There are, of course, many reasons why people use one tool rather than another when they write. Often these can be related to practical considerations such as convenience or appropriateness. But here I would like to suggest that less obviously there is an underlying orientation towards the meaning of the act which may also have some influence on writers' preferences. This underlying orientation I am proposing relates to the extent to which the media involved in writing matter to individual writers. We may usefully envisage this attitude to the medium as a continuum rather than a dichotomy, ranging at its extremes from relative indifference, via active engagement, to what may be experienced as a virtual dependence on writing media (often expressed in terms of writing being a 'way of thinking'). I will refer to those who tend towards one or other of the poles as Planners and Discoverers:
Discoverers tend to experience writing primarily as a way of 'discovering' what they want to say.
The ways in which many writers describe their experiences of the process of composition can be interpreted in terms of this continuum. I have drawn here on the published self-reports of experienced writers, particularly literary writers - to whom (as sensitive users of language) I believe we should pay particular attention in exploring the use of new writing tools. Writing researchers frequently refer to the unreliability of the public testimony of writers (especially literary writers) on the subject of their approaches to writing. Despite these objections (which I cannot discuss within the confines of this paper) writers' accounts remain revealing, not only of themselves (when studied in the context of their lives and work), but also (as here) of the broad spectrum of writing experiences. Such accounts are useful descriptions of aspects of their experience of writing (if not of the detail of their practices) in which others may recognize experiences of their own. I trust them enough to assume that we may not easily dismiss such accounts as 'mere metaphor'. In this light descriptions in terms of Planning or Discovery are not simply different ways of describing similar experiences: they represent very different experiences.
This is not primarily a matter of how writers set about writing, but rather of an underlying phenomenological orientation to the experience of writing. Preferred or habitual composing practices may bear some relation to this, but that is an issue beyond the scope of the present paper. Of course, some kinds of writing involve more planning or discovery than other kinds and every writer's composing practices are likely to vary. Whether they are aware of them or not, all writers are likely to have at least some goals, however minimal and inexplicit - most writers would probably deny that they never have any idea at all of what they are trying to do. And it is also doubtful whether writers can avoid any 'discovery' as they write. Many writers may even experience a dynamic tension between discovery and goals (which may be generative or frustrating). So it is not suggested that all writers see themselves as gravitating towards one or other of these poles. However, those who do seem to enjoy, value or identify with one or other of these kinds of writing.
Planners and Discoverers may be interpreted as polar extremes which psychologists might regard as related to general cognitive styles. Figure 1 lists several other bi-polar typifications of composing styles which I have encountered in the literature. Each is probably most usefully regarded as a continuum, on which individual writers would lie somewhere between the poles.
[Figure 1: Some Orientational Terms for Composing]
Although these pairings are similar it is worth noting the distinguishing features cited by different commentators. Some relate to particular composing strategies rather than to the more basic orientation I am suggesting. Stephen Spender's Mozartians are characterized by their 'immediate' transcription of thought and by minimal revision (which I call the 'Watercolour Strategy'), whilst his Beethovians begin with fragments and gradually produce a series of drafts (which I call the 'Oil Painting Strategy'). For Spender, a poet, it seems primarily a matter of inspiration versus perspiration. Karl Shapiro, also a poet, refers to 'mantic or prophetic poetry' as 'the cool, scientific method of creation which relies on fixed rules, signs and traditions', compared with 'manic or insane poetry' which is 'that uttered under supernatural suggestion' (1948: 88). Jean Auel, a popular novelist, feels that writers can be divided into: those who are 'organized', pre-planning what they will write (the basis of what I call the Architectural Strategy); and those whose approach is 'organic', who 'just let it take you there' (though even here, Auel feels, 'you know where you're going') (Strickland, 1989: 96).
The literary theorists Rene Wellek and Austin Warren associate composing practices with the Classical and Romantic traditions, their literary writers being either Makers, who are skilful, conscious and precise neo-Classical crafters, or the Possessed - automatic or obsessive Romantics or Expressionists. For the aesthetic philosopher Monroe Beardsley, creative artists are either Finalistic or Propulsive, the former starting with a goal and the latter with a detail, gradually ordering the material.
