Phil: Listening to Andrea Levy on Desert Island Disks over the weekend I was shocked and surprised to find that she writes her first draft on longhand.
This amazes me for many reasons. Firstly, how does her longhand get turned in to digital type ? I doubt very much that the publisher is happy to work with a big pile of paper or multiple exercise books. Like all modern businesses they will store all the data, for that is what the content of the book it, as electronic files. I bet none of them have cupboard bulging with paper nowadays ! This means that a copy typist must be taking the longhand and banging away at a keyboard to transform the book from one media to another. Now I don’t know about you, but my handwriting is terrible so anyone trying to do this for me would end up re-writing half the thing rather than constantly asking “What does that say ?”
So is the resulting manuscript pure Levy ? Possibly not. With the average book coming in at 80,000 words or more, surely at least one of them gets changed, even by accident. Now I appreciate that this relates to the first draft and there is much fiddling and polishing of the text after this which is presumably not carried out by printing the computer file and writing on it. Even so, I wonder if the people who get the chore of typing the stuff in ever read the book once published and think “I put that word in there” with a small glow of satisfaction.
More importantly though, how does she do it ? I simply can’t write fast enough with a pen. I string a lot of words together for my work and know that my brain works far faster than any pen I’ve ever held. This forms part of my justification for the aforementioned appalling handwriting. When I do try, whole words get missed as I think ahead of the scribing. Sometimes the whole thing becomes garbled or at the very least illegible. Maybe if I practiced then my hands would speed up a bit but I doubt they would ever overtake my “two fingers and a thumb” style of typing. Were I to become good enough at touch typing then the disparity would be even greater.
Worse, I simply don’t write stuff sequentially. On a course I was taught to write and not edit until the first draft was complete and I sort of stick to this but not fully. Sometimes I want to edit bits while it’s still in my head. I’ll fiddle with words and this can only happen on the screen. Do that on paper and the page quickly becomes a mass of crossing out and over-writing. Then we are back to the typist writing the book themselves. More than this, not being able to edit as I go would simply drive me nuts.
The idea of the author sitting in a cafe (Rowling) or library (Levy and sometimes nolanparker) scribbling in a notebook is very romantic but we might as well include scribing with a quill pen for all its practicality. Writing, like all crafts, requires tools. For most of us, the most vital one is a keyboard. Even if it is full of cake crumbs.