By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey and Jack Steel)
Rather than relying on my usual jar of instant, I occasionally drive down the valley and have a coffee in one of the local establishments. Although this costs money, obviously, my wife is keen to encourage me to do this because, rather than just ambling into the kitchen with a mug in my hand and a hopeful expression on my face, it gets me physically moving away from the computer. Quite some distance away from the computer, in fact, as it’s about a ten minute drive to the closest café.
The one we normally visit is called 5 Sentits (Catalan for ‘5 Senses’, just in case you’re not familiar with this old language) and it’s one of the most pleasant cafés I know, full of fascinating gadgets and pieces of kitchen equipment that my wife frequently decides she simply cannot live without for another hour, so our visits there are often both lengthy and expensive.
On our last visit, two things happened. First, the young Catalan owner of the establishment, Pere Armengol, talked me into giving a brief lecture at the end of the month during the next TEDx broadcast. You can find out full details on www.ted.com, but it’s basically a series of lectures broadcast internationally and streamed to specific venues. In the case of Andorra, 5 Sentits will be showing all of the English language lectures at the coming event, and to keep the audience quiet in between broadcasts, Pere has organised a couple of local talks as well, one of them mine. It’s the first time I’ve done one of these, so it should be interesting.
The second thing was more directly related to writing. Behind one of the banquettes in the café there’s always a collection of magazines of various types, mostly Spanish, but with a few French and English as well. I was idly leafing through these when I came across a writing magazine, in English. The cover was familiar enough to me – I have a subscription to it – but I hadn’t seen that particular issue. When I looked at it more closely, I realized why: it was ten years old, published in 2002.
So while my wife pottered about, looking at the Porsche steak knives and numerous other gadgets that I really hoped she wouldn’t find a home for, I leafed through the magazine, checking out the writing scene as it was a decade ago.
And what was interesting was how little things seemed to have changed. Obviously writers’ problems are perennial, which I suppose is what you’d expect. There were articles dealing with writer’s block, others suggesting new ways of finding inspiration when your novel has ground to a messy halt in a metaphorical muddy field, warnings against vanity publishers, and others extolling the virtues of the brand-new technology of POD – print on demand.
There was, predictably enough, no mention at all of electronic books, because the first release of Amazon’s Kindle was still five years away, and there was no hint at all of the turmoil that would be enveloping the world of publishing within quite a short time.
But apart from this obvious omission, the magazine could almost have been printed yesterday, as long as I made a suitable mental adjustment whenever a price was quoted, which started me wondering whether there really was anything new under the sun when it comes to the craft of writing.
And in particular whether any of the latest crop of software programs were of the slightest use to an author. I freely admit that, just as my wife is a sucker for kitchen gadgets, because she’s an extremely good cook, I’m a sucker for software programs that promise to make my life easier. I’ve bought and tried several in the past, and they have been, almost without exception, either removed from my computer in very short order, or at best left there in some dark corner of the hard drive to be used infrequently, if at all.
The problem, I think, is that when I’m writing I try and hold the entire story in my head and just basically regurgitate it onto the page. OK, it’s a little more complicated than that, but I tend to think in a kind of linear fashion, starting at the beginning and working my way through to the end. I don’t normally do plot outlines, character descriptions, locations and so on as separate entities, which is what most of these programs seem to want me to do. I have a feeling that if I started using one seriously, I would end up in a kind of filing cabinet nightmare, surrounded by electronic notes about timing, characters’ dates of birth and physical descriptions and all the rest of it, and I wouldn’t actually have any kind of story.
Of course, it’s probably just me, being something of a Luddite and refusing to embrace the new technology, but I honestly think that I work better when I start by opening up Word, create a new file and then just write the blasted book.
Anybody else feel the same way?
You can contact me at: