Friday, November 17, 2006

Tablet PC becomes novelist's tool. Who knew?

When you get right down to it, keyboards are highly klunky unnatural are hardly intuitive far from ideal writing tools, because they focus your attention at the level of the keystroke, the word or the sentence break the flow of what should be a fluid, holistic intuitive process and encourage the writer to make endless revisions constantly keep changing the text and lose sight of the macro rather than micro the big picture.

Writing with pen and paper is somewhat more fluid and less fragmented, but you're still dealing with individual words -- and besides, you eventually have to retype everything anyhow, unless you can afford a typist. Dictation is probably the most spontaneous and natural, once you master its rhythms, and great works have been dictated going back as far as Milton. But who's going to take your dictation? You could record your own words and transcribe them later, but that seems more trouble than it's worth.

Fortunately, modern technology appears ready to help. Richard Powers recently told Wired he composed most of The Echo Maker on a tablet PC equipped with voice recognition software and on which, as an added bonus, he could draw and file sketches of characters and scenes.
I've always wanted the freedom to be completely disembodied when I'm writing, to feel as if I'm in a pure compositional state. Typing is a highly unnatural activity, and your writing style ends up reflecting the cognitive shackles. When I started to use the tablet, things that are extremely difficult to do on a word processor opened up to me. I could also make drawings to see what a character looked like, and these sketches would be integrated into my research. Part of the mystery of The Echo Maker hinges upon what happened on a certain stretch of road on the night of the accident. I figured that out visually by drawing the scene over and over and seeing how all the elements moved in relationship to one another.
Interesting. When I read The Echo Maker recently, its style did seem more vernacular and less mannered than some of his earlier novels. I wonder if this was why. (Thanks to Maud Newton for the link.)


Joe said...

Any idea what kind of voice recognition software he uses? (He also wrote more extensively about this in last Sunday's NY Times Book Review (back page).) I had heard so many so-so reports on voice recognition software, my interested was piqued by his ringing endorsement.

Joe said...

See above