Here’s something I’ve heard off and on all my life: give a roomful of monkeys typewriters (this originally predated the technological revolution), allow them enough time, and they will create a written masterpiece. In one version it’s a great novel. In another the complete works of Shakespeare.
Not once have I heard anybody argue with that theory. Not once. But since I’m about to begin the edits on my next novel, and I’m well aware of the work that got me this far, I think I’ll have a go.
To begin with, what constitutes a roomful of monkeys? One hundred? Three hundred? Let’s take two hundred as a median number. Now ask yourself what facility you know of that would want two hundred writing monkeys in residence. It’s hard enough to find a place that’s willing to house a conference of human writers. We make serious inroads into the supply of free pens and notepads such places generally offer to patrons, I’m told. We stay up late bemoaning our literary failings to others in the bar. Or loudly read out portions of our work in our rooms in the early hours of the morning. We’re free thinkers. Poor tippers. And because we’re also underpaid, we often attempt to make off with ashtrays, Gideon Bibles and free food.
This being the case imagine these two hundred monkeys in one room. Banana peels everywhere. (Insurance premiums would soar.) Consider the noise. The smell. And given monkeys’ penchants for morally questionable behaviour, well … you get the picture.
Let’s assume that problems of place can be solved, however. The next question I want to raise relates to time. “Give a monkey enough time,” the story goes. How much is enough? Novels aren’t written in a day, unless it’s in some kind of desperate contest. And monkeys aren’t noted for their attention spans. I can’t imagine a single one pecking away at the keyboard for any length of time the way I often do, pursuing an idea that seems as attractive as an entire bunch of bananas, only to have it fade away without leaving a single fruit fly behind.
Monkeys are nitpickers. That’s true. But that qualifies them as editors. Not writers. Anyway, good writing is not a random achievement. It’s the result of artistry, hard work and intention. And it’s definitely not monkey business.