Notes From the Wasteland No. 36 ‘What Does It Feel Like When You Write?’

I get a rush when I write. When I’m right in the zone and words are flowing and staying connected and forming pathways for my ideas to develop and grow. When it feels like this I realise that the simple of act of putting letters next to each other, one at a time, making words and paragraphs, filling pages, telling stories and, hopefully, sometimes, reaching other people, realising that words are also bridges that connect disparate people across scattered times and spaces and places, is what I only want to do. That’s when I get a rush.

Do you feel like this sometimes?

I don’t get a rush when I write. When I’m not in the zone and my words are not flowing and they don’t stay connected and refuse to form pathways for my ideas to prevent them from developing and growing. And when it feels like this I still realise that the simple of act of putting letters next to each other, one at a time, making words and paragraphs, filling pages, telling stories and, hopefully, sometimes, reaching other people, realising that words are also bridges that connect disparate people across scattered times and spaces and places, is what I only want to do. Always.

Do you feel like this sometimes?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 35 ‘Do You Remember Learning to Drive?’

I think I type too fast. In fact, I know I type too fast. Way too fast. So fast that without fail almost every sentence I type I end up typing twice, once riddled full of errors and then once having corrected all the errors.

Does this happen to you?

I’m sure it does and when it does, do you find it irritating? I know I do. I find it incredibly irritating. I find it breaks my flow and makes me stutter and pause and that’s because every time I see a red line I have to attend to it, I can’t just leave and go back. I wish I could, that would be far simpler but I can’t, and because I can’t, it feels like I’m doubling my effort for half as much.

Do you feel this way too?

Should I have more control of my digits? Should I type slower? The answer to both questions is always of course I should have more control and of course I should type slower but if I do then would I lose out on some kind of spontaneity? Does slower and more controlled mean that my writing would suffer? As I sit and type this I have to say that I don’t have an answer. Maybe I don’t need an answer? Perhaps what I’m doing is actually writing and editing at the same time?

Is this even a thing?

If it is then I may have stumbled upon some kind of cosmic truth, like rolling back a stone and finding something valuable and lost to the world, something important, rare, even. But that’s not likely and in all honesty what I think is much more probable is that I have simply spent so much time typing that I am now over-sensitive to the whole process, acutely aware of every single, solitary tap of the keyboard. Its all a bit like driving a car. When I was learning to drive I was conscious of every single action and movement and decision I made as I was driving. That’s fine, that how you learn, by being hyper-aware, and, of course, once I passed my test this pattern continued for a while longer. I was careful, cautious and considered – the way all drivers should be. Over time, however, I noticed that I wasn’t remembering so much of the journey. I would get in the car, start it up, head off and arrive at my destination; the thinking-everything-through part of driving faded somewhat as I became more experienced and driving became more automatic.

Did this happen to you too?

Perhaps, then, with all hype aside, my returning to focussing on every single aspect of the writing process, and despite the grumblings above, is a good thing? Why would I say that? Perhaps it means that I am learning to write, again, differently, more effectively? Or, perhaps even more simply, I am still learning to write – I just had forgotten that simple fact.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 34 ‘What Does your Handwriting Look Like?’

I type all day. Every day. Each and every day. Pressing the keys and forming the words, misforming them sometimes, getting them wrong; typos, misplacings, putting my F before my O instead of the other way round. I guess I end up deleting more words, and parts of words, than I actually keep. I just can’t seem to type a sentence without it containing an error. Perhaps my fingers and thumbs have got bigger over time as keyboards have got smaller? But given all of this, and the frustration that it seems to cause, I never ever write anything out in longhand.

Longhand?

The word sounds so old-fashioned to me. The thing I spent years at school learning how to perfect, little knowing that all that hard work would be to defeated, not by aching hands, or leaky fountain pens, or blunt pencils, thin paper, or any of those other reasons why longhand doesn’t always work. But simply because I type all day. Every day.

Cards and Letters.

I do like to write birthday cards by hand but my handwriting is so big that by the time I’ve written a couple of sentences there is no room left inside the card. I used to write letters to people, people I loved, people I thought enjoyed receiving these letters. People who did enjoy receiving these letters. But I don’t any more. I just don’t. Perhaps I should again? Perhaps I will again?

I’d love to see the mess of my handwriting as it flows carelessly across a page. Being left-handed, I have always tended to smudge as I write, my hand following my words like a fleshy blotter, smudging and smearing, blurring the ink as I try hard to find the words to say as I want to say them because longhand is also a spontaneous thrill as you hope that the words you want to write look like the words they are meant to be so that whoever receives your letter can actually read what you’ve written.

