Writing or typing drafts

It is true that we won’t have access to writers’ drafts like we used to (not that we always do, but there are great examples of them online, including some of Owen’s poems, and that moment when he gets stuck with the penultimate word in ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’, and tries out about twenty alternatives) – because so many are composed on screen. Orwell seems to have sometimes typed and then written over the typescript: see www.netcharles.com/orwell/pics/1984/1984draft.htm for the start of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. It may not be the first draft.

But I admit that I increasingly mix and match – I sometimes compose and amend the writing as I go. The problem is that it looks finished even as you type. On the other hand, there is an intensity to writing onscreen which, apart from damaging the eyesight, helps the creative process. So I’m always a bit reluctant to be dogmatic about this when I’m teaching.

But one thing I am sure of. If I don’t leave ‘the finished product’ for a few days (or weeks, or months), I can’t see what’s going right and what’s going wrong. There is an auto-hypnotic thing about composing onscreen that I like, and I think that that state of rewriting as you write can be very productive. I’ve noticed that my stock of notebooks (i.e. unused) is growing, and I guess this means that my hard drive is definitely the source of an increasing number of first drafts. And I’ve typed for so long now that I actually find the process of using a pen a little strange. I try to see it as a treat.

The only thing I do know is that I cannot write on lined paper, unless the lines are very narrow, or the paper is squared. And that my better ideas are scribbled on the flips of old Rizla packets (my vice is to smoke when I write – I don’t smoke anywhere else now).



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