Psychologists have seen composing in different terms. Describing academic writers, Estelle Phillips' Serialists are pre-planners who work sequentially, correcting words as they are written (which I call the 'Bricklayer Strategy'), whilst her Holists 'can only think as they write' and compose a succession of complete drafts. Also academics, James Hartley & Alan Branthwaite's Doers are sequential and systematic, working section by section, whilst their Thinkers work in no particular order, producing more drafts. Phillips has suggested (Hartley & Branthwaite, 1989: 445) that her Serialists may be similar to Doers and her Holists to Thinkers.
Peter Lyman, a sociologist, makes a related distinction between:
Serial writers, who treat writing primarily as a visual record, evaluating it according to technical criteria. (Lyman, 1984: 81)
Regarding such distinctions it may also be useful to note that an association has been reported between minimal planning in writing and an extroverted personality type (Jensen & DiTiberio, 1984), whilst introverts show a preference for a clear structure (Riding, 1977: 117ff). Similarly, extroverts show a tendency to be verbalizers whilst introverts tend to be visualizers (ibid: 126). And since resonances are important, we may observe that in the western tradition the emphasis on the visual tends to be allied with the intellect, whilst the emphasis on the oral is allied with bodily modes of knowing (El Saffar, 1991: 182). Some commentators also interpret bodily knowing and the oral mode as a female principle, in contrast to the 'masculinity' of an emphasis on the intellect and the visual. Stereotypical as this may be, the cultural currency of such resonant images cannot be ignored (see Belenky et al., 1986).
My own references to Planners and Discoverers primarily indicate those who habitually describe their experience of writing either in terms of goals and planning or of discovery and revision (although I also associate Discoverers more generally with the Romantic tradition and Planners with the Rationalistic tradition). It is possible that there may be a relationship here with the Jungian personality types: with Planning associated with Thinking types and Discovery with Feeling types. As Donald MacKinnon puts it, Jungian theory suggests that in judging or evaluating experience, Thinking is 'a logical process aimed at an impersonal fact-weighing analysis', whereas Feeling is 'a process of appreciation and evaluation of things that gives them a personal and subjective value' (1962: 489).
MacKinnon reported that a preference for Thinking or Feeling seems to be related to 'the type of materials or concepts with which one deals' (ibid): in his study, literary writers favoured Feeling, whilst scientific researchers favoured Thinking. And there may also be links with cognitive style. French (1965), for instance, described two kinds of behaviour in approaching conceptual tasks: reasoned or systematic; and a less orderly scanning and visualizing. This he related to Witkins's 'field independent' and 'field dependent' cognitive styles, respectively (Witkin et al, 1962). The former are inclined to disembed objects of perception from their contexts; the latter are not. One might expect Planners to be more field independent than Discoverers.
Planning and Discovery may also be related to a basic orientation towards 'acting on' or 'taking in' the environment, as outlined by Arthur Deikman, who feels that 'the baseline of mode choice is set by the general orientation of the individual's [sub-]culture' (1971). He relates this to research by Shapiro which distinguishes between two styles of attention: sharply focused, and diffuse. The sharply focused style involves an attitude of deliberate effort. Those for whom this is a dominant style rarely get hunches or inspiration. This style is associated with an 'object-manipulative' mode. The diffuse style is less deliberate, and features sensory details, moments of inspiration and rich affective experience. This style is associated with a 'receptive-sensory' mode. However, pursuing such psychological complexities is far beyond the scope of the present paper.
Returning to my framework, Discoverers recognize as applicable to them that remark attributed most often to E M Forster, which is: 'How do I know what I think until I see what I say?'. Planners tend to find this nonsensical, because for them thought and its expression in writing are quite separate: writing is a transcription of thoughts already held in their minds. Planners might sympathize with the 18th century poet Matthew Prior, when he wrote of another:
This is in complete contrast to the advice of a Discoverer: 'Don't think and then write it down. Think on paper' (Harry Kemelman, in Winokur, 1988).
