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Writing tools

In which the lead educators continue to share their insights into the writing tools they themselves prefer.
So there’s this sense that perhaps your tools for writing change throughout your career, as well, maybe. Is that something you found that you’ve changed what you use? I have, yeah. On a mundane level, different notebooks, different pens, pencils, going straight onto the computer at various points, using phones. As I say, I email myself quite a lot– which is probably not a clever thing to do, because I get too many e-mails anyway, adding to my own inbox. But there’s something about the fact that I know I will find it, because I’m always checking my emails.
So if I’ve got an idea for a poem and it’s brewing somewhere and I’m worried I might lose it and I’ve not got the capacity, or I’m carrying things and can’t write it, it’s sometimes easier to rather than getting a pen and paper out, just email it to myself and then it’s there waiting for me next time I look. I’m pretty sure that when I started writing poetry when I was a teenager, I had this really strong sense of ritual and tools. So I’d light candles around my desk if I was going to write, and I’d have some incense, and I’d have to have a blank page of paper and a really nice pen.
And the more I’ve written, the older I’ve got, the more I’ve published, It’s just become completely flexible. So actually, most of the tools that I need now are portable. It’s a bit like climbing, which is the other thing that I do. To climb, you need some fancy tools. You need certain bits of gear that you’re going to put into the rock. But actually, beyond all that, you need your fitness and your skill and your ability to read the rock. And I think I’ve come to think of poetry like that. So I’m not precious anymore about what I use. I feel like all the tools are probably up here.
I think not being precious is key, because there are all sorts of pitfalls with getting too wedded to particular tools. One is that you limit the opportunities for yourself to write, because unless those tools are to hand, you can’t do it. The more elaborate you make the process of writing, the more hallowed you make the particular method of writing, then the more you risk closing it down for yourself when you can’t replacate that or when that stops working. That can even happen with writing with a favourite pen and a favourite notebook in a particular way.
I know one contemporary poet who writes with the other hand to the hand that they naturally write with, to make the writing a slightly forced and ugly process, because they were fearful of– I can’t remember what the phrase they used was– being beguiled by their own handwriting. In other words, the sort of I am writing and it’s looking good on the page trick. So poets use all sorts of methods to stop, I suppose, fetishizing or getting too attracted to particular ways of writing. In the end, it’s about what’s happening in your head and on your tongue when you speak it. They’ve obviously got better handwriting than me. You’re not beguiled by your handwriting.
Sometimes when I worked in a nightclub on the reception desk, I’d write poems on the back of till receipts in the nightclub, and there was nothing beguiling about the way they looked at all. But that is a useful thing to think about, isn’t it? There’s this idea that no matter what you’re doing and where you are, most of your tools as a writer are portable. Yes, absolutely. So I guess what we’re saying is choose the tools that work for you with, whether that’s a particular notebook or a pad or your phone. And don’t be afraid to change them. And also, don’t be afraid to change them to see what happens to the process of writing when you change them.
That could be quite challenging and interesting. But in the end, don’t get too hung up on the tools of writing, because the most important tools are your head and your voice. Yeah, absolutely.
In the video above, Helen and Michael continue to share their thoughts on the tools of writing.
In the comments, discuss Helen and Michael’s thoughts on writing and the tools of writing. Did anything they said surprise you? Do you agree or disagree strongly with anything they said? You might want to consider the following:
  1. Michael talks about how the tools he uses to write with have changed over time. Consider your own life, from when you were a child to now: how have things changed for you? What did you use when you first learned to write? What do you like to use now?
  2. Helen compares the process of writing to rock climbing. Are there other activities that you might compare the process of writing a poem to?
  3. ‘Don’t get too hung up on the tools of writing’—what do Michael and Helen mean by this?
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