First drafts happen by hand. My own particular kind of A4 lined block has a narrow red margin down the right-hand side of the page, a wider one down the left side, and within the left hand margin four punched holes. Although I rarely file the pages the holes are indispensable to the ritual of beginning. As for the pen, it must be be a PaperMate Flexgrip Ultra with a grey and black body and black ink. I buy my pads and pens in batches and always keep a stock.
There’s a physical, nervous restlessness as I start. Like a dog straining at the leash on its early morning walk I am straining to move the pen along, quickly, and to cover the page with my marks. If I don’t think too much the letters start to unfurl from my pen onto the paper. I change gear and soon I’m being written as much as writing.
Here in Portugal the recent special edition of the magazine “Visão” commemorating José Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning novelist who died earlier this month, quotes Saramago about writing:
“I’ve invented an expression which I find beautiful: to write on the infinite page. And that is how it feels: at the same time as the words I’m writing on this page are inscribing themselves, other words, many others, everywhere, are also being written.”
Whenever we write we are indeed “writing on the infinite page.” The words we choose are also choosing us. Once that process sets in I can transfer to the computer, but the initial unfurling of words is a physical process linking me to all the other writing going on as all the others, everywhere, who at this moment are writing, make their contribution to the writing of the infinite page.
Thinking about writing in this way can be helpful, particularly if you’re stuck. You are not just writing down what you have to say but rather melting into or giving into or tuning into a bigger event happening all around you, all the time, forever.