Discoverers regard as precious the primary advantage of writing over speech: the ability to revise. It may seem a truism, but for Discoverers revision is a physical act. Planners revise writing visibly less than Discoverers. Stephen Witte (1985) has suggested that 'pre-texts' may be revised mentally, and to the extent that Planners do this, they may have liberated themselves from a dependence on writing. Suggesting that Planners revise mentally may seem to reduce the usefulness of any descriptive distinction between them and Discoverers. However, the need of Discoverers for physical revision is the difference which makes the difference. They need to play with their ideas and words in a physical form. Discovery is, to borrow Yeats' phrase, 'the thinking of the body'. It is a Discoverer who reports that 'it is easier to write if my mind resists than if my fingers or eyes do' (Mandel, 1978: 365). For the same writer, 'writing informs the mind; it is not the other way around' (ibid: 366). Since externalization and spatialization are an integral part of their thinking Discoverers are often more sensitive than Planners to the characteristics of the media with which this is achieved, a point to which I will return.
A basic orientation towards writing is interwoven with values. The ideological trappings which some writers may associate with a strongly polar identity within the Planner-Discoverer framework may relate to elements of the manifestos of Pragmatic and Expressive writers which have surfaced repeatedly in the history of western literature (see Abrams, 1953). The summary of key differences in emphasis (see Figure 2) might also be seen as a series of continua, to some of which many Planners and Discoverers may relate.
[Figure 2 : Some Pragmatic and Expressive Values in Writing]
I would stress that even at the poles, few writers would subscribe to all of the positions listed, but some of these values clearly play a part in the way in which many writers feel about the various media of writing. Perhaps most important here in relation to Planners and Discoverers are views of writing which privilege product or process. Whilst writing requires both generative and critical thinking, Discoverers tend to be more interested in, and to identify more with, the generative act of writing. So-called 'creative' writers as different as Fay Weldon and Frederick Forsythe have even insisted that 'editing' is the job of 'editors', not 'writers' (Hammond, 1984). Discoverers may dislike, or have more difficulty in, distancing themselves from their texts.
Extensive revision is characteristic of Discoverers. They often feel that revising helps them to get closer to what they mean. Sometimes this is accompanied by a Romantic sense of the unavoidable inadequacy of language. Others experience in revision a sense of making the words feel more like their own. It may be that the very visibility and labour of extensive revision helps Discoverers to be particularly conscious of the construction of 'reality' and the mediation of meaning.
Different tools vary in the support they offer for revision, and their use tempers the experience. Writing by hand is not limited to the pen: the pencil is in some ways a quite different medium. Henry Petrosky (1989) suggests that the pencil is 'the ephemeral medium of thinkers, planners, drafters and engineers, the medium to be erased, revised, smudged, obliterated, lost - or inked over', contrasting it with ink, which 'signifies finality'. It is a medium supportive of design. This may begin to explain why some literary writers prefer to begin in pencil. Hemingway wrote initial drafts in pencil: 'You have to work over what you write. If you use a pencil... it keeps it fluid longer so that you can improve it easier' (Strickland, 1989). Many writers, of course, experience a similar fluidity with the word processor. The word processor extends the malleability of the written word. Paper 'sets' text, but text on disc and screen is 'wet' and workable. Some writers enjoy this sense of fluidity. However, some report that the ease with which they can edit encourages them to be 'sloppier' or less critical than they feel they are with the pen or the typewriter (where words must be pre-considered). Some feel that the word processor encourages them to do too much editing, and leads to a loss of spontaneity. And as we shall see, some simply find screen-based text too ephemeral.
Another point related to tools and revision is one I have made elsewhere, which is that 'writing done with a word processor obscures its own evolution' (Chandler, 1987). 'Crossing out' on a word processor is usually accomplished by deleting words, leaving no trace. Of course, one can print out or save on disc several drafts of a paper, and many writers do. However, no writer would be likely to preserve a complete draft every time a few words were changed. Apart from rapidly using up storage space on disc or wasting paper and time it would require the writer to be continuously conscious of the act of writing, standing apart from it far more than Discoverers either could do or would want to do. Doing so would certainly not be compatible with preserving spontaneity or momentum in writing, to say nothing of keeping in touch with the unconscious. Even if drafts are regularly saved or printed out it is not easy to spot the differences between versions. In more senses than one something may be lost with the word processor compared with handwriting. Of course in many applications and for some writers this would not matter, but for Discoverers it sometimes does. Many writers choose to annotate their printouts by hand - though this is seldom as complete a record of changes as that of the completely handwritten draft. Apologists who point to the existence of facilities and techniques which cater for preserving changes with the word processor fail to recognize the deliberateness such strategies require in contrast to a rapid slash of the pen - which can preserve every change (even with subtle and unpremeditated degrees of unwantedness). The handwritten text maps paths not taken in a way that enables them to be re-explored if necessary. For the tentative, exploratory writing in which Discoverers engage such a function may matter.
