The English Department at my secondary school did a lot of things to inspire my literary ambitions – one of which was to invite the late Terry Pratchett to come and give a talk about his writing experiences. Imbued with a heady idealism about writers and writing, I hoped Mr Pratchett (he wasn’t a Sir back then) would regale us with tales of the creative process, and somehow pass on some magic pearls of wisdom which would instantly enable us to plunge into our own rich world of creativity and become best-selling authors too. When I bravely stuck up my hand and asked him for his top piece of advice for aspiring authors, he said, “Get a word processor.” To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
Now, of course, I realise that this was jolly good advice. Even if my 17 year old ears did not wish to hear about the mundane mechanics of the writing process (I’m not quite sure what I had expected his answer to be – other than magic – but it was presumably something to do with inspiration not perspiration), now I’m….ahem….somewhat more mature, I have come to appreciate the importance of “creative hardware”. In order to write at the simplest level you need a pen and paper, but in order to write with even a semblance of professionalism, you need much more.
One of the many things which I probably took for granted in my teenage days was the space and time to write. A desk is great, a room better, but even a corner of the dining table (or if you prefer more comfort, a sofa with lots of cushions!) is perfectly fine as long as you have a period of uninterrupted time. Writers can be very inventive when it comes to finding time – after all, we all have the same number of hours in the day and we all, to some degree, choose how to use those precious hours – if it’s important to you, you’ll find the time (even if it means cutting corners elsewhere).
Next comes something to write with – and if you intend to submit work for publication, nowadays that inevitably means a laptop or computer. Honing your typing, spelling, punctuation and grammar, editing, and typesetting skills is also a must. Added to which, these days a working knowledge of email and the internet, including the use of software such as “Submittable” is a necessary part of modern writing. And that’s before you begin to engage with social media to communicate with other writers, and promote your work. Talking of which – another thing which is impossible to do without nowadays is a reliable internet connection (try running a virtual book promo when it takes 20 minutes to pick up each new message).
I did subsequently take Mr Pratchett’s advice, and got an Amstrad 8256 (oh, what a joy after my old typewriter!), which made me feel like a real writer, even though I most definitely wasn’t. It didn’t, of course, make me write. No gadget or gismo can help with that in the long term but, as they say, a workman is only as good as his tools. If you are going to write, you need the right basic equipment.
Sir Terry, you were right all along. And for that, a belated thank you.