Past, Present, and Speculation of the Future of Writing Technologies

Writers Block by miss pupik

Standing outside for a breath before testing a writing program I am not familiar with recalls those writers who have come before with their limited technologies. I take a moment to daydream on the process of constructing novels, plays, screenplays, and even short stories in the time previous to the word processor. How easy it is for us in this new century? How easy will it become? It is no wonder why the once elite market has exploded in a variety of those dedicating their life to the craft of being a writer.

My first retrospective goes to the typewriter, the tapping out of solid words onto the page. The immediate editing process of Microsoft Word, simply hitting the delete key over the highlighted section and reconstructing the previous thought to closer perfection as the writer intends it, could not even be considered to such technology. Even when the liquid papering function was installed in the machine, it could only perform menially, a letter at a time, a punctuation mark, at most a whole word at a time, never a full sentence. Only years before this they would have to spool up the page, apply the whitener, and let it dry before they could continue the thought. Before this they would have to key the whole page over and over. Once the first draft of those thoughts were finally smashed onto paper, the real editing began. Sentences and sometimes whole paragraphs, cut and pasted into different locations of the document, are circled and arrowed with pen knowing that the entire piece must be retyped again and again until it is correct. Obsessive Compulsive editors like myself would never have made it without superior discipline. This is where the admiration of greats like Thomas Pynchon, where every word and placement has significance, must be recognized. And those like Stephen King creating volumes of work with such immensity. It is no wonder he hates the abridgment of them when every revision of a thousand page volume needs retyping after each editing. I can see the dry portion of those novels being the result of the editor self proclaiming pages as worthy for the sole reason of decreasing the workload. Did Steinbeck own a typewriter in the early years? Could he afford new ribbons and paper? This must be why Of Mice and Men is so short. What of Mellville? Jane Austen? Did they pen their works initially before consigning them to typed manuscripts? Were the walls of their rooms covered in index cards with brief character biographies, plot devices, scenery descriptions pinned into the drywall with threads of yarn connecting them to black and white photographs and illustrations like a detective movie?

Shakespeare did not have a typewriter. He jumps further backward in time to the days of quills on parchment. Notes of scratches and older versions of Midsummer Night Dream have yet to be recovered by English archaeologists. Like the zen quote about the river, one can never see the same play twice. It is constantly being rewritten as it is being performed. Lines drop. Actors ad lib. Blocking and scenery is constantly in flux to the whim of the players on stage. Surely their was a stable copy at the start and a final after the run. And I have to picture them learning their lines. Did Willie stand before them in the empty Globe Theatre running through his mix and garble of word from memory expecting them to regurgitate it after a single once over? I would like to have seen his one man show describing the first act with all of the characters and blocking and details of the scenery and pit it against the closing night for consistency. No, to construct a single line with a quill would take considerable thought before the ink every touched the surface. Taking in the scenario of a poet lingering over the page for hours on end before scribbling out a word or two gives credence to the thought that writers were lazy.

Before Email by vas0707

Now, the future is here and their will be more future tomorrow. We print one copy and xerox the rest of our novels in multiples for out writing groups to peruse. We edit. We print more. Ink is cheap and paper grows on trees. We post them on Trigger Street and The Red Room and Smashwords for user to (hopefully) read and comment. We post blogs. We podcast. We delete whole sentences at a time. We reorder paragraphs. The tacks have been removed from the walls of our study. The index cards are filed away in drawers where we can wonder what they were ever used for in the first place. Final Draft and Scrivener and Celtx organize the bodies onto virtual corkboards and sticky notes. Characters have tabs for their biographies with images and research encompassed in quick click of a button reference. We hardly even have to type anymore if we do not want. We can tell the story into a microphone and DragonNaturallySpeaking (dragonspeak) will convert the dialogue into text. Windows Journal and similar programs type out scanned handwritten documents for you.

The next great leap in writer evolution that will flood the market over the walls of the dam will be the invention of thought to text. From there it will be a short stroll into the conversion of dreams into movies. Pioneers will consume hallucinogenic drugs to record their experiences. A new Hunter Thompson will arise. Loving or being hated by a writer, if we can still call them writers, will have further consequences than they already have when they are hooked up to these experiential machines transcribing their emotions into novels.

Whole stories will be constructed in the blink of an eye, as fast as one can think them up. Is this what they thought about the video camera? We have come so far from the day when the Guttenberg Press made the scribe monk obsolete. From the days when the ancients chiseled letters into stones. Imagine the editing process of that form. We stepped over the home typesetting invention of the QWERTY keyboard, designed to be less functional than the Dvorak because the speedy keys kept sticking, to the digital manifestation of the word processor. We are now in the age of the work specific visual writing program. As much as the imaginative can prophesize, only the future can tell where we will go next. Who knows? Maybe there will be someone in the distance looking back at you for your contribution to the world and he will say, “And they had to actually write it all by hand.”

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