Anyone remember these little bits of plastic? I found this in a box in my study the other day, when I was hunting for a missing phone cable (why are all cables not standardized, to save all this hassle?).
The biggest shock about finding it isn’t simply realising that I still have a box of totally obsolete floppy discs, but that, from the label, I can see that it contains early versions of my current work-in-progress. How long is it now since I last used these discs, or had a machine with which they were compatible? It must be at least 15 years, and probably a bit more, I guess.
Admittedly, my current novel isn’t the only thing I’ve been working on all this time. I’ve written a couple of children’s stories; a contemporary novel, ‘A Scent of Roses’, which has tenuous links to my current w-i-p; begun another contemporary novel and sketched a few ideas for short stories. I’ve set up a website, converted all my back titles to ebooks and self-published three paperbacks. And there’s been quite a lot of Real Life going on as well.
Even so, if I needed a prod to get a move on with the current novel, this would certainly be it. It’s at the third (and final?) draft stage, greatly in need of work, but moving, a bit.
To explain: one thing we older writers have to contend with is the increasing aches and pains that afflict our joints from prolonged sitting at a laptop. When I was younger, I could work like this for hours with no ill effects. Sadly, that’s no longer the case, in spite of the daily walk and the weekly Pilates class. So, a standing desk seemed like a good idea, if only for occasional alternative use. I did the usual googling, considered the options and we gave ourselves a trip to Ikea at the Metro Centre—two names guaranteed to strike dread to our hearts in days gone by.
Not any more. The standing desk was tried out, bought, delivered and (after an exhausting overheated afternoon wrestling with screws, dowels and miscellaneous pieces of wood) duly assembled, with essential help from my Other Half. I spent another day rearranging my study to accommodate it, transferred my laptop to its smooth new surface, filled the drawers and shelves underneath. And then did what I haven’t done for many many years—spread file paper and pens on the now uncluttered surface of my old desk, alongside the print-out of my novel’s second draft.
When my dear departed in-laws bought me my first Amstrad (‘We heard that every writer should have a wordprocessor,’ my mother-in-law said. ‘So we’d like to give you one.’), I loved it. I wasn’t sure that it would totally replace the old pen and paper for my first drafts, but very soon it did. I still made the odd note on paper, but that was it. My wordprocessor/computer/laptop had become my central writing tool. No more laborious longhand on file paper, followed by slow typing up!
In those early days there was no broadband (or none that I’d heard of). It was a long time before I even got email, and the wireless connection came very much later. Now we are in a totally different world. There is an endless stream of online content, with which every writer needs to become involved—Facebook and Twitter, to name but two crucial social media outlets. They all take time, some of it absolutely necessary.
But not all. And that’s the trouble. It’s so very easy when struggling for that next sentence, or wondering how to improve this paragraph or get your character out of that predicament, to take a dip into Twitter, see what’s the latest news, take a quick look at your emails. Now, with my laptop banished to a corner, I have to get up and cross the room to do any of this, and I find I do it a great deal less than before.
In fact until now I hadn’t realised how very much of a potential distraction it was, to be working on a laptop. I have discovered that it’s not just the temptation to roam the internet that gets in the way of concentrated writing, especially when life brings many other unavoidable intrusions. Now, to begin work on my book, I don’t have to switch anything on, click on any links, or stare at a screen. My work is spread out on my desk for every hour of the day or night, waiting for me to come back to it whenever I choose. I can just reach for my pen and begin writing, for however long or short a time. I have a little writing haven here in my study, which I can dip in and out of at leisure. It’s not that I don’t appreciate long periods of uninterrupted writing time. I still need my precious empty mornings. But even when Real Life intrudes, I can snatch a moment or two here and there, to write down what’s in my head (and any writer will tell you that very much of the work of writing a novel takes place in her head) or rewrite a clumsy sentence. Somehow, removing the physical process of switching on, finding the right folder, clicking the link, has enabled me to remain much more closely connected to my work. In fact, I have gone back to the basic process which I first used at about 8 years old, and I’m loving it.
Having said which, I have written this blog straight onto my laptop, standing up at my Ikea Knotten desk, and that too feels right. But then I can’t abandon the twenty-first century altogether!