Celebrate Your Software By Deniz Bevan

The Library in English, here in Geneva, Switzerland, recently held its annual spring book sale. I picked up a small pile of books — who could resist?

Among my finds was a book called The Complete Works of Lord Byron:

It’s about as long as my forearm and as wide as my shin, a real doorstop of a book; hardcover, of course.

But the feature I’d like to talk about is it’s publication date: 1835.

1835! The book is over 1,000 pages long and includes an index. 1835!

I can’t stop thinking about all the labour that had to go into its publication.

Someone had to write out a clean manuscript from Byron’s scrawled copies and from previously published works.

(There’s a reproduction of one of his letters in the book; not only is his handwriting all over the place, but the ink is blotchy in some parts and thin in others; the whole is a transcriber’s puzzle of the first order.)

Someone might have copy edited the MS. Someone — possibly many someones — typeset, letter by letter by letter, the entire tome.

Once the galleys had been printed, someone proofread the entire thing and someone (the same as the proofreader?) created each entry in the index.

The index was typeset. Letter by letter by letter…

The book was printed. A new group of people had to bind it, including the reproductions of the manuscript pages (how did they do this back then? Some sort of early form of photo offsetting? A cursory Google search suggests they might have done it by using the technique of lithography).

It’s amazing to think that the work was ever completed in a reasonable time frame — and this is only one book! Hundreds, if not thousands of books (both new and reprints), were published every year by this time in England alone.

Which all leads me to the process of writing, typing, and printing (and cutting and pasting — and recovering!) we take for granted today.

Whether you use Word, Pages for Mac, some other software, or the best option, Scrivener, don’t forget that it is a massively capable tool, with many features. Learn as much as you can of its tricks, its abilities, its shortcuts.

Lots of people complain about their software. They lose their documents or the software eats their words or introduces indents and fonts that they never wanted and can’t fix, and so on.

But all of this can be controlled, and all of it customised, by you — with a fraction of the labour required by a massive printing machine, fiddly blocks of lead type, and paper that costs an arm and a leg.

The best part of twenty-first century word processing software is that you don’t need to think about it at all (especially Scrivener). Don’t fight the software, fight with it! Make the programme do what you need it to do, and then forget about it. Open a file, and start pouring out your ideas.

Here’s to the painless preparation of stories!

Overcoming The Block By Deniz Bevan

We’ve all got our own methods for barrelling through the day. Some of us make lists, some of us have reminder apps, some of us keep all our errands and tasks in our heads. When you’re writing, some days the words flow and sing, and when you’re editing, some days you’re so excited that you can feel the s***ty first draft words turning to smooth, well placed sentences under your fingers.

At other times, between real life and lack of confidence, every word sounds stupid and clichéd and nothing your characters say seems plausible or remotely exciting. The best cure for that, of course, is to go out and live life for a while. Step away from the page and interact with others. Do something fun and unexpected!

For those times when you can’t do that – faced with a deadline or the need to by-gum-get-things-done – I’ve got a few tips and tricks that have helped me

Read poetry, especially something that’s written in a style completely unlike what you’re used to reading or writing. Penning a dark urban mystery? Read some Gerard Manley Hopkins. Creating a lyrical literary masterpiece? Browse some Bukowski. The contrast, and the 360 way of looking at the same old world, tends to jump start your creativity.

Research. Not in a long-term, leading to procrastination way, but in fits and starts. What’s the view from the castle at Naples? A two second Google image search. Can you use coltsfoot in stew? Another split second search. Don‎’t get distracted by photos of the Italian countryside or delicious recipes. Search, find the answer, return to the manuscript. Done! Hopefully, that’ll satisfy any urge you might have had to click over to Facebook…

Plan for writing time. “Today I will write from 1 to 3 pm.” Watch your writing time get eaten up by family demands, freelancing, household tasks, what have you. Get mad. Write anyway, even if you lose an hour’s sleep.

Go out of your comfort zone. I love writing at home, listening to my own music, accompanied by cats. Yet I get a lot more work done when I wake early and head to the coffee shop, where they play music that I can’t stand and where there’s always the possibility of overhearing ridiculous conversations (“So, like, I told him not to do that, but then he did, and I was all, how could you, and you know what my therapist says…”).

Last but not least…

Read. Write. Don’tStop. Don’tcompareyourselftoothers. There’snohurry. ChangePOVs. Writeinstreamofconsciousnesstoexploreacharacter . DrinkcoffeeStopreadingalltheso-calledrulesaboutwriting. Idleawaybythinkingofchaptertitlesorcharacternamesorbynamingashipcardoggoldfish. Siptea. Thinkaboutyourstorywhilewalkingshoweringbicycling. Re-readafavouritebookorlistentoafavouritealbum. Playagame. Daleks! Tellittosomeoneelse. Ignoreitandgowatchamovie. Eat. Blog. Exercise. Putyourantagoniststogether. Stopfocusingonbooksales-yourownorothers’. Have fun!


Deniz Bevan