Notes From The Wasteland No. 48 ‘Do You Like Commas and Colons?’

I spent three years writing a doctoral dissertation and used to love the hours I spent fussing over commas and colons. I could while away a whole afternoon formatting a single footnote and then be satisfied that this was all I had done for the day.

I worked in an enormous university library somewhere in the south east of England – it was the size of a decent shopping centre  – and had a small perch/nest (room) overlooking a large reading room. With the exception of the occasional undergraduate who was happier talking than actually reading, the sense of silence was awe-inspiring.

I treated my doctorate like a job and wrote between 9 and 12 everyday Monday to Friday. Then I would stop for lunch.

After lunch I would return to my perch and not write.

I would do anything else I felt was necessary dissertation-wise, but I avoided writing anything new.

Once I left the library for the day it was as if my doctorate didn’t exist. I was lucky to be able to forget all about it and not lay awake at night worrying whether I would finish it or not.

The next morning I would be on the bus at 8am and spend the hour it took to get to my perch reading two newspapers.

I didn’t always feel like writing but I did always feel like sitting in my perch.

I’m no longer sitting in that library but I do still eat my lunch at 12 Monday to Friday.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 37 ‘Do You Do This One Thing When You Write?’

I worry about the words I use. I constantly worry. I think too much sometimes about each word and find myself adding words when actually I should be taking them away. I’m doing it now as I write this. Look at my first two sentences. Really that should read, ‘I constantly worry about the words I use.’

I worry because, like everyone, I set myself targets – daily targets, like a regular number of words, that sort of thing. I’m sure we all do this but the fear of not reaching a target is very real, to me, at least. I feel this fear on a daily basis and when I do I tend to extend my sentences, stretching them beyond where they might likely rest if they were given a choice. This means that each word strains against the next, sometimes not making a clear enough progression through the sentence. Instead of being simply enough, my sentences contain an inherent uncertainty and this can cause them to lose their impact. This then causes my paragraphs to be longer than I would like, with a succession of extended sentences unclarifying the point of the paragraph, muddying the flow down the page.

Of course, once I’m editing I can prune back the words, hacking and cutting as if I were trimming an unruly plant. This allows me to retain, or regain, control of my words and ensures that my paragraphs don’t collapse under their own weight. You would think that I had learned my lesson by now and was disciplined enough to make sure that I controlled my words in the first place. But I’m not and I can’t so I keep extending and stretching followed by hacking and cutting. There’s something natural about this cycle, after all, something comforting, so perhaps I should simply stop complaining and keep pruning?

What do you think?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 29 ‘Does Anybody Really Like Editing?’

What does editing mean to you? Is it pleasure or pain? Does the thought of going back over what you’ve written fill you with dread? Do you resent the effort required to reread and rewrite? Does your heart sink at the thought of having to go back through the words you wrote yesterday, last week, last month, three years ago, or even just ten minutes before?

Does anybody really like editing?

There are schools of thought that say we should just go with the first things we write, leaving our words gasping on the page like newly-landed fish. The idea being that we live with the spontaneous, the fresh, the newly-caught. But my words are fragile and not yet fully formed; they buckle and break sometimes, not firm enough yet to solidify into suitable sentences and I know that if left them to their own devices they would just wither, perishing like forced fruit in the frost.

I don’t subscribe to this approach. I have spent too long planting my words, hoping that that the shoots of my ideas will take hold in the soil of the page and develop at a healthy rate. This is always my hope. The reality is often different but like plants of any kind it is necessary to trim and prune and shape and guide long before there is even a hint of flowers. In any case, I love to edit. I adore the process, the pausing and pondering, the planning, the deletion and correction. I’ll say it again.

I love to edit.

