Word processors and fiction

In this month’s Wired, Sam Tanenhaus, Deborah Treisman and Lynne Truss answer* the question, “Would Moby Dick be better if Melville had used a word processor?” I like Tanenhaus’ answer best:

New technology results in cleaner copy but not necessarily in better writing and certainly not in more inspired writing. Dickens and Henry James did pretty well dictating, and Kerouac did fine going full-tilt on Benzedrine. What do we have today? Effortless deleting, copying and pasting, and block-moving. It makes life easier for us all, but sometimes I think it has helped devalue the written word in the name of bloodless perfectionism.

Treisman, fiction editor of The New Yorker, says:

When it’s so easy to try things out, to change the tense of viewpoint of a narrative, to cut five pages, or to start in the middle — you’re far more apt to take chances and to hit on an inspired revision. What people have to fight against now is the temptation to get too distracted by email or the Internet to focus on writing itself.

* Thanks to the Wired folks for letting me know that the piece is now live.


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