Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Bridge Over Troubled Writing

So, I’m listening – yes listening mostly – and watching, of course the wonderful BBC3 documentary about the making of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. One of the best albums of all times.

Listening about how it was made, the creative processes, put me in mind of creative writing too. The music producer and Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel talked about how they made the sounds, how they created that unique mix. How important it was to, instead of add echo, to actually go into an echo chamber and record in there. How instead of doing separate voice tracks the boys recorded together on one mike and then recorded separately, all perfectly in sync, and then put together Again and again they talked about how they got such great sound and textures by not over-mixing and using gizmos but going out to different settings – from corridors to churches - using musicians, instruments, people, and how these were sounds and textures which could never be replicated by machines or in the studio alone. Not that they didn’t use machines and recording studios, but “instead of adding on the hand claps we decided to actually go out and find an audience to do that.”

It made me think about how many new creative writers feel that the only way to write is on the keyboard. They think that pen and paper are anathema. They can’t see/ feel that the texture, the gradations, the flow is different with paper and pen. Yes, of course I use computer, laptops, smart phones, (I’d use an i-pad if I could afford one) – but there’s no substitute for the creative flow which goes from brain through body, down arm, to hand. Just watching Art Garfunkel describe how they made music, using the whole of his body, gesticulating, those large – sculptor-like hands – brought to mind the feel of writing and crafting with paper. Writing with which you can take actual scissors and cut and paste with actual glue, write on index cards and physically move these around a table, lay them out on the floor. No amount of Scrivener or other similar programmes will ever replicate this. I can usually tell which of my students have written a passage by hand first, and which have done so straight onto the screen.

I agree with the writer who said – you have to get stuck in and get your hands dirty. I maintain that an over-reliance on keyboards is bringing the hackneyed, the plinky-plonk, the over-edited into creative writing. I want mine to soar, to be origami, to be moulded with my body and hands in a way that the squareness of screens and keyboards can not. I don’t want to be penned in – or should that be keyboarded in.

Our lives are full of typing – from text through to i-pad to emails to report writing – all of which is great. It’s all words. But I still maintain they’re not reaching your visceral brain. What is happening is writing which is too much in the head, or too much in the heart – i.e. either striving to be “clever” or “intellectual” or too gushing and purple prose. What is needed is some of the groin/ the visceral/ the getting those finger nails dirty. I maintain you’re more likely to connect there when employing pen, scribbles, freewriting from brain down hand to paper.

At times I’m accused of being too old or a Luddite to understand. Not so. I agree with Pablo Neruda who said "The keyboard separated me from a deeper intimacy with poetry, and my hand brought me closer to that intimacy again.' Pablo Neruda. And novelist Anne Tyler agrees that the muscular movement of putting down script on the paper gets her imagination back on track and Clive Barker said that for him, handwriting is 'the most direct assocation I can make between what's going on in my mind's eye and what's going to appear on the page.'

It seems nuts to me to chuck writing by hand out of your writer’s toolkit. It’s invaluable, and nothing gives you the same flow or the same words. I’m not saying abandon the keyboard, what I’m saying is give the p’s (pen and paper) a chance (yeah, rubbish John and Yoko joke).

Back to S & G – dontcha just love Bridge Over Troubled Water?

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