Computer Support for the Literary Art of Writing
Software developers and service providers never stop telling us how well we are served by the most recent applications. Such claims will only increase with the advances in Artificial Intelligence. It is about time we witnessed to the truth of our own experience, as to exactly how well we are really served by recent information technology developments.
John de St. Jorre is an old friend of mine and an author. He has been kind enough to share his experience, concerning information technology support for book writing and his use of it, with us.
More contributions of information technology support for other forms of literary and other creation are welcome.
The case of ‘Darling Baby Mine’, a son’s extraordinary search for his mother, by John de St. Jorre – the author (JJ)
JL1 – What software/applications did you use to write the book, assuming that you did use any? A very general listing will do at this stage, plus functionality, for example, ‘Word’ used to write initial notes and early versions.J
JJ1 For the former, I used Word to write many drafts of my memoir over fifteen years and occasionally longhand trying out different techniques. At the time of finding my mum and aunt, I wrote notes, then transcribed many of them on my old portable Olivetti Lettera steam typewriter.
JL2 How good was the support provided by Word for your many drafts? For example, how did it support (or not) the tracking of the different drafts themselves – both the draft as a whole and the sections/chapters of successive drafts?
JJ2 It worked well. I kept the drafts separate, named them, and copied and pasted parts that I wanted to use in the new draft.
JL3 How good was the support provided by Word for checking the differences between drafts?
JJ3 No problem. Just looked at them.
JL4 How good was the support provided by Word for checking the difference between overall book/memoir aims and the current draft meeting thereof? For example, what it would take to make the book/memoir ‘work’ and how well that working was going on at the detailed draft level.
JJ4 I don’t really understand this question. If I needed to check anything, I simply went back to the previous draft and had a look at the relevant passages. Piece of cake.
JL5 How good was the support provided by Word for checking the common parts of successive drafts and maybe constructing them into a template to be carried forward?
JJ5 I didn’t do this. No template involved.
JL6 Were there any additional draft support functions, which you would have welcomed?
JJ6 No. I just used the basic functions of Word. I have no idea how to use all the various things on offer and don’t try to learn because I don’t need them.
JL7 Roughly how many drafts did you write altogether?
JJ7 Probably about ten between 2001 and 2015.
JL8 Was the archive support for drafts acceptable?
JJ8 No. I just used the basic functions of Word. I have no idea how to use all the various things on offer.
JL9 Were any of the above issues particular to memoir writing?
JJ9 Not that I am aware of.
JL10 Why was the support of Word not good enough for trying out the different techniques, which you did by hand ?
JJ10 I don’t know why because I never tried different techniques. I was trying to write a book and not at all interested in computer software, or indeed computers, as long as they were better than using a typewriter or a pen and paper, which they were.
JL11 Why the use of longhand, rather than Word, for trying out different writing techniques?
JJ11 Word was all I needed. I rarely used longhand, just to try out a few things like a new introduction or a bit of dialogue.
JL12 What additional functionality would be needed for trying out different writing techniques?
JJ12 I have no idea because I never tried the latter.
JL13 What sort of techniques did you try?
JL14 How did you carry forward the acceptable techniques, which you decided to adopt
JJ14 I just wrote and edited my story.
JL15 How were the latter checked/identified in the subsequent drafts?
JJ15 I didn’t use any acceptable techniques that I was aware of.
JL16 Were any of the above issues particular to memoir writing?
JJ16 Not that I am aware of but I don’t know what these above issues mean.
JL 17 Why was the support of Word not good enough for transcribing your notes?
JJ17 I used a typewriter to transcribe notes taken in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. I knew nothing about computers then.
JL18 Why was the use of a typewriter better, rather than Word, for transcribing your notes?
JJ18 See above.
JL19 What additional functionality would be needed for transcribing your notes?
JJ19 None. I just used a typewriter, because that is all I had and what everyone used at the time.
JL20 What form did the notes take, for example, page size, completeness of expression and so on?
JJ20 Just notes in various notebooks of varying size, written with a ballpoint pen, like all journalists and writers used at the time.
JL21 How did the transcribed notes find their way (or not) into drafts?
JJ21 Simple, just had them at my side, when I was writing my story.
JL22 Did the notes ever transit via writing technique trials, before becoming part of a draft?
JJ22 Sorry, I don’t understand. See answer above.
JL23 If the notes became part of a draft, was there any check of the notes against the draft for consistency and so on?
JJ23 Yes, of course. I checked to see if the draft reflected the notes. Standing operating procedure for journalists and writers.
JL24 Were any of the above issues particular to memoir writing?
JJ24 I doubt it.
Final Comment – It is hard to see how these simple answers, which are really commonsense, can be useful. All I am saying is what most journalists and writers would say, if they started work in the 1960s and continued until today.
The thing you didn’t ask concerns tape-recorders and interviews. I used cassette recorders and transcribed the notes on Word, when the computer era arrived and, more recently, digital recorders, because they are no longer making cassette ones.
However, if computer support can make writing easier in any way, I am all for it!