go, but writing longhand forces me to edit slowly – a variant on Hemingway’s write drunk, edit sober theory (um, I do that too, I must admit). No matter how good I think the first draft is, I still have to type it up: it will inevitably be reread, edited and changed as I go. (I also only use one side of the paper, using the other to make notes and ask questions: as someone who struggles to maintain continuity in my plots, I need the space to go ‘why has this just happened? Where did X go?’ in the margins. )You can’t erase your mistakes, they are still there on the paper: and sometimes you come back to them and find they weren’t mistakes at all.
(If you are a lover of all things stationery, let me direct you to my idea of heaven: Liberty of London's stationery hall. You may never leave.)