Sunday, July 21, 2013

Blogging via Moleskine: the Pedagogy of Transcription

Writing in Slate, blogger Justin Peters describes his blog-post writing process:
I’ve always enjoyed writing things by hand, but I didn’t formalize the process until I started blogging daily for Slate. Almost every morning, before the day starts and I start drowning in emails, I go to a coffee shop with a pen and a small Moleskine notebook. There, I try to conceive and write drafts of two separate posts before 10:30 a.m. Then, it’s back to my apartment, where I shed my pants, transcribe, and refine what I’ve written. (One of the nice things about writing my posts by hand is that it allows for a built-in revision process.) 
I can write in my notebook anywhere and everywhere. I will frequently bring it with me and dash off a rough draft while in transit—waiting for the subway, sitting on a bus. This is very convenient, as it allows me to be productive on the go without having to own a smartphone. (My current cellphone is at least 10 years old … but that’s a story for another time.)
This reminds me of something I saw close to thirty years ago, and I forget where, maybe 60 Minutes?, but it was a profile of Woody Allen and he described how he'd write short pieces for the New Yorker by long-hand on a legal pad before typing the piece for submission. But more to the point, Peters observation on revision recalls this bit from Craig Fehrman:
In the last 30 years, however, technology has shifted again, and our ideas about writing and revising are changing along with it. Today, most of us compose directly on our computers. Instead of generating physical page after physical page, which we can then reread and reorder, we now create a living document that, increasingly, is not printed at all until it becomes a final, published product. While this makes self-editing easier, Sullivan thinks it may paradoxically make wholesale revision, the kind that leads to radically rethinking our work, more difficult.
Fehrman's piece draws much from the work of Hannah Sullivan and her recently published The Work of Revision ( Sullivan's main focus is on how technologies -- cheap paper, typewriters for faster drafting -- made possible the kind of revision that literary writers (Hemingway, Wolfe, Pound, Eliot, and other modernists she studies) did. But what's key is that the act of switching  -- or not switching -- composing media, from pen and paper notebook draft to online draft (or not), alters how writers revise.

In teaching writing, then, there's a virtue to be found and built on in urging writers to use varied writing tools, everything from audio notes recorded via a phone, to a series of tweets, to notes on napkins, to drafts in notebooks, to writing in discussion boards, to drafts in a word processor, or entries in a blog, and so on. Moving one's thinking on an idea from writing space to writing space, from writing tool to writing tool, from writing occasion to writing occasion lets an idea both age and blossom in the way wine does. With any luck,  no idea would be served before its time (and place and purpose and audience).

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