Network: Playwright stuff - Simon Block

Pencil and PC both have a role in Simon Block's work
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The Independent Culture
Technology is integral to how I write. It is a step-by-step process. Usually, I write a first draft in pencil, in a notebook, so that I can take the pad around with me and work wherever I am. It wouldn't be very easy to lug a computer around. I also need to read over what I have written, and I think it is easier to read from paper.

But the appeal of this first stage is that I think you write better on paper. There is something about putting the words down on the page; perhaps it is because part of your character - and therefore your fictional characters - can be seen in your handwriting. It's closer to your style, to your thoughts. And I can certainly write freehand almost as fast as I think.

When I have got as close as possible to the thoughts in my head, I transfer the notes on to my laptop. This is when I find the computer very useful: it is the perfect tool for editing and tightening copy. I can also transfer the disk to my Psion, and am therefore able to have a draft of a play with me at all times. The Psion is a great advance, mostly because the 5 Series has a keyboard that is almost identical to the normal keyboard, and the keys are a decent size. It is very useful during production - for instance, quick changes to the script can be made and the new version printed.

I also use a Dictaphone, an underrated tool, I feel. Perhaps I appreciate the Dictaphone because I'm comfortable using it in public. I once worked for a very poor company which, instead of spending money on reference books, would send me to the bookshop where I would have to read the relevant pages out loud into a Dictaphone. So, you see, it is an essential recording device!

But seriously, because, for me, writing takes place in my head mostly, the foremost act is getting it recorded in some form or another. That is the most important part, then you move on to making it as accessible as possible during the rewriting process.

Because I use the Dictaphone and Psion as well as pen and paper, I don't have to be stuck in one place when I write. Thoughts are the most important part of writing, and I need to be able to record them, whether I am at a cafe or working in the bedroom when my wife is asleep.

Through plenty of experience, I have realised the absolute necessity of getting thoughts down before they are forgotten. And I have developed a capacity to work almost anywhere. Certain pieces of technology mean that this can be done with more ease.

But ease is not the deciding factor. For instance, I wouldn't use the software which types automatically from speech. It is practical, but creatively it could be a nightmare. You run the risk of useless talk.

Also, it is worth noting that when you see words on a computer screen, they look better. An illusion is created when words appear on a computer - it makes them look smart. Again, this is why I write the first draft with pencil: it is more obvious if the words don't work.

Simon Block is currently under commission to the Royal National Theatre. His play, `No Exp. Req'd', is at Hampstead Theatre, north London, until 25 March (0171-722 9301).

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