May. 15th, 2003

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Now that I have been reading around in LJ for almost a year I have come to the conclusion that my writing style is from a different era.

Most people let their thoughts flow onto the screen without much editing today. The computer is almost like a tape recorder, mediated by a keyboard. This is a journal form, a blog forum, so that is more than fair. I offer no criticism at all. For me, though, typing was always a prelude to being graded, so composition, grammar and spelling is necessary or I toss and turn all night. Also, this stuff is "out there where people can see it," and I am vain enough to try to hide as much of my bad writing habits as possible. In the old days, long ago, when computers were segregated into "labs," all of my free flowing random thoughts were deposited onto yellow legal pads via a #2 pencil. There the thoughts were hacked and scribbled on and rearranged until they were no longer free flowing and could be given to a long suffering girlfriend (sorry, I'm trying to be honest here) for deciphering and conversion, via a typewriter no less, into a finished composition. I made it to my senior year in college, second semester, before I used a word processor to type up a paper. Then, as the dot matrix printer ground out my paper, I thought, "This looks like crap, maybe I'll have it typed after all." Unfortunately for me the girlfriend/secretary had fled by that time and faced with a looming deadline, I balked and handed in the slightly blurry text on the low quality grayscale paper with the edges marked by the printer feeder strips. I didn't actually compose on a computer until I was in graduate school. Only recently have I come to an uneasy peace with the process. Gold stars and kudos to any one who can guess my age given what clues I have left above. ; )

There is a connection, I think, between how someone writes in a physical sense and how they read when finished. Brian Lamb of CSPAN fame understands this and is famous for asking authors "how do you write?" meaning, "where do you sit, what time of day, what medium, what tools, for how long?" Many medieval authors, for example, wrote via dictation. They spoke to scribes who wrote on short hand on wax covered boards. Then they would reread and correct the text before it went off to other scribes, usually professionals, to be converted into book form. Thomas Aquinas, a prodigy if ever there was one, would dictate up to four books at the same time. He would walk around a circle of scribes and dictate a passage to one then move on to the next as the first scribbled away, and so on around the room. Woe to the scribe who was not finished by the time he completed his circuit. A study done on Aquinas found that some chapters in his Summa Theologica fit neatly onto two wax tablets. How much of the Angelic Doctors prose was affected by him watching with one eye as the next scribe nervously come to the end of a tablet?

For myself today, I compose any extended comments or posts on the Note Pad function of my IMac. I usually edit randomly as I go, then when I near a finish, I correct it, edit some more, then read it out loud, or mutter it if in company, at least once to "see how it sounds." It is rare that a sentence remains unchanged from beginning to end. [Generally, it is rare that a sentence goes unchanged and unedited from the first draft to the last.] Finally I spell check it twice. My spelling is atrocious. (28 questionable words!) I know this all sounds pretty anal, but believe me when I say that I am much more expressive than I am retentive. One look at this room would allay any doubt. Which leads us to web cams, and a whole other kettle of fish.


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