Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Rambling: Writing, Novels, Tolkien, History of Middle-Earth

So, what do all the things listed in the title have to do with each other? In this case, only that I got to thinking about the way we write things these days as compared to the way Tolkien did for example. Longhand form - however messy, as compared with typing on the computer. One is not better than the other - I still do both, albeit with most of my writing on the computer, but I still do some longhand, and have binders for various projects stashed around.

Yes, it's an open secret that one day I'd love to have managed to write a book, novel or non-fiction and get it published. In going back over one of those started projects (and the notes I've left in the margins for a second draft, should I ever get that far), I got to thinking about how much we know of the way J.R.R. Tolkien created Middle-Earth and wrote within it thanks to all the drafts and re-worked pages throughout his life. Hand-written and corrected, with things crossed out and rephrased, different colours of ink, written over top of typed. It's possible on each page to trace the evolution of a plot point, verse or story idea and to realize the amount of work that went into each sentence. Will we ever have that kind of information for any other author or novel again? Will we want to have it again?

Of course, even if we have that kind of information, will there ever be someone with the dedication of Christopher Tolkien to making all that information available to the public in an organized fashion?

I got to wondering about all this as I thought about the ease of editing and rewriting on the computer - a couple of clicks and the whole thing can be deleted only to start again - half the time, I think, all you're left with is more or less the final version. All the changes are more or less lost to history - should, of course, anyone be interested.

What kind of an impact does the computer have on writing? It's so easy to change things over and over. Of course, should you decide later that you preferred an earlier version of something, unless you did "save as" or pasted out the sections you're editing, you've got to try and reconstruct it from memory - and depending how long ago it was edited, that can be quite the challenge.

First draft, second draft, do they even exist any longer, seeing as half the time with the computer we can work within the same document? All the things we were taught to do in terms of essay writing and creative writing in English classes? Or, have they just been compressed.

I'm not saying that one form of writing is any better than the other - just that they're different and each has it's advantages for both the writer and for anyone coming along later. For example, the thought of essentially rewriting something I've already written isn't something I look forward to - at least not doing so by hand. On the other hand, having been through at least four major computer failures, the thought of keeping my writing in a format that isn't going to be lost by dropping it is extremely appealing - not to mention the problems that come from incompatible formats and older formats becoming unreadable to current software. That is something I see coming up on various author's blogs from time to time.

It's also another blow to things remaining available for posterity. Now, I'm sure that Tolkien never seriously thought about having something like the History of Middle Earth series published, but the papers involved did end up in university libraries, such as Marquette, and I for one, am glad for the effort that his son has made in editing and preparing them for publication - and not just the Middle-Earth stuff, but also Sigurd and Gudrun, and the soon-to-be-published Fall of Arthur.

In a sense, I guess I'm wondering if the discoveries of some "lost" work by an author of yesteryear (both literary and musical) is also a thing of yesteryear, or if a century or so from now, they'll be discovering manuscripts hidden away in basements and attics from the authors of today - or will they be only unreadable computer files, if that?

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