Handwriting (both product and process) is important for Discoverers in relation to their sense of self. For Michael Heim, 'The resistance of materials in handwriting enhances the sense of felt origination... The stamp of characteristic ownership marks written thought as my own, acquired through the struggle with experience and with recalcitrant materials. Handwritten formulation thereby enhances a sense of personal experience' (1987: 186). And Janet Emig (1964) suggests that: 'Some of us... may be able to make personal statements initially or steadily only in our own personal script, with all of its individualities, even idiosyncrasies. To employ the impersonal and uniform font of the typewriter may for some of us belie the personal nature of our first formulations.'
For some writers writing 'in one's own hand' has a resonance of privacy and informality (in contrast with the fixity and public nature of print) which makes it a supportive medium for the initial expression of tentative ideas. Wendell Berry reports: 'I am certainly no calligrapher, but my handwritten pages have a homemade, handmade look to them that both pleases me in itself and suggests the possibility of ready correction' (Berry, 1990: 192).
Phenomenological commentators such as O'Neill (1982) emphasize the 'bodily art' of expression in writing. Wendell Berry loves the 'tangibility' of 'the act of writing language down':
And a university student declared: 'I like the motion, pushing that lead across the page... filling up pages... I like flipping papers and the action of writing. It makes me feel close to what I'm saying' (Selfe, 1985).
The closeness of the hand to the paper is associated by some writers with a sense of 'intimacy' with their text (the word crops up repeatedly). For Wendell Berry it is 'the intimacy of the body's involvement in the making of a work of art... of any artifice' (Berry, 1990: 191). For some writers, in contrast to the text which is printed with a typewriter or a word processor (which has the book-like resonance of published, 'public' text), 'handwriting is associated with a process of discovery and an intimate (therefore private) relationship with the words' (Lyman, 1984: 78). Pablo Neruda reported that 'the typewriter separated me from a deeper intimacy with poetry, and my hand brought me closer to that intimacy again' (Plimpton, 1981). And Tom Robbins felt a similar alienation with the typewriter: 'I missed the contact with the page. I like the idea of ink flowing out of my hand and saturating the paper. There's something intimate about that' (Strickland, 1989). Wendell Berry declared 'I am not going to use a computer because I don't want to deny myself the pleasure of bodily involvement in my work' (Berry, 1990: 192). He continues:
The act of writing fuses physical and intellectual processes. Nelson Algren said that 'I always think of writing as a physical thing' (Plimpton, 1958). I have already referred to the 'bodily thinking' of Discoverers. Even a structuralist such as Roland Barthes (1976: 17) can mystically declare that 'the pleasure of the text is that moment when my body pursues its own ideas'. In English we talk significantly of 'fleshing out' ideas in words. Metaphors of touch highlight the importance of the hand in a sensual way of knowing. We refer to 'grasping' an idea and 'groping for' words to express it, and the verb 'to comprehend' derives from prehendere - to seize (note that such language emphasizes the active struggle to make sense of things, which is very much the experience of Discoverers). We also talk of how we 'feel' and of being emotionally 'touched'. Touching is more immediate than seeing or hearing. As Bertrand Russell put it, 'it is touch that gives us our sense of "reality"... Macbeth's dagger was unreal because it was not "sensible to feeling as to sight"' (1925: 2). Pinching ourselves is how we know we are not dreaming.
Many Discoverers refer to the hand as having a primary role in their composition (the hand, of course, is significantly associated not only with verbal expression but with expressive gesture). Hemingway felt that his fingers did much of his thinking for him (Plimpton, 1958). Writing 'by hand' refers specifically to handwriting. In the early 1940s the philosopher Martin Heidegger expressed his horror at the proliferating use of the typewriter, seeing it as a threat to the special relationship between the word and the expressive movement of the hand: 'The word no longer passes through the hand as it writes and acts authentically but through the mechanized pressure of the hand [DC's emphasis]. The typewriter snatches script from the essential realm of the hand - and this means the hand is removed from the essential realm of the word. The word becomes something "typed"' (Heidegger, 1942/3 in Heim, 1987: 195).
