Monday, December 7, 2009

'The Write Tools' #9 - Christopher Lawrence

Welcome to another edition of ‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.

Today’s guest is broadcaster, occasional author and very occasional orchestral conductor
Christopher Lawrence, whose most recent book is Swing Symphony. Christopher will be presenting Evenings around the country on ABC Local Radio during most of the summer.

Luck rather than perseverance produced my first book. A publisher wanted to convert my classical music gig on the radio into a printed equivalent. I was therefore asked to become a writer. And since my ambition was only to develop some degree of craft – the highest attainment one should expect – it would all be about the quality of the tools.

I had been writing radio scripts, magazine pieces, annotations for concert programs and other bits and pieces for decades, and had worked out that a good machine and a bit of clear air for the mind would always do the trick in these short-form exercises. My working environment seemed not to matter; I’d had to make copy about Stravinsky or baroque ornamentation in some pretty dingy, windowless spaces, amid the clatter of other typewriters.

There was a certain battery hen feel to it, all of us rolling out words for their brief life as a radio wave, but it was a good apprenticeship. I felt a bit like one of those nameless medieval scribes labouring away to illuminate his manuscript, seated at a long bench and freezing his cassock off in some unheated stone hall. And yet the work still glows and amazes a thousand years later.

I am consequently a bit sceptical of creative types who need well-appointed spaces in which to create, perhaps with the view of a lake or mountain. An ever-present display of the world’s beauty and immensity only makes one philosophical, and there is nothing more certain to undermine the intention to dream up words than the realisation of how little they matter in the scheme of things.

On the other hand, the unprepossessing space is ideal for writing, because the mind is made into a refuge by blocking out the surroundings. Those ancient monks had to be oblivious to what was around them, including the scratching of quill on vellum coming from the bloke alongside; whereas I suspect many full-time writers, nervous about losing their keyhole into the zeitgeist, spend anxious hours in comfortable seclusion trying to second-guess what everyone else might be doing.

So – any old space will do. And forget about pens and longhand. I know Stephen King says it has reconnected him to the magic of story telling, but he’s a freak. Computers and whatever will supersede them are the way. Speed is of the essence, and life is short. I bet those monks would have rejoiced in Adobe Photoshop if they’d had the option in the middle Ages. Their lives were very short.

Dictaphones are out for me too – Phillip Adams notwithstanding. Who wants even more freeze-dried conversation in the era of YouTube? It’s like last night’s uneaten risotto, having lost something when you pull it out of the fridge the next day.

My tools for the transition to more long-form writing are therefore the same as those of old, with perhaps a bit of sharpening: an ordinary room, some time, a compliant word application. The only extra requirement for me is one that rewards hard work and serves as a reminder that writing should be a joyful exercise, even when you’re on the verge of ripping up the vellum. It also inspires from time to time.

A glass of champagne.

(Photo: Jon Sullivan)


Matilda said...

Here here - I totally agree with C Lawrence.
To fuss about writing instruments, or physical spaces would mean that the mind is distracted with all these external frivolity. Excellence comes with being present with the writing.

Elisabeth said...

Think of Annie Dillard who insists on a barren writing space, no distractions whatsoever, so that the writer can enter her/his internal world.

It's 'horses for courses' but I agree with Christopher and Matilda, given the pressures we're under to write, maybe it helps to make the most of whatever space and tools might he available and adapt to change as necessary.

Damon Young said...

A good writer can write with anything, of course.

But atmosphere and equipment can enrich the experience, and make it more enjoyable, productive, flowing. This is important when one's writing every day.

To take one example, Thomas Mann: "I require totally smooth white paper fluid ink, and a new nib (pen) that glides easily on the paper. External interruptions become internalized".

The same is true for well-known authors including Proust, Conrad, Woolf, Waugh, and many of the writers in the 'Write Tools' series (myself included).