A Way with Words
Author Damien Wilkins describes his writing day.
My mother was a typist. She often typed up PhD theses to bring in extra money when my father was a student and there were five young children to cope with. This was in London in the early 70s. Commonwealth students, haggard and wretched, would arrive at the door with their bundles of hateful, spilling paper. Later an envelope of cash, a beautifully neat typescript. Do I imagine sometimes the students weeping?
We would hear my mother typing on the dining table. The noise travelled through the house. Typewriting by a professional sounds angry, unstoppable. In the war comics I read, the machine guns would always fire RAT-A-TAT-TAT! This was the sound of my mother at the table. Back in New Zealand, she continued in this line. Usually she wore a headset and controlled a tape machine with a foot pedal. She was driving the little toy car of writing. She was typing up the dictation of men from the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Yours in faith. That machine gun. Die! Die! Die!
Foolishly, I never learnt to type, but
I’ve persuaded myself that my two-finger method proceeds at about the rate of my thoughts when I’m writing fiction. Is this true? Probably not. But it seems to work okay. And that’s the truth of any writing regime; whatever nonsense you can come up with is fine so long as you’re getting the work done.
My superstition around process is to eliminate as much superstition as possible. No favourite pencil or pen, no cherished notebook, no writing trousers, no special time of day or night, no dietary requirements. Okay, two coffees before 10.30am. God, I love a doughnut. But not a cronut.
When I was writing my last novel, Dad Art, I had time off my teaching job and worked mostly in the sunroom of our house. I hooked up my laptop to a large monitor I’d bought for recording my own music. You need the extra real estate to organise the tracks, to see at a glance all the peaks and troughs of the digital signals, where precisely to put the long cymbal splash.
I do like writing on to a big screen. I suppose it’s Large Print writing, easy on the eye. And I can see more easily where in a sentence to put the long cymbal splash.
But, really, whenever I’m wondering about the conditions for writing – is this right? is this? – I think about my mother hooked up and going for it at the dining table, with five kids. She was typing, of course, not composing a novel, but the image sticks: a person in an unpromising situation, through industry and skill, making other people cry and hand over money.
In the war comics I read, the machine guns would always fire RAT-A-TATTAT! This was the sound of my mother at the table.
Damien Wilkins: “I’ve persuaded myself that my two-finger method proceeds at about the rate of my thoughts when I’m writing fiction.”