Why do you want to write? I know the answer. I want to write to express myself. I want to write to put down these thoughts that run around my mind like cats jumping out of a sack. I want to heard those cat like fleeting thoughts and get them down on paper, so others can read and understand me.
Writing is like herding cats. It’s such a simple thing.
So, with the why out of the way, let’s examine the how. How do you write? With pen, iPad or like George RR Martin on an old DOS machine running an ancient copy of Wordstar. Computers and shiny things are great, but we shouldn’t let them get in the way of writing. And believe me, computers can get in the way.
Are they getting in the way of your writing? We might blame Bill Gates for his role in the development of the Personal Computer. I can still remember being mesmerised by Write, the first clunky WYSIWG word processor that came bundled with Windows 3.1. Let’s fast forward though to Microsoft Word. This software was to writing, what the Model T was to transportation. It opened it up. Suddenly everyone could be a writer and typesetter Nothing wrong with that, but for real writers software can be both a gift and a curse.
I can certainly remember my joy at University struggling with WordStar to write essays and marvelling at this magical instrument where I could copy and paste words and delete sentences and correct my writing, imperfect as it was, and make it more perfect.
And there’s the the basic problem with wordprocessing software and computers.
We CAN make every word perfect at the expense of just herding those cats and getting them out of your head before they are lost. How many times have you stopped your writing ‘flow’ to change fonts, spelling, correct grammar. All things you MUST do, but everything needs to have its place.
If you always write on a computer, try this. Grab a pad and a pen. Set a timer for 30 minutes and just free write. Do not stop. Do not correct your impossible grammar. Now, have a look at the cats you’ve herded. The ideas you’ve captured. I’d argue that you wouldn’t have written as much on a device because most of us cannot resist the siren call of self correction.
I think some of the best writing of the 20th century was done was on a typewriter. Bob Ellis, the iconoclastic Australian writer. Often asks “name the great word processed novels”. Well, I have to agree with him. You see, writing with a typewriter really focuses your mind and makes you think clearly about what it is you want to say when you’re writing. It’s much harder to correct a page of type, so care is taken in what is committed to paper. And when care is taken, more thought is given to exactly what it is you are trying to say. The tap tap tap of a typewriter keyboard is a wonderful meditation.
A counterpoint to thoughts of herding cats.
The end of each sentence once reached was a special kind of revelation. The point being, that you have wrestled the thoughts in your head and can now see them rendered in Courier font on a piece of paper in front of you. That was a special kind of writer’s magic.
Now, I’m not a luddite. I love technology. I’m an Apple geek. I love my iMac and iPad and Evernote and Scrivener and all of it. But I still write longhand to get my ideas down.
To heard my cats.
I use technology to edit but don’t get hung up on the technology of writing. You can write anywhere with a pencil and a bit of paper. That’s because, the fundamental thing about writing has not changed. We write to herd the cats. To get the thoughts and ideas out of our head and into the world.
Don’t let technology dictate whether you are a writer or not. A writer, just commits his thoughts to paper publicly, and does not worry about the consequence. A Writer, commits to the act of writing. A writer, doesn’t need a MacBook Pro or a Macbook air or whatever the device du jour of the day is. A writer will write whatever the medium.
So if you’re putting off being a writer because you don’t have the latest technology, or you feel if only you had a copy of Scrivener or some other splendid piece of writing software so you can call yourself a writer, well, I’m here to tell you that you’re deluding yourself.
The technology doesn’t make you a writer. The simple act of writing makes your writer.
So what are you waiting for. Put some time aside. Forget about the technology of writing. Go get yourself a yellow legal pad and an old Biro. It’s all good. You don’t need the latest laptop or the latest operating system to start herding cats and become a writer.
What you need are ideas. What you need is a strong voice. Because readers will react to strength and courage. The technology should not stop you.
So, what are you doing this weekend? Are you going to start writing with passion. Are you going to herd those cats no matter how imperfect your tools? Or are you going down to the Mall to have a look at the new computer that you’re sure once you own will magically make your writer. Let me prick your bubble again. The new Apple MacBook Air won’t make you a writer. Grab a pencil and grab some paper. Right?
There, you’ve got it. You are a writer. Remember, Old Will Shakespeare didn’t have a Apple MacBook Pro. And he did all right.
And he herded some splendid cats.
Have your say. How do you write? Is technology holding you back from herding your cats? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.