Compressed wood pulp? You must be joking

typed for your pleasure on 6 March 2010, at 3.51 am

Sdtrk: ‘We are the ones’ by ADULT.

Sometimes when I’m out and about, and the rare confluence of Having A Bit Of Free Time and Being Actually Inspired To Write happen to align, I’ll whip out my trusty Treo 700p smartphone, and merrily type away until the doctor, pope, or yakuza boss calls me in to see them. Unfortunately, some places happen to be a wee bit draconian about having cellphones in use on their property — Shitty Former Workplace, I’m looking squarely in your direction — so in those cases I’m forced to fall back on traditional analogue methods. Apart from constantly scribblin’ out parts where I have to edit, insert, or delete words, phrases, or sections, as well as my handwriting having devolved into absolute shit through lack of consistent use, pen and paper writing isn’t too bad, all told. It makes me feel like I’m doing something.

In writing this post, one whose own origins started out as a series of frantic black marks on a legal pad, my thoughts turned to genuine writers; specificially, ones who began their craft before the tail end of the 20th century. People like Ballard, Burgess, Burroughs — even authors whose names don’t start with the letter B — would often leave paper trails for their works, in the form of old drafts, character sketches, timelines, and the like. I recall reading an article on the website for The Guardian, about a bloke who was given the extremely rare opportunity to pick through the sum total of Stanley Kubrick’s written ephemera. My friend Zip Gun used to make yearly pilgrimages to the Lilly Library in Indiana, which houses undoubtedly the largest collection of Orson Welles materials in the world, as he was in the process of writing a book concerning a selection of Welles’ works. Now, that’s all well and good — keep in mind that Kubrick and Welles aren’t even writers per se, but directors — but one has to consider that not everyone who writes will have a dedicated archive to house their earlier drafts. It’d be fab if that were the case, with the exception of that Stephenie Meyer hack, of course, but would the planet have enough room? The solution is simple: turn the Moon into a library. Might as well get started now! *rolls up sleeves*

What I’m getting at, or at least, getting round to getting at, is what will become of all the first drafts for those of us who write primarily using a computer? Having the opportunity to read earlier versions of published works allow us to see their evolution, whther it’s interesting, or awkward, or both. The second revision of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ ended with a pitched, eight-page gun battle, for instance, whilst the initial draft of Camus’ ‘L’Étranger’ boldly dispensed with any and all consonants. I don’t know of many individuals that habitually save the earlier revisions of what they’ve typed for weeks, let alone months, after their final drafts are struck. Maybe I just have a slash-and-burn approach to it all, but I regularly delete my accumulated post revisions whenever I’m hashing out a post on ‘Shouting etc etc'; the WordPress platform has a specific plugin for that (thanks Delete-Revision!), so your drafts don’t bog down your server. And that sheet of legal pad paper where this post first came into existence? Currently wadded up and residing in my kitchen rubbish bin.

Christ knows I’m the last person to knock technological advancements, but one has to consider what will become of a writer’s printed legacy in the digital age? And not to sound too NPR about it, the idea of the vanishing drafts may seem insignificant at first, but do we, as a culture, lose something because of it? It’s something to think about.
If any writer-types want to get their .02 pfennig in about this — Monti, Joe, and veach, obviously I’m looking squarely in your directions, but my invitation extends to everyone — you’re more than welcome to add your thoughts on the matter

Random similar posts, for more timewasting:

Garfield, as written by Samuel Beckett on August 6th, 2006

Aren't they done with all of this 'Star wars' bollocks? on March 17th, 2005

5 have spoken to “Compressed wood pulp? You must be joking”

  1. veach writes:

    Your shout my echo.

  2. little black duck » Blog Archive » Draft versus Digital writes:

    […] Digital Thursday, March 11th, 2010 | Author: little black duck Davecat likes to ask the kinds of questions I spend a few days mulling before I answer. He wouldn’t ask a question (on his blog no less) […]

  3. MontiLee writes:

    Just follow the trackback.

  4. SafeTinspector writes:

    Snapshots and versioning can get us there from here, but requires aforethought and preparation.

    Word also has a “track changes” function, which can light up a document like a christmas tree in the wrong hands.

    Here’s a bigger worry with pure digital: what if someone systematically searches for and alters all copies of a specific work using some automated means? Depending on archiving methods and offline storage you may have a subtly altered work replacing the original without knowing it until its too late.

    Then we’ll all believe Quasimodo was a friendly cartoon fellow who had a happy ending.

  5. PBShelley writes:

    Welll. Even though you weren’t looking squarely in my direction, I’m going to answer anyway! I guess you have to be published in order to be considered a “writer”? *sigh* Working on that bit (still)!

    When I was writing poetry in my adolescence, I did it all longhand, which wasn’t too difficult as my poems weren’t as lengthy as my later prose (and Posts). I may have original drafts if I can find the notebooks; I have kept EVERYTHING draft-related! ‘cos I’m anal that way.

    None of my poetry was entered digitally; it’s all contained in a “diary” and two notebooks, all written by hand, mostly in pencil, pre-computer. Ironically enough (I suppose), my only publishing credit was a poem done in longhand over half-a-dozen drafts, and man, you should see the mess that is THAT notebook! It was the last poem I wrote, too, before I started in on the novel.

    As for that novel though… I’ve been attempting to write it (with varying degrees of dedication based upon time and energy levels) since roughly 1985. I’ve saved every one of my drafts, around 12, on 5 1/4″ floppies, then 3.5″ floppies, and finally CDs. I have at least 5 notebooks filled with notes and character sketches and maps working out relationships, conflicts, symbologies and diagrams of “working components”. And much more LOL

    But when writing in earnest I stuck to using Word due to its ease of use, especially when ruthlessly editing. It’s a lot easier to cut words out through a word processor than having to rewrite a complete 732-page manuscript BY HAND o.O

    Actually, come to think of it… I do have the first chapter of it written in longhand, but it is SO different from what it became that it hardly counts! Lily was then named “Dee” and about the only thing remaining the same is the lakeside scene, because … well, it was a nice place to start the story :-P

    There’s a certain freedom one has when writing longhand that typing at a keyboard restrains. I don’t know why. But in this day and age, “writing” digitally for publication seems the best way to submit your material. Rather than writing a book out by hand, and then having to write it again via typing doesn’t appeal to me in the least. Once (plus revisions) is enough!

    But if you’re just referring to Blogposts, I just write it all out into WP, and edit as I go (thereby taking several hours, which, given the somewhat-notorious lengths of those posts, you might appreciate). No first drafts as such are kept for Posts. I keep nothing that I post on the internet; it’s too quirky and untrustworthy. If and when I lose something I’ve written on it, I just view it as being “gone with the whim” and let it go. My real writing though… I’m much more archival and retentive ;-)

    And wordy :-P

    PBS et al

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