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Old 02-04-2010, 06:57 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Not Real America, according to St. Sa家h
Posts: 21,798
Default Re: Writing in the Digital Age (Susan Orlean & Kurt Andersen)

Originally Posted by Florian View Post
(I am the avatar of franco who has immigrated to another planet after listening to this dialogue. He may never return.)

Writers as brands? If only they were as useful! I suppose you could consider the average journalist or internet hack a kind of brand, replicating itself endlessly. One knows what to expect of them. They are reliable purveyors of news, opinion, gossip, humor etc. Maybe it is my education or some quirk in my former self (franco), but I expect something more of a genuine writer, whether in fiction or non-fiction: Style, voice, mystery, originality. Je ne sais quoi....

It is always interesting to hear writers talk about themselves. They seldom talk about anything else.
@Flo: Talking about themselves? You really think this is distinct to writers? In fact, one might almost define writers as those who merely are comparatively gifted at talking about themselves (or more generally, at articulating their thoughts and impressions). So: Human, please. (Or maybe, in light of your interplanetary capability, this chastisement is unfair?)

Anyway, sorry you didn't like this diavlog. I happened to find it quite pleasant to listen to. These were, to me, new, interesting, and likable people, and I guess I always like hearing writers talk about writing. In fact, I found this diavlog wonderful, so much so that it took me several hours to listen to it, because I kept having to pause it to reflect.

So, some notes, jotted down while listening ... Hey, wait. Where's everybody going?


(~5:00) It struck me as funny when Susan expressed having had a moment of ick to "brand" after she had in the previous few minutes and without irony used "Facebooking" and "going forward." She seems to have gotten over this, but having wrestled with this one myself, I would say as a general matter: Yes, it's overused, and it's especially irritating to hear it from suits (as are almost all words), but from a young person? Meh -- it's just a word in current fashion. Substitute "reputation" and see if whatever sentence at hand still has substance.

(~16:00) I see, and mostly agree with, Kurt's gripes about the rise of the memoir form. On the other hand, I'd say that I don't have complete impatience with this. Throughout history, writers have always injected something of themselves into their writing. Even non-fiction has a strong sense of "this is how I see it." This is well-nigh inescapable, and I must say that to the extent that this goal [added: of non-intrusive, non-biased observer] is attained, it's not guaranteed to be wonderful. To take an extreme example, I think back to my school days, where three of my favorite books -- Fraleigh's Calculus, White's Fluid Mechanics, and Press, et al's Numerical Recipes -- were treasures in no small part because they rewarded the careful reader with little glints of humor and opinion. To take a less extreme example, there is a reason why the largest of the Reporters at Large -- John McPhee -- has such an enviable brand, uh, has such a sterling reputation.

As to Kurt's question (and later, Susan's echo) to those who write a memoir at 25 -- "what then?" -- I'd say: point taken, but it's more of a bon mot than a legitimate complaint, I think. First, I see no reason why there should be a rule of One Memoir Per Person. There are some people for whom I'd like a twenty-volume set, delivered serially, and if this makes you roll your eyes, I'd just say that the overwhelming majority of one-off memoirs are not to my taste, either. I don't actually care what most people think, or what they did, and that is age-independent. Second, we who have asked for guidance in the craft of writing have forever been told "write what you know." So, maybe, especially in our self-absorbed age, young people will find it easiest to learn how to write, or to write better, by writing about themselves.

(~18:00) Oops, I see I should have waited before clicking Pause last time, as Susan has just more or less said the same things. Ah, well, such is blogging, as someone once said. But one more thing: one of my favorite memoirs, at least as far as how it worked when I read it goes, was written by a 27-year-old. (Who, as it happens, apologized in the introduction for his seeming presumptuousness.)

(~18:50) I strongly endorse the "as a muscle" view. Or, as the old line almost has it, how do you get to the New Yorker building? Practice, practive, ^H^H^Hce, practice.

(~34:45) I quite agree with Kurt: I also have a strong suspicion, though not one I can even express about my own self, that something changes between writing longhand and typing into a computer, and I, too, would love it if some smart person looked into this.

One small piece: it is the case that one of the few differences I was able to identify at the beginning of my own technology swap was a sense that I should continue to write first drafts longhand. I found that I spent too much time correcting typos and doing other on-the-fly edits -- like Susan, I have an affection for "clean copy" -- and this would cause me to lose my train of thought. Or, at least, my flow -- very often I'd have the sense that something that sang in my mind turned to wood by the time the words appeared on-screen.

Obviously, getting better at typing helped quite a bit. But probably even more help came from a friend who insisted that he never corrected anything until after he felt he'd gotten to the end of his first draft. Not even teh instead of the -- just keep going, he advised. I have been unable to adopt that attitude completely, but as a reminder-to-self, it remains quite helpful. (Which is not to say that my 2nd, 3rd, 4th, ... drafts are necessarily anything to write home about, as it were.)

The third thing I have found helpful, whether typing computer programs or prose, is not to let myself get stuck on any one point. If I can't find the right algorithm, or words, I just put in a double question mark, and maybe a meta-note, and move on. (Which brings me back to the beauty of electronic search.)

I still from time to time think about test-driving voice-recognition software, at least for first drafts, but given that despite my still-lousy typing I appear to have no problem generating excessive amounts of noise, I have yet to give this a try. Maybe I should, though. Maybe succinctness would even be enhanced.

(~35:50) I agree, somewhat, with Susan about the smaller amount of lines visible when writing on a computer. This used to really bother me, and it never failed to amaze me how a professional writer close to me could write her columns on a Trash-80 (4 lines of 40 characters each?!). Susan is probably right that something might have changed as a consequence -- and I do appreciate the notion of printing things out when one really wants to concentrate on something complex -- but I have to say, this seems like less of a problem lately. In between the larger screens, which now give almost as much real estate as a piece of paper (especially double-spaced) does, and the by-now learned-to-the-point-of-unconsciousness keyboard shortcuts for jumping around in a document, I don't often feel as though I'm looking through too narrow a window any more. And when one adds in the beauty of search, not to mention multiple windows as accessible as the next Alt-Tab or C-x b ... nah, I guess I don't think this is a problem anymore. Nothing has been lost; in fact, much has been gained.

In fairness, Susan writes much longer works than I almost ever attempt, but still -- switching between, say, page 19 and page 47, or between the drafts of Chapter 2 and Chapter 12, does not seem to me to be anything but easier on these fancy computer machines.

(~37:15) The changes Kurt mentions that one only wants to make after seeing the electronic work printed out is familiar. I get this even between typing in this little text box and clicking Submit. (All praise the Preview button!) So, yeah, I guess on anything important enough, I'd still print out a version that I thought was "done" and pick up an actual physical red (or blue) pencil. But ultimately, anything I look back at, or anything I see in a different form, has always made me think, "Oh, damn. That should have been ..." In some sense, no matter how many revisions, and no matter how many trees are killed, no piece of writing is really ever Done. (Except for the ones you want nothing more to do with, ever.)

[What? 10000 characters already? Part two here.]

Last edited by bjkeefe; 02-05-2010 at 01:16 AM.. Reason: add link
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