How You Write Isn’t Important

Reading & Writing


James Hadley Chase supposedly wrote the bestseller ‘No Orchids For Miss Blandish’ on a flight. Edgar Wallace could write a book in a day. Virginia Andrews became such a successful pulp writer that the Inland Revenue declared her technically still alive after her death because she was still earning. It took John Kennedy Toole’s mother to sell his (short) lifetime work ‘A Confederacy Of Dunces’ after his suicide. Every successful writer reaches the public via a process as unique as the book itself.

But for decades, the actual process of writing remained unchanged. Research was followed by drafts one, two and three full of carbons, pages, crossings out, then edits. Cheap paper brought us longer – but not necessarily better – books. Most of the books I love best are quite short compared to modern doorstops.

Computers introduced a more organic way of working, and soon we even stopped keeping a paper copy ‘for safety’. It evolved the process with incredible speed. I’ve carried around maybe three or four flash-drives on my keyring, in my bag and tucked in pockets for years. Everything got updated, nothing was lost. Instead of producing multiple drafts I’d produce two and a half, one blurring into one another.

Now cloud computing has changed working methods again, so that I only produce one rolling version, no other drafts. I keep open a document beside the MS which has the barest bones of the outline, but everything else is done in one, on one screen but on many devices, all of which auto-update to the cloud, so that I can write on my laptop, desktop, even on my phone and still only ever have one cloud document.

Does it change the work? It makes it faster and easier – but here’s the crucial thing; you don’t think out an idea first before committing it to the page. That happens later. It may explain why so many books feel over-edited by the publisher.

Don’t Look Back

In the effort to get my back catalogue republished, two books eluded me. One was ‘Breathe’, my novel about a smart building that goes wrong and ends up poisoning everyone inside it, and the other was ‘City Jitters 2’, which only came out in the US and featured more linked urban horror stories.

Since the switch to the cloud, several other bits and pieces have vanished too. The files existed on different devices under the same name, but the cloud didn’t recognise this and updated to the most recent version. Back-ups have proven elusive.

Do we even look back now at our old writing? The mania for photographing every part of life as if we’re all building some kind of vast archive must have reached its peak by now. I’ve all but stopped taking pictures, not that I ever took many.

But reading my early novels and reading the ones I’m writing now reveals something very clear to me; my voice has hardly changed.

The moral of this story is that you keep writing however you can and find your voice. As with actors, your work reveals your personality. Friends say ‘When I read your books I hear you.’

It doesn’t matter how you do it – you have to connect.


4 comments on “How You Write Isn’t Important”

  1. Colin says:

    Hi Chris, looking back which short story are you most proud of?

  2. Brian Evans says:

    In the documentary about Alan Bennett the other day, he says he still writes everything in longhand.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I think it’s some form of rhythm, Brian. Everyone works to the storyteller within. Bennett’s is a slower speaking teller, perhaps more finished, while Admin just gets it down, then mumbles over it until it feels right. If I ever wrote properly it would be slow, too, because the voice talks inside my head. How many people have voices talking in their heads – and I don’t mean the “kill now! Kill, kill!” kind, just narrating voices.

  4. admin says:

    I don’t really look back, Colin, to the point where it’s hard to remember what I’ve written. Revising the short stories for their new e-book incarnations has been a memory jogger though!
    I’ve always been proud of ‘All Packed’, ‘The Most Boring Woman In The World’ and ‘The Mistake at the Monsoon Palace’…

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