Keith MacKenzie 26 letters. A million and more words. No limit to stories.

Sympathy for the writer

Think life’s hard as a writer? Ha! Think again.

Back in the day, Billy Shakespeare wrote with a feather. A freakin’ feather!

He had a jar of ink, perhaps, that he would dip into every few words, and then carefully and meticulously scrawl away.

An average day probably went something like this:

(dips ink)

To be or… (dips ink)

… not to be. That is… (dips ink)

… the question. Whether … (dips ink)

… ’tis nobler to … (candle blows out, curses wind)

… (search for something to relight candle)

… (finally, candle is relit)

… (but in the process, ink jar has been knocked over and must get a new one)

… (and so on) …

Yes, it must have been that hard. And how many plays did Shakespeare write? Thirty seven. Thirty seven plays! And not only that, but he wrote one hundred and fifty four sonnets. And probably a whole slog of other stuff that – probably thankfully – never saw the light of day.

I think someone today would have eventually said “Fuck this,” and applied online for a job as an assistant manager at Staples. It’s just much easier and at least you’d get a discount on all the office supplies that you’d need as a writer.

OK, fast forward some 250 years to the 1950s or so. Imagine yourself as a writer then. Something a little closer to today. If you went to Staples, what would you need in order to be ready to sit down and write?

Well, just off the top of my head:

  1. A pen
  2. A pencil
  3. Paper
  4. An eraser
  5. Typewriter
  6. Ink for typewriter
  7. A desk
  8. A chair
  9. A dictionary
  10. A thesaurus
  11. An encyclopaedia
  12. A lamp
  13. Earplugs (especially if you’re easily distracted)

That’s quite a bit of stuff. But at the very least, you’ll have everything you need to sit down and start writing your magnum opus that will have people forgetting that Ulysses ever existed.

Still, though, that would be a lot of work. If you’re 40 like me, you likely remember playing with you/r dad’s typewriter by pushing down all the keys all at once and giggling as the many arms of the typewriter jam together in the centre, much to your dad’s chagrin.

My point? Typewriters break down, and that was probably the single most likely reason for it.

And pens? You run out of ink. Pencils? The lead breaks and you don’t have a pencil sharpener nearby.

Light? The lightbulb emits that blue flash and suddenly you’re in the dark.

The chair? It gets wobbly. The desk, it fucking shakes because you dig too hard with your pen as you write.

So many problems.

And so, as I said before, I think most contemporaries would just shake their head at all this, sa “Fuck this,” and go to the pub for a pint. Why make life so difficult, after all?

But today, what do we have? We have laptops. Laptops have everything. I mean, everything. Apart from the desk and chair, you’d have the pen, paper, pencil, thesaurus, dictionary, encyclopaedia, typewriter, and even a lamp inside one little laptop.

Like the one I’m typing on right now. I’m lying back on my comfortable leather couch in my New Westminster apartment, pounding away on the keys on a netbook with a 11.6” screen, with wifi. I don’t need to worry about feathers or broken-down typewriters or any of that shit. I have a laptop and I can write on my laptop anytime, anywhere. And I have all the information I need at my fingertips wherever I have access to the Internet.

I’ve got no right to complain. I have everything I need, right here. Who knows what Shakespeare would have done if he had a laptop? Would he have written 337 plays instead of 37? It’s entirely plausible.

So think about that next time you get the urge to say “Fuck this,” and go work at Staples or drink at the pub. Might be a good idea to just hunker down and work through it. No one said writing was easy, after all, but it sure as hell is easier with all the gadgets we have around us.

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Four books in the fire. Dozens of short stories fluttering about. Mission: To get the word out.

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