Monday, 22 February 2010

Tell me how you write - Part 4 - Alex Thornber

Here's Alex: editor of Tomlit, story maker, appreciator of analogue, to tell us how he writes.

I write to try and understand; whether it is the tender relationships between men and women or my own mind, for some reason writing it down makes it more real, easier to deal with.

I write every day, it may not always be fiction but I will write something: fragments, observations, overheard conversations. Sometimes, when words are not forthcoming, I take photos or draw.

I used to search everywhere for the perfect notebook. Until a few years ago I just wrote on anything I could find: till receipts, flyleaf, old school books etc. This proved to be a troublesome, as I invariably misplaced it all. I was mostly writing songs at that time though and it is probably a good thing they were lost. My parents bought me an A5 plain page notebook for a birthday gift one year and I filled it up in no time with giant, unorganised scrawling. It was then that I knew I would need lines, discipline, structure. I couldn't go on wasting paper, trees, ink.

When I first had the urge to write every day I bought myself a lined pocket Moleskine. Amazon recommended one to me, I don’t remember why, and it was reduced, so I took a chance. To cut out a long rambling process of trial and error with planners, different notebooks and pens, I moved from writing everything in one book to putting different things in separate books. Now, in my arsenal I have one lined Moleskine-esque notebook for writing first drafts of stories. I found this one in my local bookstore for £3. Though it is an imitation, it has a border around each page and extra space above and below the top and bottom lines; these are perfect for editing first drafts.

For the rest of my activities, writing fragments, drawing, journalism notes/plans and my book journal, I use Moleskine Cahiers, in both plain and lined pages. To keep these in order and portable I made the book you can see below.

It is a hollowed out Moleskine 18month planner with the cahiers attached by elastic bands. This way I can take out filled books and put in fresh ones. The front addition is the wonderfully handy and organised Nabakovian index cards. I write various things on these and when they are filled I put them in the back cover folder until I have dealt with them.

I write exclusively with Bic Medium's.

This way of doing things has vastly helped my organisation. Now I no longer forget or lose anything.

Hemingway said that the key to writing is to “write the truest sentence that you know.” When I first read this line, a few years ago now, it was almost like everything I had done up to that point was wrong. It was a clarifying moment. I finally understood why the stories I had been making up were rubbish; they were made up.

Everything I have written since then has either happened to me, or to someone I know. In some way, I am in every story I write.

Hemingway taught me to tell the truth. Raymond Carver taught me that the average person is far more fascinating than the unique. Without those two, I cannot say whether I would be writing today.

I write to understand. To organise my mind. To trap my thoughts on a page where they can’t bother me.

Alex Thornber writes stories, non fiction and blogs. He loves typewriters and 35mm cameras. He edits Tomlit Quarterly and has recently entered the world of zines with 'No Use Crying Over Spilt Ink'. To read his stories and keep up to date with things go to


Rachel Fenton said...

What is it with writers and moleskin notebooks?! Baffles me! I must be an exception...feel like I'm missing out on something here!

I joked somewhere recently that I wished I had shares in that notebook company - I reitterate it here!

It is fascinating to know how other writers do it though...all these little details that make a better picture/story of the writer than any other account ever could.

Thanks to both of you!

Brian Keaney said...

I write with a computer. I turn it on before I get dressed in the morning and I turn it off just before I go to bed at night. I have never used notebooks. I concentrate on getting the story right in my head first so that I could tell a shortened but inclusive version out loud if I had to. This can take a long time. When I'm ready I set to work to write the very best version of it I can using a detailed outline to help me. My way requires a lot of thinking and a lot of memorising but it makes it much more real for me.

Alex said...

@Rachel. I don't know what it is about Moleskine, they are nothing special except for the fact that you can fit a lot of writing in them and they wont fall apart. Then again my imitation one is better, as I said.

@Brian. I can't write on my computer. It feels like there is too much scope for throwaway words. I like my notebooks and my typewriters because I really think about things as I write them. Plus paper copies allow you to go back stages if you cut something you actually liked. For me computers are the final stage.

Thank you both for joining in, and thank you Teresa for setting up such an interesting conversations starter.

Teresa Stenson said...

One of the things that stood out to me after reading your response to my prompt, Alex, is that you prefer lined paper - so far the writers that have been involved in this series prefer the freedom of a blank page. I like both: for journal writing - lined; for anything else - plain. I think.

Brian - wow, that seems to be a really intense way of writing. It seems like the 'play'aspect of your creating happens in your head without an outlet until you're totally ready to commit it to the page, well, the screeen. If you'd like to write something for this series, send me an email (the link's on my profile) and I'll send you the prompt.

Rachel - same goes for you, and any other writers reading - if you fancy writing something for this series get in touch.

And I'm almost at the end of my first moleskine, and it has been a wonderful friendship so far.

Alex said...

@Teresa. I can't function with words on lined paper. I use a plain page for my sketchbook and my camera log but aside from those it has to be lined, all the way.