Separated by more than just a common language
by John Mellor
I have always had an off-putting writing technique, as in putting it off, until finally driven by a combination of self-loathing and looming deadline to reluctantly stick paper in the typewriter; it was quite a few years ago. I think this came about because I loathed copy-typing with such a passion that I didn’t want to start writing until I had the finished article sufficiently clear in my head that I could sandwich a carbon between two sheets of paper and just type the final draft straight off. Minor polishing could be accomplished with a series of xxx typed over the offending words and some scribbling with a biro. Cue the joys of computerisation.
Back in those days, however, things were different.
For the 2000 word articles I was writing for yachting magazines at the time, this technique worked well enough for me to earn a living,. A bonus was that general household chores were accomplished very efficiently, as whenever I felt I should be writing I would remember the lawn needed mowing, or the car mending or the neighbour’s dog walking, and off I would thankfully trot with my conscience appeased! Eventually, of course, something would happen to break this reverie, a snarky letter from the bank manager or insistent phone call from the magazine (“Day after tomorrow John?”), but 2000 words did not seem to take long when I forced myself to get on with it. And I sold the stuff, so the technique could not have been that bad.
Then I began writing books, and the 60,000 words and 200 illustrations required put a very different complexion on things. There could be no more procrastinating until “Day after tomorrow John?”, while I wrote it in my head. But the habit was ingrained: the lawn continued to be mowed regularly, dogs walked, boats painted, pubs visited, hours of rubbish watched on TV, and calendars eyed furtively and nervously. “How many words have you written today?” the wife would say on returning from work. “Er?” I would reply.
Eventually the day would come when self-loathing and looming deadline would conspire to make me give up mowing the lawn for quite a while. Doors would be locked, phones disconnected, curtains drawn, and carbon bravely sandwiched between two slices of crisp white paper. Then I would simply close my mind to the world and type, usually from some time after lunch till about 4 in the morning, 6 days a week until finished. And amazingly the system, although orders of magnitude harder to implement – leaving me weak in the head for weeks – still worked. I sold books.
For years I assumed that all this was because I was just lazy and lacking in motivation, and generally lucky to sell what I was knocking out. Then I read a fascinating article in which the author claimed that American and English writers generally have diametrically different writing techniques. He said Americans usually get up in the morning and methodically write their daily allotted so many words, then continue to live a normal human life. English writers, on the other hand, tended to procrastinate endlessly, mowing lawns, walking dogs, any old excuse they could think of not to work, until suddenly struck down with blind panic on looking at the calendar. They then locked themselves away 24/7 until the damn thing was finished and fired off to the publisher.
Well! You could have knocked me down with a lawnmower: I was not alone! Furthermore, this author claimed that while the American method produced solid, well-written work, the English one tended to create more inspired and imaginative writing. His carefully-analysed reasoning was that the English writer let his brain work quietly on the ideas while he mowed the lawn – sifting, sorting, pondering, juggling, imagining, and doing all sorts of other wonderfully constructive things that had enormous benefit on the finished writing when it eventually came.
Well, who was I to argue?
Genre – Magic Realism
Rating – G
More details about the book
*Connect with John Mellor on his