Today’s guest is author and editor Rachel Power. Rachel's most recent work is The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood, and she is now writing her third book.
Unlike Christopher Lawrence and his computer, or Philip Adams and his voice recorder, I am still attached to the physical act of writing by hand, particularly at first-draft stage — though I am very fussy about the kind of pen I use. It has to be black. And it has to be felt tip. I can’t stand biros.
My brain is dominated by an especially cruel and alert inner editor, and so I have to dodge her at every turn. (She holds court right beside the Diligent Worker and the Good Housewife, all vying for ultimate supremacy in my brain and, united, a force which guarantees no writing gets done at all lest I furiously rebel.)
Writing by hand feels, for me, more immediate than typing. I find if I use a pen — especially a felt-tip pen, which draws less attention to itself somehow than a scratchy biro — there is more flow, and less of a gap between my subconscious and the words that end up on the page. It means I can’t delete as easily. I can’t cut and paste, or check the Microsoft thesaurus every time the word doesn’t feel right. I edit later, when transcribing passages onto the computer.
There are two other major reasons why I write by hand, both due to the same factor. I have little children. Because of this I am almost always writing on the run. I might be fussy about the pen I use, but I have no such standards for my other favourite ‘tool’, which would have to be the scrappy bit of paper or random envelope dug out from the bottom of my bag, or the glovebox or floor of my car, and flattened out across my knee.
I have covered the back of countless envelopes with my near-illegible scribbling, most commonly in the queue at the supermarket, waiting at the lights, next to the stove, or leaning on the top of the pram as I walk the streets trying to get some small person to sleep. I have scribbled around the edge of phone bills, school notices, the 'Z' page of my address book, and have even been known to use up the few blank pages at the end of whichever novel I’m reading (sorry, a tad sacrilegious, I know).
I do keep a journal, but for some reason it is rarely close at hand at the vital moment. It is usually located beside my bed, where I keep it for those times when I wake with some sentences or an idea fully formed in my head which I have to get down fast, before they are distorted and overtaken by the demands of the day.
The other reason I write by hand is that in a house without a television, my computer doubles as the communal DVD player. Not such a workable situation, I have realised, as much of my time for writing has to be bought, borrowed or stolen — all too often care of the ABC. If I want an uninterrupted half-hour to myself during the day, this usually requires relinquishing my computer for its secondary role as stand-in child-pacifier.
Thank Christ for Charlie and Lola. In fact, maybe Charlie and Lola should have been mentioned upfront, superseding the black felt-tip as most important writing tool of the moment.