Essay/Workshop > Woolf

WRITERS, WRITING #4

EQUIPMENT FAILURE

by N Quentin Woolf

This was all supposed to start on a toilet. This piece, I mean. It was meant to be all about things not working properly, and it really did start on a toilet too, but then Fate got hold of the article and did what Fate always does.

Of course, if you really want to wave a red rag at Fate, what you do is you start writing a piece entitled Equipment Failure. What happens then is that the one piece of equipment upon which you are reliant for your writing career will, for no good reason, decide that today is to be its last day among us and, with the sensibility of a Victorian lady novelist, will suddenly reveal that the sticky letter T on the keyboard (an irritant, but hardly a threat to life) is in fact a symptom of some malady that is both terminal and pressing. Yes, it really happened that way: I’d gotten back from a trip to France, and had the idea for this article, and I punched in the words Equipment Failure, and, immediately, my equipment failed. The utility of the laptop for which I’d really splashed out, reduced in a moment to that of a breeze-block. Of course, we monkeys love to erroneously induce causality, but I bloody ask you. The correspondence between action and reaction was so tight that I half-believed that I had found the ‘back door’ beloved of all computer hackers in 80s films, and that anybody, merely by typing Equipment Failure into their machine could bring upon themselves a computing apocalypse. I’d advise against trying it yourself, unless you’re one of those devil-may-care types who says ‘touch wood’ but doesn’t.

So, instead of literally writing these words, I am muttering into a voice recorder while I pace my apartment. While the fruits of this dictation will, I hope, arrive to you in every way identical to those typed by me (which is to say that some kindly soul with functioning word processing apparatus might be good enough to transcribe this for me)…

Critical Feedback Consultant N Quentin Woolf offers the fourth instalment of his Writers, Writing series which discuss the processes and challenges of creating literature. The earlier 3 pieces are available free-to-read in the archives of Sentinel Literary Quarterly. To read the full text of this 5th instalment, click here to buy a copy of the magazine.

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