The era of the collector is past

A friend of mine asked a while ago if I write stories on paper first, or type them straight into the computer. I wondered if the question was to do with the lack of romance of sitting in an office chair, tapping at plastic keys, but when I said I type them straight in she expressed regret that no-one will be able to see the development of the story in my crossings-out and amendments. As someone who has read some of Christopher Tolkien’s literary archaeology, dissecting his father’s early tales of Middle Earth and their rewrites (yes I know I am, there’s no need to say it), this caused me a faint pang of concern. The green hippyish side of me says it’s good not to waste paper any more (though it was always scrap paper I used, blank pages from old school exercise books, the reverse side of leaflets and letters from the bank) but the nerdy side of me (actually there’s a lot of overlap) says it’s a shame I can’t track my ideas. And before you say ‘track changes’, I do most of my writing in vim, and though I do use RCS, that only captures changes between sessions, not every whim.

The tragic lack of availability of my original manuscripts to my future fans got me thinking about similar situations. Regular visitors to these pages will know Mark, fantasy/sci-fi/horror artist extraordinaire, but while he sketches on paper, his painting is all digital: it’s impossible to own an original Pexton. OneMonkey’s teenage nephew seems to collect music as downloads (some music isn’t even released physically these days I believe), which is good if you know how small his bedroom is, but bad from the point of view of a record collector (which I was at his age). How can you get excited about an identical copy of an electronic file? How do you get the sentimental significance of where you bought it or who gave it to you? How do you get the smell of the sleeve transporting you back to another time and place, and how do you get it signed? Of course I could look at it and say it discourages materialism (except all the expensive gadgets to store or listen to your music), it saves space and it stops you getting hung up on belongings – both of which make it easier to move house. But where’s the romance in electronic gadgetry? And what will people like me do in the future when stamps, records, books and coins have all died out and there’s nothing left for them to collect?

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4 comments

  1. I used to write by hand and although typing is much faster and like you said- saves a lot of paper from waste, when I take out my stories from back then and look at all the crossings-out and amendments, I do regret my decision to start typing… But it is too convenient and practical to give up…:)
    Having said that, it really breaks my heart to think about some values like original manuscripts, or albums for that matter, being lost forever… I don’t think there is ANY romance in electronic gadgetry and I believe writing is a profession that requires some considerable amount of romance- for inspiration, if nothing else…

    1. Apart from saving time though, the main plus point to typing is you can back up really easily – no more spilling tea on the page and wishing you’d used biro instead of fountain pen as it all swims away. Having said that, the few bits of paper I do keep around, I take digital photos and back them up instead (but it does seem a bit long-winded).

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