Monday, 5 November 2007

Amanuensis

My take on writer’s anxiety

I have to make a confession. I don’t actually write my own stuff. I sit down and plan—in the loosest sense of the word—my stories. I type them up. At the end I print them off or upload them to Lulu, or email them off to Macmillan. But the bit where the ‘story idea’ turns into the string of connected prose we call ‘the novel’, I don’t do that.

Oops, I hope Will and the Macmillan legal people aren’t reading this.

What I actually do is this: I listen to a voice in my head. On a good day it hums along, and it’s lucky that I can type quickly. Does the voice know I’m there, writing it all down? If it does, it gives no indication. It just purrs along, a voice cool and composed, measured in its cadence, and I sit at my keyboard and take dictation. Nice work if you can get it…

Not every day is a good day. Some days the voice is halting, lame. Economy of expression becomes taciturnity. I don’t enjoy listening to it, and invariably I don’t bother. There are plenty of other things I can be doing; some of them I even get paid for.

Luckily, there are more good days than bad days. When I’ve done the dull stuff, the planning and fleshing out, the voice talks about what I want it to talk about it: if I’ve skimped on the planning stage, the voice goes its own way (and sometimes that’s even more interesting, so I let it).

What’s this got to do with writer’s anxiety? (Aside from the fact that grown man who admits to listening to voices has got every reason to be anxious?).

Just this: one day I’ll sit down, and there’ll be no voice, just me and the screen.

That’s anxiety.

7 comments:

Aliya Whiteley said...

Tut. We're meant to be persuading everyone that we're professionals, not that we listen to the voices in our heads. Take it back, Tim. They can't handle the truth.

David Isaak said...

I have a voice that tries to dictate to me, but unfortunately it seems to be speaking Urdu or some similar tongue.

It's probably just talking about footabll anyhow.

Tim Stretton said...

Oops, Aliya! I wasn't sure whether I was revealing a trade secret or admitting to being certifiable. On reflection, of course, it's both. We're all on the boderline between fruit-loop and ga-ga -- or is that just me?

David, if that voice is telling you next weekend's football results, maybe it's worth listening to...

emma darwin said...

I 'hear' what I'm writing too - I blame a childhood spent sneaking next door to watch Jackanory. [Not for our US readers - long-running Children's BBC storytelling programme]. And I read every word aloud at one stage or another. A whole novel in a weekend makes you very hoarse, but it's astonishing what you see/hear that you never did before.

But it could be worse. My sister's a professional singer. It's not one day that she wonders if the voice will happen, it's every day.

Emma

David Isaak said...

Oh, yes indeed. In addition to mumbling under my breath as I write--and back up--and rewrite--I also print everything out and wander around reading it aloud.

Which is perhaps why people tend to sort of edge away from me when I'm writing....

Roger Morris said...

Hi, Tim - really enjoyed your post. Made me think of the Cocteau film, Orphee, in which Orpheus the poet writes down amazing lines that come to him from a disembodied voice via a radio.

Janet said...

Ha! And then you'll just have to cope like the rest of us!

Well, I suppose I hear a voice sometimes too (dialogue especially seems to work like that), but far too often I have to put a gun to the head to get that voice to talk.