Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Maths of Writing - Andrew Strong

Monday, February 21st 2011, 5.35pm:
time to write/time to read
I’m trying to work out if there is a correlation between the time it takes to write a decent sentence and the time it takes to read it. You’d think it would be directly inverse, as the easier something is to read, the harder it is to write.
David Edgar’s piece in last Saturday’s Guardian demonstrates this perfectly. He shows that the gorgeous passage from the King James Bible beginning ‘swords into ploughshares’ took almost a century to perfect.
time to write/time represented
Furthermore, as it’s possible that a sentence could represent any span of time from a fragment of a second (think of Nicholson Baker’s mini-epics) to millions of years, could there be a correlation between the time a sentence represents and the length of time it takes to write? No, probably not: ‘A moment later…’ is as drab as ‘A millennium later…
How to make time pass is one of those thorny potatoes that most of us have, at one time or another, attempted to mash. It is difficult to break a narrative, leaping forward an hour or two, a day, or a week, without clichés.
Later that same evening:
140/time spent on a particular tweet
Why I took to tweeting: First, the discipline of constructing a sentence of fewer than 140 characters that says something meaningful is a better distraction from having to get on with my next book, flicking peas into a bowl or creating new playlists on iTunes. Second, the tweet should be as crisp and maybe as informative as the chirp of the hungry chick. It's a good discipline. Third, I like the fact that a tweet is dated, the exact minute is given, until it eventually drifts off the tweet horizon, and becomes ancient histweet.
After a double espresso:
time spent writing/typing speed
Trying to save time by typing quickly. Never a good tictac.
Thirty Years into the Future:
lifetime/good sentences
Well, that was a nice life. I managed to write one or two good sentences. I avoided clichés like the dragonfly of eternity avoids capture in the clip clop clapping of history’s coconut shells.
Just now:
plank/light speed
The smallest unit of time a plank. It’s the length of time light takes to travel along a plank. The largest unit of time is the supereon. This is about four billion years, and about the length of time I’m taking to write my next book. If I had more time I’d make it even shorter.
But I’ll shut up now. With this shoddy and laboured blog.
About time.

8 comments:

Steve said...

Not at all 'shoddy and laboured' but highly entertaining, Andrew. And thank you for alerting me to the Edgar post. :)

Steve
http://spauljensen.wordpress.com/

catdownunder said...

Twitter is excellent discipline - providing you do not indulge in the now available 140+ character tweets!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Whose hands are holding the coconut shells of history as they clip clop? A dance to the music of time? Your post really cheered me up this morning.

Rosalie Warren said...

Like this, Andrew - but how long is a plank, that's what I'd like to know. Is it short (or doubly short), as in 'as thick as two short...'? Oh, never mind :)

Linda Newbery said...

I like this - having time passing in a narrative is always something I get snagged on. But when a writer does it well, it seems so effortless.

Andrew Strong said...

Rosalie - planks are all the same length - as in 'Plank's constant' (I think that's right, anyway). And you're right, short planks are a measure of the time things takes to sink in. Lynda, the coconuts clap themselves - unless they are Zen coconuts, in which case, there's just one, clapping itself, alone. More than 140 characters for tweeting! Horror! I'll never get anything else done.

Gillian Philip said...

You obviously don't have Schrodinger's coconuts. You never know if the blasted things are clapping or not.

Andrew Strong said...

Gillian, the coconuts are not only indeterminate, but invisible, as they are stuck in Hawking's black hole. And I'm not going in there to get them out.