Monday, June 24, 2013

'The Write Tools' #42 - Amy Gray

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

Today's guest is writer Amy Gray. Amy is a freelance writer who has filed articles for the ABC, BBC, Sydney Morning Herald, King's Tribune, Essential Baby, Daily Life, The Age and The Guardian. She's currently working on her second book and occasionally blogs and tweets.

Perhaps this is an indication that I am not a proper writer but I have rarely found art or anything resembling creativity when it comes to writing. I find writing to be less an artform, more a game of tetris, desperately hoping to find the right pieces to slot in for points and sound effects.

This is where the bulk of my time is taken, endlessly dithering and seeing how placement can be altered. Though the words will flow with ease, the real issue is trying to organise them all properly and agonise over what lines, no matter how admired, I need to excise.  By the time you’ve read this line I’ve already split, shifted and joined these paragraphs. Twice.  Then I went and read another entry in the series to see how they structured theirs.

My mind treats memories like vagrants and many ideas slip away far too quickly. Naturally, I have repeatedly convinced myself that the forgotten ideas were always the best, while those remembered are nothing but a poor facsimile, flickering shadow on a cave wall.

Thus, my favourite writing tools generally cater to my weaknesses as a writer.

My solution for this is to borrow tools from my days as a project manager: an iPhone, simple blue index cards and sharpies. These are addictive crutches, even invaluable, for the average scrum master and business analyst, with many of us squirreling away a treasured stash in private places and continually carrying all three.

The index cards would be used instead of large specification documents and could represent anything from a large job (epic) to a small feature or task (story). We would place them on walls and negotiate and order their importance, shuffling them about from column to column as the work was done and approved.

For a project manager they were crucial – representative of work to be done, work that had been achieved, work that needed to be prioritised and negotiated, alternately reassuring or oppressive props in the hand. They were a pleasing installation of a to do list writ large – completed stories upon stories stacking up like tetris blocks until an epic was fully realised.

Their use for writers is as obvious as it is valuable. I can scrawl down (with the perfectly high contrast sharpie) ideas and put them away in a box for later pitching. They are props for structuring arguments or plots, easily shuffled across a table or wall or, in a moment of frustration, satisfyingly flung.  They’re also invaluable as an instant visual indicator of commissioned work that I need to write along with pitches and invoices to send, often stuck to the glass of framed prints. Once a task is complete, the pleasure of ripping up a card is immense.

An iPhone or, indeed, any smart phone is equally treasured. Though in my former work it was used to take photos of prioritised cards or text colleagues, today it has become a means to pitch or be commissioned on the run via email, text, twitter or Facebook. Its recording function is perfect for capturing interviews for later cringeful listening. The true value of the phone is its notepad function.

As a stand in for my blue cards, it is perfect for snatching ideas before I lose them or to write down a scene just as it crests. But my deep appreciation for notepad is how it helps me correct wayward articles before I fall asleep.

Though I’ve no idea why, I’m at my most productive early morning (5-10am), my ideas strike strongest in the early afternoon and thoughts on how to edit pieces occur in those 15 minutes before sleep. Often while in bed and with tomorrow’s  deadlines (or thoughts of rent) whirling, I will bash out 3 paragraphs into Notepad for a troublesome piece. It always results in better work; the words  flow and the structure asserts itself more smoothly, perhaps because I’m not standing in the way of either.

It is important though to understand both the usefulness and limitations for any tool. I have written articles using notepad on both the iPhone and iPad when given an urgent commission and it’s been a truly miserable experience. These are tools that do not grant speed or review – it’s exceptionally hard to type quickly or at any length. They are tools that give wider and immediate access, a substitute but not a complete alternative.

As a devoted and affectionate addict, it would be incredibly remiss of me to not mention smoking. Though utterly unpalatable for others in this modern age, smoking is a treasured plus one that accompanies me everywhere and is vital component to writing. Running to the balcony, it’s a pause between thoughts and keystrokes. It’s a chance to daydream elsewhere or think over points, to look up and exhale and sort through the thoughts and words I left behind. And it’s the ultimate cancerous carrot on a stick to encourage and celebrate completion.

So, give me light or darkness, mess or minimalism, coffee or tea, noise or silence,  crowd or solitude, lap or table, chair or couch or bench or floor or stoop. They don’t matter. Just give me some cards, a sharpie, a phone and an encouraging smoke to guide my mind.

1 comment:

Geoff Orton said...

Memories like vagrants, love that line.

I wonder if you've ever written a piece and then lost it completely and tried to redo it. I've done a few times with blogs or reports and found the words so much more difficult to find again.

Love this idea for a series. Fascinating.