I look forward to reading Tracking Changes: A Literary History of Word-Processing, mentioned in Chris Meadows’s recent post. But as a possible shaper of prose and more, word-processing is only part of the story in the digital era. How about the Internet itself? Traditionalists such as Jonathan Franzen (photo) like to minimize their connections with the online world, at least when they’re actually writing. But I suspect we’ll see fewer and fewer writers like him.
At the personal level, I myself could not imagine writing fiction without a live connection. I, at least, just can’t do all my research ahead of time. While fleshing out my vision for a spec movie script, I again and again find myself turning to the Net for details—whether about a country’s geography or about stealth warships. I can’t anticipate all the questions that will come to mind during the actual writing. At the same time, I’m damn good at avoiding Twitter and other distractions when I want to focus. I say this even though I recognize the Net’s usefulness as a series of virtual bars for writers who can stitch together the odds and ends they accumulate there. Furthermore, I acknowledge the possibilities for writers such as Chris who have been experimenting with online collaborators.
In response to my love of the Net as a real-time research tool, Franzen might protest, “But I write from vivid memories, already begging to spill out,” and I would say, “Terrific.” But your way isn’t the way for all, especially when the writer has a fully imagined theme that he or she wants to apply to unfamiliar surrounding. In this age of Google and YouTube, it’s easier than before to research worlds far beyond our own. Must we experience everything first-hand before writing about it? Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage decades after the Civil War, which happened, in fact, before his birth. Imagine how he might have fared in the YouTube era, especially with a live Net connection and especially with Mathew Brady excelling as a videographer, not just a photographer.
Now the floor is open for debate. What are you writing, how are you using the Internet for research, and are you committing sacrilege against Franzen and the like and benefiting from a live connection as you compose? And maybe even doing live collaborations? Pros and cons of all these things?
Detail: The discussion among TeleRead regulars continues about copy editing of technical terms. As publisher of TeleRead, I was about to go with small-i “internet” in the wake of a change in the AP style guide. Chris talked me out of it—it’s like “Moon” vs. “moons” (in this case, “internets,” plural—as opposed to the grand one). Similarly we may stick with “Web” with first letter capitalized. As always, Chris and I will welcome your feedback.
Credit for Franzen photo: Here.
I’ve only read essays by Franzen, never his novels, so I can’t say he is a bad, mediocre, good, or great novelist. But I kind of agree that authors who strive for writing as an art – opposed to writing as entertainment – are probably advised to have a low to non-existent on line profile. I could not see a Philip Roth type of author hawking his wears on Goodreads or Twitter. Authors who treat writing as their business will probably want as much exposure as they can get.
If I were an author of talent, I would want to be like Salanger or Pynchon when it comes to media interactions.
On the net, it’s easy to feel like you’re the person who jumped on their horse and rode off in all directions. It takes discipline to avoid getting lost, the same kind of discipline as when you are working in a house full of books or a physical library, just more of it. This issue has always been with us but it is certainly being amplified by the internet and that trend shows no signs of abating.