I miss the feel of that particular thrill.

What does your handwriting look like?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 33 ‘Did You Ever Have a Typewriter?’

Do you worry when the page is blank in front of you? Do you feel an anxiety, an expectation? A fear that you just won’t fill it? A fear that you just can’t fill it? That you never will fill it? Just fear?

F.E.A.R.

I know I do. Like now when I started this post. I stared at the page. The page stared back at me. We know each other very well. We are truly beyond intimate now. The page knows my every thought. My every dream. Well-shared and long-shared. The page has been with me on every step of my writing journey. Not the page on this laptop. The page on every screen I have ever written on.

If I imagined the combined area of every page on every screen I have ever written on it would probably be enough to wallpaper the world, sheet by sheet by sheet. That would be some story in itself.

When I first started writing I had a typewriter and used to love the sound of the keys as they crashed against the paper. I adored the percussive smash as I pulled the carriage return across once more. The ripping sound as I turned the roller knob to line up the paper. The ink on my fingers. The ink on the page. The press of the letters. The indents and under-types. All of it. And at least with the typewriter the paper I wrote on could be thrown away, or stored somewhere, and left to yellow. To me, it made the process of writing more easily detachable. I could type a page, put that page away and then choose not to look at it again, if that was what I wanted. It made the process more discrete.

But I can honestly say that I don’t miss that typewriter. I think if I had it now I would find all the parts and processes far too mechanical, too fiddly, too easily distracting; simply too much. The simple act of doing things one sheet at a time would be too slow now, too demanding, there would be too much emphasis on the process and not enough emphasis on the act itself. I worry that my words would get lost in the execution of the act of writing itself.

Don’t get me started on the Tipp-Ex.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 32 ‘Where Do All My Words Go After They’ve Been Written?’

I once wrote a short novel about an intergalactic demon that was summoned when all the words and phrases that the world had meant to type into a search bar but didn’t because the cursor wasn’t in the search bar when the words were typed coalesced somewhere to form the demon’s name and summoned it to Earth. I ask this question not because I am worried about intergalactic demons, or, at least, not too worried – 2021 has left us all with far bigger fish to fry – but because I wonder about the fate of my words and where they live after I have written them.

I know where my words go.

Some of them are here, right now, waiting patiently as I type before they embark upon their daily journey across the social media sea to one of my many platforms. Once there, presumably, they wait patiently (again) until someone chooses to read them, or, as is more likely, chooses not to read them. They don’t disappear after they have been read, or not read, they just sit and wait until they are read again. Or just forgotten.

Some of my words sit in novels sat on real and virtual book shelves, waiting to read, or, as has happened, wonderfully, reread, read again. These words have a different life to my social media words. These words seem to mean more to more people; not enough that they are chart-topping, best-selling, Top Ten words, but enough to enough people that at least I know that these particular words have found a new home, or, more to the point, new homes. And that’s lovely, really lovely. I couldn’t want more for my words than to become someone else’s, that’s when I know that my words work.

And then there are the words that are yet to arrive, the one’s I’ll write tomorrow, or the next day. The novels I am going to finish – I have three in the pipeline. The scripts that I’m going to send – I have two ready to go. These words. Some of these words are ready and waiting. Others are simply waiting to be joined by others, so that their combination might result in their being read by someone else somewhere else. These are the words I look forward to the most, the one’s I’ve not yet written.

Where do your words go?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 31 ‘Can You Imagine Not Writing?’

One day you decide to stop writing. That’s it, you say. I won’t write another word ever again. Not a single word. I’m just going to find something else to do, anything other than write. I refuse to put the letters together one after the other any longer. I just won’t. I’ve got plenty of other things to do, you say. Plenty. I won’t have to worry, you say. There will be lots of other things I can put my mind to.

I never liked writing anyway, you say. It is just too hard to find something to say every day. I can’t stand staring at the blank screen, with the cursor blinking as it dares me to write something. I can’t stand the pressure I put on myself; to have ideas and develop them, connect thoughts and let them lead somewhere. I hate this process, you say. It makes me feel small and weak and helpless. It makes me wonder why I bother because even if I manage to string enough words together to make a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter or, even, here’s hoping, a novel, who will read it anyway?

And maybe that’s the point of all of this, the tick that makes the clock what it really is? Maybe the hate at the heart and, yes, it can be described that way, sometimes, always, not too often, never, maybe the hate at the heart of this conundrum is that we can’t always see why we do something, in this case, write, because we can’t always see who will read our writing. And this is a real reason for many people to stop, or, at least, question why they are writing in the first place.

