Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Distraction (on not writing)

I should be getting on with some writing. I want to be getting on with some writing. It is Saturday evening, there’s nothing on TV that needs to claim my attention and here I am under the faithful light of my trusty anglepoise. I am, as Mslexia magazine would say, “a woman who writes”, I have that affliction (for more on this, do have a look at the “Gene Genie” post by that’s so pants) and I am distracting myself. Of course, you might say, blogging counts – tap tap go the keys and out come the words – but it isn’t supposed to take the place of the other. And I am doing what I suspect many of the afflicted do when they are busy not getting on with it: I am writing about not writing. This is a close bosom friend of the slightly more elevated occupation of writing about writing. Sometimes I manage to do both at the same time.

This going straight to keyboard is relatively new but already I am used to it. Perhaps it was significant that when I tried to write in my notebook the other day the ink in my pen ran out. I am spending more time at the computer screen, composing straight onto it, which is something I would never have done before. I am perhaps influenced by a writer I have recently come to know who puts in full working days, all in front of a screen. A proper grownup writer. No scribbling in notebooks for her.

But then I miss the running of ink on paper, the flow of thoughts coming down through the body, moving the arm and the hand that holds the pen, seeing the ballpoint dancing across the line and filling it up with words. I love all the paraphernalia of that kind of writing and the paper page that says, do as you please and let whatever wants to come be written on me. The screen doesn’t say that. If you make a mistake or change your mind you delete it. You don’t cross it out and then maybe come back to it later. The typed letters don’t reflect your mood or the state of your health. This is good. You can feel terrible and the characters look as they always do. It takes less strength to tap keys than it does to wield a pen. On the other hand you can’t say things like, the keyboard is mightier than the sword. It doesn’t sound right.

The computer screen can feel like a room I walk into. It takes me in, no pain, no strain. But it also gives me less strength. And staring at a screen takes a toll. Writing on the page, if I have the muscle power and when the words come, always makes me feel (relatively) well and connected to the world. On the other hand (I appear to have three), the tunnel vision experience of being inside the screen, a room within a room, offers possibilities. And perhaps I need to lose it for a space: my connection to the world.

Off I go to read Mslexia.


That's so pants said...

Dear Signs - I doubt that I will ever live this Mslexia business down. Never mind. I love what you've written here and I think that all writers procrastinate about how and when to start the day/project, whatever. If you haven't already, check out Zadie Smith's piece in yesterday's Guardian about what makes a good writer (also avaiable online). I trained as a journalist so learned to touch type and I've always found it easier to write straight to keyboard. I really enjoy typing. I also use notebooks for personal diaries and for observations when I'm out or travelling. I have special pens and like particular styles of book for different purposes. I'm also fussy about what I use for editing and correcting (propelling pencil for some things and pink ink for others). I personally don't think that any time writing is ever wasted - even if it's only a 'to do' list - as it's a way of organising your thoughts. I started blogging because I believe in the idea of writing practice (I'm a devotee of Natalie Goldberg) but don't usually like the exercises (even Natalie's). I preferred to set my own format and subject matter. If you're worried about blogging eating into your 'real' writing time you could try imposing a time limit - that worked for me. I was very taken by what Zadie Smith says about a writer's 'duty'. I've always felt that very strongly but don't equate that at all with gender. I'm not that kind of a girl - ask my family! I very quickly developed a commitment to my blog which I actually think is a good thing because it's disciplined. The downside is that it can feel like a burden (as can all writing) so I also decided that it would be acceptable to take the occasionally (notified) holiday from it!

Reading the Signs said...

Thank you ms P - and lovely to read this. I like how Zadie Smith perceives a writer's duty: "to express accurately their way of being in the world" which is perhaps another way of expressing the notion that writers should "write the truth". And she talks about what she aims for when she sits "in front of my computer."! So straight to keyboard, then. I also touch type but as I learned it in another life in order to be an office temp it took a while before I could separate keyboard from thoughts of dutiful secretary who types letters (I was that kind of a girl but the worm turned). And up to now, I would always write everything in longhand first, typing it out afterwards. I will always love notebooks and pens - and reading about writing. Something very odd has happened: two of my Natalie Goldberg books have disappeared into a black hole along with Julia Cameron's "Artist's Way." There's a message here if only I can read the signs aright. Ditch the spiral notebooks, and go straight to keyboard, perhaps? But I would still like the books back.