Tuesday, 6 January 2009
In praise of pencils – Anne Rooney
The pencil is the writer’s forgotten friend. Before a word hits the screen, there’s the delicious awakening when the muse stirs and we lure her from her cave (or café). This is the time for jotting down wild ideas, odd phrases, plot points, character traits – for courting the story, learning what it’s like and what it likes. The jotting and jiggling of this story-enticing dance is not fit work for a computer. It has to be scribbled on odd bits of the page, and the page might be an old napkin, or the edge of the newspaper, or the back of the tax return, or someone’s homework, or even your hand. This is when the pencil comes into its own (eyeliner pencil if you’re using your hand).
The pencil is for contingent or experimental work, for when we’re feeling free or when we’re feeling cautious. Will I like this idea? Or might it look so embarrassingly stupid I’ll wish I had never written it down? Did I really think I might write about an octopus with tentacle-tangle? If I rub it out quickly, no-one need ever know (not even future-me).
Or perhaps you have a beautiful, pristine notebook, the creamy pages already, in your imagination, crowded with the absolutely brilliant story you’re going to write. But it’s very difficult to sully the first page with the reality (which never matches up to the elusive Platonic ideal) and squander that promise. A pencil lets you try things out, knowing nothing need be forever. A pencil is for the writer who doesn’t have the courage of his or her convictions, who wants to flirt with words but isn’t ready for commitment.
And a pencil feels nice. It’s wooden, so it’s warm when you pick it up; the graphite glides easily onto the page, especially if you have a pencil with several Bs in its name. But then again, a pencil with several Bs makes a darker mark, so you also need an HB pencil, too, for when your ideas are even more flighty. (Promiscuous, moi?) And you need a very good eraser, because the only thing worse than a horribly stupid idea staring up at you is the smeary blur that is the incarnate remains of a horribly stupid idea, inexorably reminding you of what you tried to obliterate. And reminding you that not only did you have a really stupid idea, but that you are also very bad at buying erasers (or throwing them out when they get hard). This year, I will buy lots of nice erasers, ready to rub out all my really stupid ideas. That feels like a comforting plan.