So, the question isn’t really about what it would be like to not write ever again, because, for me, that would be impossible and absurd. Perhaps the issue here really is about whether or not we understand that by writing we are committing ourselves to a process which may be little more than any other form of regular exercise, like running, say, or cycling. Of course, writing may also be a process which is not like running, say, or cycling, but the fact of the matter is that when we run, or cycle, we do it for ourselves, unless we are amazingly lucky enough to be a professional runner or cyclist. And so for running, cycling, we can substitute writing for ourselves as a legitimate reason for writing in the first place.

Can’t we?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 30. What Do You Look For in a Sentence?

How do you like your sentences? Do you like them long and full and complex, complete with clauses and pauses and colon and commas? Do you like them parading down the page, long enough that you have to wait for them to form before you, materialising like matter in a science fiction film? Do you like them meaty and chunky, bristling with energy and effort, forcing the reader to really engage or risk losing all meaning through the simple facts of their length? Now, I’m all for punctuation, all for it. Punctuation is a life-saver. It is a life giver. Punctuation is the sinew that keeps the joints of your writing supple and fully functioning. Punctuation is the permission your words need, if any was needed, for them to take their place in the world.

Punctuation is everything.

Nowadays, the world seems to be filled with commas. Everything is continuous, in flux, never-ending, endless, and this state suits the comma, giving only brief pauses before the next thing arrives, hot on the heels of the last. This can be joyous, thrilling, wonderful, invigorating, breathless, like the frames of some wonderful scene from a wonderful film where the merging of character, space and place, and story, is perfectly judged and seamless in its edited flow. This can also be nectar on the tongue as we read and and we race, caught headlong and falling into the depths of a particular story, racing and reeling as events unfold across the unlimited boundaries of paragraph and page.

But sometimes I want brevity. I want breath. I want pause. I want to dance to a different beat. A simpler, shorter one. One that has a sense of space.

I want a simple sentence.

Not diminished. Not damaged. Truncated. Weakened. Frayed. Fragile. I want a sentence that works just as hard. Committed. Apposite. Ready. Formed properly. Shorter. Just shorter.

Period not comma.

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.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 28 ‘What Do You Do When You Can’t Write?’

It happens. It really does. It happens to all of us. Now and again. Once in a while. Every day. All the time. There are just times when we can’t write. Just can’t find the words. Or write a sentence and then delete it. A paragraph? A page? Entire sections.

We. Can’t. Write.

And so what do we do? What do you do? Me? I dig deep. I recall and remember those other times when I felt like this, when my words wouldn’t come. No matter how hard I tried. I picture those other times when I couldn’t get the words to form sentences. It used to happen a lot to me. I used to find it quite distressing, putting undue pressure on myself and then feeling like I had failed. But when it happens now I think about three things:

  1. A sentence today is a paragraph tomorrow. I can write. I have written before. I will write again. I will be satisfied with anything I can manage, even a single sentence. I will do everything I can to stop feeling bad about my (apparent) lack of progress. And then try again tomorrow.
  2. Sometimes you just can’t stop. We’ve all been there, in the flow, words forming sentences forming paragraphs. And when we’re in the flow it feels like we will never stop again. And when I can’t write I picture this flow and remember the warmth of the rush.
  3. My house was built brick by brick. In most situations, once the foundations are in place, building a house means laying brick upon brick upon brick. Writing is the same. Only in very rare circumstances do people complete novels in one go. Most of the time, we build our stories and our worlds brick by brick. This way, we can focus on the wall in front of us and not the roof that isn’t there yet.

What do you do when you can’t write?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 27 ‘Is Writing like Breathing?’

There’s something automatic about writing this paragraph. The way my fingers tap the keys and the words form from the letters I choose, the positions of which never change so over time my hands have learned to guide themselves in perfect sequence with my thoughts. Occasionally, I mis-spell a word, but that’s part of the nature of this process, like coughing, I suppose. But overall, writing this paragraph, this post, that paragraph, that book, novel, line sentence, thesis, overall, writing is like breathing, at least for me. Automatic. Regular. Vital. Essential. Laboured, sometimes. Weary. Heavy. Sometimes I am out of words like I’m out of breath, but still they come, ragged, rasping but still there. In this sense, it makes no sense to ask how do I write? Or why do I write? Because it makes no actual sense to ask how do I breath? Or why do I write? It is simply a biological fact that I write because I breathe and because I breathe I write.There is nothing else. How could there be? Why should there be? Writing is simply a function. A necessity. A fact of existence. Nothing less but everything more.

Is it the same for you? Is writing like breathing? Automatic? Regular? Life?