ON GATHERING AND PARING BACK
14th May 2015
I have been thinking about how much has changed since I started writing novels. I didn't actually begin my first drafts on a typewriter, but back then personal computers were a novelty. In acquiring the skills to use one, I remember there were countless lost files and a corresponding quantity of tears. My bulky desk top computer was really a word processor, a superior typewriter that checked my spelling, gave me a word count, and allowed the luxury of 'cut and paste'. As an aspiring writer I instinctively loved computers and saw how much time they could save me; typewriters had iconic appeal, but for the long haul of writing a novel a computer was the perfect tool.
The Internet, when it came, had a clearly defined function: I used it for email and for research. The speed of email was thrilling, and since I lived in a place with limited library resources the ability to scour the web for information on obscure topics from my own home was invaluable. In those days the World Wide Web felt quite spacious, and I could never have imagined how quickly it would expand, how voraciously it would feed on our curiosity, our innate loneliness, and other less attractive traits.
And now I want to begin a new novel, but a novel in its early stages is a fragile thing. There is the sparking idea that might easily be extinguished if it is not fed the right material, and as it grows there is the fear of never finding the structure that will both support its development and remain invisible. It is the time when much of the thinking out of the novel is done, and it is a bit like falling in love - you want to dwell on and with the beloved most of the time