When do you really start writing a book? Is it that moment when a certain idea comes to you? Or maybe it’s something less focussed, a vague thing that gradually emerges, taking shape from other notes and scrapbooks of ideas; something that will eventually crawl, waddle and take its first step.
Let’s be literal here. What is the first physical step? When does the first word get typed?
Or in my case, when is it scribbled?
When does it leave your head and get committed to a physical object in the outside world?
I know today’s computers are getting more and more like writing – they call themselves “notebooks” and “tablets” and so on to emphasise the point – but I still begin with a good old-fashioned pen (OK, biro) or pencil.
For scribbles and musings. The kind of stuff you can do over a glass of red wine and a (pen-and-paper) notebook shortly after the 9pm news.
Without going into mythological twaddle about how it’s absolutely essential to be a manic depressive and drink a shedload of porter with Brendan Behan and Peter O’Toole before hitting the typewriter and crashing it to the floor, there can be a time and a place for a notepad and a glass of wine.
The one can loosen up the writing muscles; the other is pleasant enough too. A notepad and a glass of wine are one way of getting out of the usual groove, loosening up the writing muscles and ideas.
A biro scribble on a page can capture a certain pace and rhythm.
On the one hand it’s quick and instant. You can write a sentence in seconds, less than half the time it takes to boot up the iPad or Chromebook or even the mobile phone. (I’m only guessing here: I’ve never actually heard of anybody writing a novel on their Nokia Lumia 650.)
On the other hand, pen or pencil can be slow and meditative too. Of course you can cross things out, but there’s no Undo button; there’s less of an inclination to do endless twiddles and fiddles with the text. There will plenty of time later for that kind of mucking about.
Paper; pen or pencil. It’s still a brilliant interface. Doesn’t cost €250 from PC World, great for doodling too, doesn’t crash, rarely gets corrupted (a stain from the bottom of a wine glass doesn’t count) and I really don’t know or care if there’s an app that does all that.
The Spanish film director Luis Buñuel wrote in his memoirs (My Last Breath or My Last Sigh – and presumably wrote it in an exercise book or on a typewriter rather than an iPad Air) about how he preferred quiet bars to busy cafes for this kind of activity. They were “the perfect places for the meditation and contemplation indispensable to life”.
Perfect thinking spaces in perfect solitude.
So that was me six months ago, in the middle of Ireland’s long summer heatwave; the little copybook and biro booted up, a chilled glass of white at the ready.
And the first two words? “Everybody cheats.”
Funnily enough, the first couple of sentences even managed to end up in the finished book – about half way through, in a sequence that starts on page 122, line seven.