To me there is just something wonderful about the opportunity to spend more time with my words, they are mine, after all. I found them and thought of them. I placed them on the page, one after the other. I gave them a home when perhaps no one else would want them. They are mine, after all, in all their ugly splendour, however happy or sad or right or wrong or even if they are not actually going somewhere, anywhere. Whatever the case, these words are mine and they deserve my utmost care and attention. This is true whether they are the final words of a novel or the first words of a post. My words are just that, and like anything else I hold dear, I couldn’t have it any other way, I will lavish my time and attention on them. All of my time and attention, even if that means I put these words away and come back to them another time. They know I will. I always do.

Always.

How Do You Write? – A Brand-New YouTube Series

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Hi Everyone

Clearly because I have nothing better to do with my time, I have decided to launch a brand-new  series on my YouTube channel called ‘How Do You Write?’ In each episode I will be sharing some thoughts on how I write. I will also be joined from time to time by special guests who will be talking about how they write. I currently have two episodes uploaded to YouTube and if you are interested here they are.

If you sit through them both you’ll see that Episode 2 is a bit slicker than Episode 1. That’s fine, I like to think it says something about the writing journey. In any case, you can’t upload newer, revised versions of videos on YouTube, only delete them, so I took the decision to leave Episode 1 as it is. I might review that decision in the future, depending on how the series goes.

My daughter watches a lot of YouTubers and the one thing I have learned from watching them with her is that it is really necessary to ask people to like your videos and subscribe to your channel so please could you like my videos and subscribe to my channel.

Thanks for reading and for (hopefully) watching.

See you soon.

Barnaby

The Digital Divide: The Fun of Formatting

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Hi Everyone.

Editing.

I spent three years writing a doctoral dissertation and used to love the hours I spent fussing over commas and colons. I could while away a whole afternoon formatting a single footnote and then be satisfied that this was all I had done for the day.

I worked in an enormous university library somewhere in the south east of England – it was the size of a decent shopping centre  – and had a small perch/nest (room) overlooking a large reading room. With the exception of the occasional undergraduate who was happier talking than actually reading, the sense of silence was awe-inspiring.

I treated my doctorate like a job and wrote between 9 and 12 everyday Monday to Friday. Then I would stop for lunch.

After lunch I would return to my perch and not write.

I would do anything else I felt was necessary dissertation-wise, but I avoided writing anything new.

Once I left the library for the day it was as if my doctorate didn’t exist. I was lucky to be able to forget all about it and not lay awake at night worrying whether I would finish it or not.

The next morning I would be on the bus at 8am and spend the hour it took to get to my perch reading two newspapers.

I didn’t always feel like writing but I did always feel like sitting in my perch.

I’m no longer sitting in that library but I do still eat my lunch at 12 Monday to Friday.

I hope you have a productive day whatever you are doing.

Barnaby

P.S. How do you work?

 

The Digital Distance: To Print or Not to Print?

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Happy New Year Everyone

It is that wonderful time of year when all things are reset and everything begins back at the beginning.

Or does it?

The Viro project is still up and running and perhaps it is due to my years of academic training but I still need to have something printed before I can truly get to grips with it.

Like everyone else, words accumulate on-screen on a daily basis and whilst I know that they are there in front of me it also feels like they are somehow far away.

I can keep adding words (and I do keep adding words) – one of the many values of completing a PhD is the daily discipline it forces you to adhere to –  but the profoundly intimate relationship I have developed with every single one of my millions of words is also simultaneously extremely impersonal.

This is not to say that they are not my words. They most certainly are – each and every one. Perhaps I am simply acknowledging the digital distance that can now exist between oneself and one’s work.

Nor do I yearn for anything older or more intensive.

I love writing by hand but couldn’t contemplate accumulating as many words as I have managed to do over the years if I had to keep turning a page.

I save the pleasure of handwriting for cards, letters and the occasional note to school.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I have printed a draft of Book One in the Viro series and am now copy-editing it.

I’m not going to lie; this is not my favourite part of the whole process but it does mean that I get to use my favourite pen.

Have a great day everyone.