Friday, 27 February 2009

The Moving Finger Writes; and, Having Writ...

Do you believe in serendipity, luck, coincidence? Or do you believe, as I, the mind is unconsciously preoccupied with some vague idea and suddenly everywhere you look there seem to be articles on the subject precisely because your mind, being thus preoccupied, becomes aware of them?

My mind has been mulling over the advantages of writing directly on screen compared to those of writing on the page.

As I have mentioned before, I often pick up my pen when I am stuck for an idea. I find I am less inhibited by the choice of words, grammar, structure, etc. on the lined page. Once I have a direction, I switch to the screen. It is a less forgiving environment; one in which clich├ęs, clumsy structure, sloppy composition and bad grammar demand immediate redress. This continual process of editing inevitably slows down progress and is, of course, a very contemporary malaise.

The trigger for this line of thought was the book I am currently reading, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It is a heavily annotated edition that highlights any changes made by Collins on his original manuscript - they are few and far between. I look at his words in wonder that he had the discipline of mind to compose so much before he set pen to paper. I don't have that discipline; I use the screen to compose on.

As Will Self said in an interview, "I think the computer user does their thinking on the screen, and the non-computer user is compelled, because he or she has to retype a whole text, to do a lot more thinking in the head." (From a BBC report, here.)

I feel guilty doing so because it gives the false impression that my sentences arrive perfectly formed, their birth pain-free, whereas the truth is I spend most of the time demanding the midwife pass me the pethadone.

To return to the questions posed at the start of this post, articles on the subject suddenly crystalised in the ether.

Lane was the first with her prize of a $600 Montblanc Solitaire Meisterstuck 1648. She doesn't use it to write, in her words she 'didn't really bond with it'. I can identify with that; I have a dearly loved, cheap Parker fountain pen - I prefer fountain pens to biros - that has never once criticised me in all the notebooks through which it has travelled in my company.

Then on Gary's Twitter page, I find a link that leads to a post on Flashbake, a thingybob which 'looks at any files that you ask it to check […], and records any changes made since the last check'. In essence, it charts the history of your manuscript from mangled to perfection.

And yesterday the BBC reported on the The Slow Death of Handwriting.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.


liz fenwick said...

Great post - having just spent the last three days at a lit fest it was interesting to hear who uses what to write what and at what stage........ :-)

Lane said...

Interesting. I think I'm like you (but with a bit more hair and no halo. It is a halo in your pic isn't it?).

I use a pen when I'm stuck and I love the actual process of writing with a good pen (not the Montblanc). I have to say though, that the more I get used to writing 'straight to screen', the less I hand write, just journals, notes and small pieces. I'm not sure this is such a good thing. Will ponder:-)

DOT said...

You have so much energy, liz, you leave me gasping. I've never been to a litfest but am beginning to think, if I am to take myself seriously as I writer, I ought.

It is a halo, Lane, but I usually hide it under a bushel. And please don't use that word 'hair' again. It upsets me.