What those redacted pages might signify to writers…

One of the more helpful pages from that government report

This isn’t about politics or the plague, or plague politics or whatever. Just a few thoughts inspired by a page from a government report released to answer criticism over lack of transparency about Covid-19.

Please feel free to place your own words into that black hole.

Scientists on the Sage committee were said to be furious that parts of the report were redacted. We shall leave them to their on-point anger for now, as something else struck me: those blocked-out words represent what it feels like to be a writer.

This may be as an occasional writer of published novels few people read, or a persistent writer of novels yet to be published (guilty as charged on both counts).

Or a poet or scribbler of any creative scrawl. Or a feature writer honing a perfect piece.

Other forms of wordy frustration are available (recipes must be tricky, at a guess).

Writing is hard, they say. Oh but when those fingers dance over the keyboard, writing is easy as words queue into sentences, those sentences cluster into paragraphs, and the paragraphs crowd out pages. What can be hard about that?

Should you be innocent of the crime of writing, here’s how it goes. In a burst of creativity one day you sit down and write 500 words, a thousand words, or perhaps a few diamond sharp paragraphs that glint in the silt of your mind.

The next day you sit down to read over your brilliant words, only to discover they are no good at all. Nothing hangs together and those taut sentences have gone limp as last week’s lettuce at the bottom of the fridge. What you were trying to say is reduced to – what was I trying to say?

Every misplaced mark is hateful, all those perfect words are crossed out and you are left with a redacted page from a government report.

You may wonder why anyone bothers to write at all. But they write because people who write wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t write. Much as my gardening wife wouldn’t know what to do if she didn’t garden.

What happens next is you write more words and perhaps some of them will be good enough not to be scribbled out, and in the end you achieve something, a novel if you stick at it for months or years, or a blog if snacks have more appeal.

My first draft of the moment is a crime novel partly about mourning the famous, and partly about adolescent friendships gone bad 20 years later. Or maybe it’s about something else altogether, as you never can be sure.

Here’s a tip recently stumbled across. If writing in Word, remove the annoying spell/grammar check and go for it, free of bossy hindrance. Easier to write that way. And leave out all those annoying quotation marks for now, as the dialogue flows more easily. Or dispense with them altogether – Ali Smith gets away with that brilliantly.

Of course, another lesson in writing is that you are not Ali Smith.

Leave a Reply