I’m not going to slap technology in the face, but sometimes being connected into the global grid of social media and search engines can frustrate and confuse a writer who is eager to forge ahead with their manuscript. Distraction needs to be fed, and it’s a beast that doesn’t understand what discipline means.
One minute you have hot coffee in hand and the conviction to burn out 2000 words, but not before you research one little item that may enhance your story. All it will take is a minute. But beware. For instance, researching the archipelago off Sweden’s coast can suddenly turn you face-to-face with an article about how the Yankees never-ending bankroll is harming America’s favorite past-time, followed by a scathing book review on Amazon, and a recipe for a Tex-Mex meatloaf that Guy Fieri thinks is the absolute bomb. Five minutes turns into twenty. Eventually you force yourself to return to your text, the cursor blinking expectantly, and suddenly, you realize you’re back in the browser. You went from finding info about the copper weapons of the Sumerians to photographic evidence of Bigfoot, deeper into the bowels of random clicking by reading an article on whether Sarah Palin got a breast job. Precious time sure does slip away without censor in times of the ‘click and swipe’ generation.
Some may prefer to write facing a blank wall. Some may sit in a small room with a white noise machine buzzing in the corner. Some, like Jonathan Franzen, will be quite rational and simply write on a computer that is not hooked up to the internet. If only it could be that simple.
If the best writer’s advice ‘get your ass in a chair and tell your story’ isn’t working, here are some tools that can invigorate your narrative and prevent you from clicking endlessly into the void.
Fountain pens. This tool is one that requires a patient hand, helping you control your thoughts, and therefore, choosing the right word. You can’t be spastic or short-wicked with this instrument. Each word needs to glide into the paper, each line solidifying with restraint and precision. But beware, if you’re a lefty, you’re fucked. A permanent ink smudge on the side of your hand won’t be worth it, so stick with your ballpoint when it comes to vintage longhand. Another plus is when you’re on the subway — unsavory characters won’t eye you longingly as they would somebody sporting a pristine iBook on their lap. They’ll just think you’re old fashioned, which necessarily isn’t a bad thing.
Index cards. Nabokov used index cards. Everybody loves Nabokov.
If chaos suits you, Post-it notes could be the method for you. Especially when it comes to plotting images and scenes. However, a large cork board and a box of tacks will help you retain some sanity. Because waking up in the morning and finding your floor littered with notes that have lost their stick could be detrimental and damaging. You may start believing that your book is falling apart before your very own eyes. Not the wisest choice, but I do have little stacks of Post-its with fragments of dreams, half-formed ideas that have come after a night out at the pub, and clips of dialogue which blossomed in my head after the computer was shut down for the night. They’re like small bites, and if what you wrote on it sucks, you won’t feel bad crumpling it up and tossing it in the garbage.
The Macintosh. This relic always reminded me of a dismembered robot-head in a graveyard of derelict automatons. Not a highly recommended ‘off the grid’ tool unless you’re a sentimentalist. I still have mine.
The reel-to-reel voice recorder. Perhaps not a good tool for those who hate the sound of their own voice. Plus, if consuming too much whiskey, translating the drunken night’s spoken prose may be more time-consuming than you think. And prepare for saying ‘what the fuck did I say?’ on more than a dozen occasions. However there’s something quite charming about this instrument. As though you’re one of the survivors of the Apocalypse, reciting the demise of modern civilization in hopes that one day somebody will find the reels.
And lastly, the typewriter. The incessant beating of the bars against paper sometimes tricks you into believing that what you’re writing is pertinent, brilliant. But beware if you’re a smoker, because you will find yourself burning down one cigarette after the other, thinking that you’re possessed by a pulp writer back in the 1930s, paid a penny a word (when cigarettes cost a nickel a pack) – or a journalist rushing to meet a deadline. It’s important to remember that a typewriter without an ashtray next to it is a lonely piece of machinery, even if you don’t smoke. If you don’t, get a nice vintage ashtray and fill it up mints, pecans or erasers. Also, I think writing short stories on a typewriter is a good lesson in patience and form. Every writer should have one.
Now go work on that story, off the grid, just you and your imagination. But first you’ll have to research a typewriter on Ebay, or a fountain pen on amazon. Just be wary, you may not buy the pen in the end, but find yourself clicking through a list of ‘how many bad 80’s movies have you seen’, checking real estate in Brooklyn and Boston, or browsing reviews for books on how to break free from the grips of a writer’s funk.
The void beckons your attention.