Sitting in my flat by the heater with the dregs of a cuppa, I started to wonder about writing a past-tense narrative of the absolute present, extracting not just a storyline but flashes of vocabulary and what I suppose might be deemed ‘creative bursts’ from my own head and spelling them out (no pun intended) on the screen in front of me. Pale blue dots pierced my vision from below; the stalwart glow of a pair of tiny travel loudspeakers, unedited and vague beneath the bevelled edge of the monitor. I wondered, suddenly, if people from the future would recognise the vocabulary I had used thus far in the mere paragraph of 112 words I had penned – nay, typed – and, while observing the typographic error of using a minus-sign in place of a dash, I realised that I had no fucking idea where the dash key was on my keyboard, a thought of horror and frustration which evacuated all previous traces of thought from my mind.
Looking back along the previous paragraph, and simultaneously at the word-count that counted up, unnoticed, in single increments as I typed, I calculated hurriedly with another part of my brain altogether that I had written 169 words, yet while penning the very explanation of that fact and pondering over the correct use of ‘while’ and ‘whilst’ and the acceptability of using the words ‘wittling’ or ‘whingeing’, I found myself faced with a sudden mental block, unable to recall the word ‘acceptability’ at all, and I had in the process written another 90 words, bringing my morning’s total up to 259, by which time it had become 274.
I re-read the opening line of my piece. It struck me that the use of the word ‘cuppa’, a colloquialism by any measure, might have occurred too early in the narrative to be apprehended comfortably by a future reader. The word sat mid-screen, arms folded, the legs of the letter ‘p’ reaching down to the jagged red underscoring of my spell-checking software, clearly uncalibrated for British residence, and the entire construction teetered feverishly there like a stilt-walker on a rocky path. Moving down the line, I noticed that I had absent-mindedly used ‘to wonder’ when, in all likelihood, ‘to set’ would have clarified the opening of the narrative, bringing not just a stronger semantic drive to the events but making them concrete, no chance of misinterpretation to stumble an eager follower of the passage before they’d even reached the first carriage return.
As I habitually self-edited the words I’d just written, it occurred to me that this was one of the flaws in my writing process. The act of re-reading stilted the flow of future thoughts. Surely there would be a better time and place for that? I continued with the narrative, noticing that a scroll-bar had appeared along the right-hand side of the screen, and that daylight was now clearly penetrating the room in which I sat. I drew the heavy curtain that hung behind the monitor, questioning for a split-second whether or not I should have used ‘hanged’ in its place. Behind the curtain, a vertical slit of a window betrayed little sign of the world outside, presenting me only with the piled flint of the building’s thick walls, lit by the grey-blue pallor of another overcast dawn.
It was time to begin my writing.