Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Ballad Of The Typewriter And The Flying Elephant

By Jay Stringer

Habits. Crutches. Excuses. We’ve al got them.

Little superstitions that we rely on for our creative spark, or rituals that we need to go through before we feel settled enough to put words on a page.

I’ve often laughed at them. I know someone who makes a big deal of setting up a “writing space” in any new home. I always thought that was stupid. I mean, all that time spent setting up a writing space could be time spent writing, right?

I tried having a space. When we first moved into our current flat I adopted a corner of the kitchen, set up the desk with paper, pens and my laptop. Later I added a printer. But then I found that I didn’t write there; I wrote on the floor, I wrote on the bed, I wrote in the bath. More often than not I write where I’m sat right now, with my laptop perched on the arm of the sofa and my feet tucked beneath me.

I don’t need a set physical writing space, because the work is in my head. I can open up and start writing wherever I feel in the mood.

Chandler famously became dependent on alcohol. Now, anyone who becomes dependent on alcohol has far more pressing problems that whether or not they’ve convinced themselves they need the booze to write. But all of that aside, there are famous tales of him being locked away in a room with liquor and no food in order to get one last film script out of him. Sure, he didn’t really need the alcohol to get the writing done, but I’ll lay you a heavy bet that script wouldn’t have been finished if the booze had been taken away.

Cormac McCarthy wrote almost all of his novels (so far) on the same typewriter. Dumbo had a magic feather – and I thought I’d seen everything until I saw an elephant write.

But I’m a very superstitious person, and I found out this week that I do have habits. I’ve developed a few things that control how much writing I do.

Recently it has become clear that I may be lactose intolerant. Those of you who know me will know how hard this would hit me; I’m a man who places tea and coffee on an equal footing with oxygen. In the last few days I’m slowly getting used to the taste of soya milk. But for that first week, it was disgusting. I missed my milk, and so I stopped drinking tea and coffee. And with a deadline looming on (insert reference to secret project here) I found that I was struggling. Big time.

I wasn’t struggling for ideas. The story was in my head, I could look at it, feel it and touch it. But I couldn’t get it down on the page because I didn’t have a cup of warm tea in my hand.

Pathetic, right?

So once this latest round of hard work is out of the way, I’ll be doing a detox. I’ll be hunting out each and every stupid writing superstition that I’ve gathered and chucking them out.

How about you? What habits have you got? What excuses have you developed to not write?

1 comment:

Scott Parker said...

Excuses? I just point at life, the day job, or pretty much anything that passes by (stray dog, car needing oil change, the rain). I've been in a funk for about two months now. I'm out of it, largely because I think I now have something to say.

When I wrote my first book, I was in a firm frame of mine when I wrote. And I always wrote in the same place and time (spare bedroom, small desk, old PowerBook, 10pm-midnight). I write on my iPod Touch now, too, so I can literally write anywhere. It's a nice freedom to have. But I also made a point never to have a routine. I wanted the writing to be free from external constraints (can't write here because I don't have my favorite pen). It's helped.