Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Direct from the writer's mouth

Writing is the act of accepting the huge shortfall between the story in the mind and what hits the page.

That's what Richard Powers admits in his fascinating New York Times essay, and he has to be right but it's one of the hardest things to accept. There are some writers I know who will only write with a pen and paper because that way they feel the words come more directly from their body, but Powers's essay is partly about how he uses voice recognition software to dictate his novels. He claims not to have touched a keyboard for years. He's not alone either in the need to speak his words. He cites some worthy predecessors:
Dickens reportedly acted out his characters while looking in a mirror. In the final hours of his life, Proust re-dictated the death of Bergotte, supposedly claiming that he now knew what he was talking about. Once, while dictating “Finnegans Wake” to Beckett, Joyce is said to have answered a knock on the door; Beckett dutifully jotted down his “Come in.” Surprised by the transcript, a delighted Joyce let it ride.

The all-time champion of Xtreme Dictation, though, must be Thomas Aquinas. Witnesses report how he could relay four different topics to four secretaries at once, and even (Maritain writes) “lay down to rest in the midst of the dictation to continue to dictate while sleeping.”

Two writing prompts for today, one to justify the cheesy post title:

Writing prompt 5-2007 - Write a list of cliches, and then subvert them, and
Writing prompt 6-2007 - Act out one of your characters in front of a mirror. Did it change the way 'they' spoke?


Karen said...

Philip Pullman uses voice recognition software, and his dog sits companionably under his desk as he writes. Now and again a bark appears in the transcribed text - the work of the uncredited co-author.

M.E Ellis said...

I'd get on my own nerves if I 'spoke' my books!


Sarah said...

Oh, I love the dog story. Wonder if it comes before a break - ie dog needs a walk, therefore barks. PP puts down work, and the text subtly changes when he comes back. There's a phd in that, surely?