Many writers have alluded to the importance of handwriting in their thinking and writing. Discoverers see their thinking itself as tactile. Fay Weldon declared: 'I choose to believe that there is some kind of mystic connection between the brain and the actual act of writing in longhand' (Hammond, 1984). And Graham Greene commented that 'Some authors type their works, but I cannot do that. Writing is tied up with the hand, almost with a special nerve' (Hammond, 1984). The anthropologist Jack Goody (1987) wrote that 'Nothing surpasses pen and paper as being "good to think with"'. And Rebecca West reported that she used a pencil 'When anything important has to be written... I think your hand concentrates for you.' She also emphasized the importance of kinaesthetic memory: 'My memory is certainly in my hands. I can remember things only if I have a pencil and I can write with it and I can play with it' (Plimpton, 1985). John Barth favours the fountain pen, commenting that: 'there's something about the muscular movement of putting down script on the paper that gets [the] imagination back in the track where it was' (Plimpton, 1987). William Gass even identifies the literary text with its original written form (treating writing in this respect as akin to drawing or painting): 'It was very important for Rilke to send a copy of the finished poem in his beautiful hand to somebody, because that was the poem, not the printed imitation. Writing by hand, mouthing by mouth: in each case you get a very strong physical sense of the emergence of language - squeezed out like a well-formed stool - what satisfaction! what bliss!' (Plimpton, 1981).
For Discoverers not only the pen but the paper may be described as part of a process of shaping ideas. John O'Neill (1982) suggests that 'the writer's fingers and the page are a working ensemble, an alternation of intelligible space and spatialized intelligence'. Some writers find that spreading out their sheets of writing in front of them seems to help them to get a better sense of the 'shape' of their text, and of their ideas as manipulable 'sculptable', physical objects.
Tom Robbins felt that writing with ink on paper is 'more like you're making something [DC's emphasis] than typing is' (Strickland, 1989). There are many examples of professional writers using crafting metaphors. For some, one senses a desire for their writing to have something of the monumentality of the plastic arts. William Gass declared: 'I try to make things out of words the way a sculptor might make a statue out of stone' (Plimpton, 1981). Simenon said, 'I am an artisan. I need to work with my hands. I would like to carve my novel in a piece of wood' (Plimpton, 1958). Janet Emig (1964), an academic writer, refers to 'the sense of sculpting, of hewing the word out against a paper of specific size and weight'. For Discoverers writing involves not only the expression of meaning but also its shaping. Here text is not just a 'vehicle', but workable material. An American academic relates his sense of sculpting in particular to the process of revision:
Marshall McLuhan (1964) spoke of all media as 'the extensions of man'. Pens and pencils are immediate extensions of our fingers. The handwritten text is at the tips of the writer's fingers: in this sense to write with a pen or pencil is to touch one's text. One Discoverer goes so far as to suggest that he feels not simply that the pen is an extension of the hand, but that he himself becomes an extension of the pen: 'It is the act of writing that produces the discoveries... The more I trust my pen to do its own writing, the less the writing reflects what my mind thought I would write... Words flow from a pen, not from a mind... I become my pen; my entire organism becomes an extension of this writing instrument. Consciousness is focused in the point of the pen' (Mandel, 1978: 364-5). Such a notion may seem bizarre. But Kruger (1981: 91), drawing on an example from McConville (1978: 108) suggests that:
Phenomenologists have argued that our sense of self is minimal during experiences which are intense and involving. When we are, in that telling phrase, 'absorbed in' an activity, Robert Pirsig (in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) suggests that there is 'an absence of any sense of separateness of subject and object' (1974: 290). The instrumental attitudes of Planners separate the user from the tool whereas amongst some Discoverers existential interpretations stress our dwelling within them. With the typewriter and the word processor, there may be no such sense of the tool as bodily extension since writers no longer 'touch' their texts. Indeed there may even be a feeling of being an extension of the tool in a more negative sense than with Mandel's experience of the pen. I suspect that William Barrett would not have singled out the pen in the same way that he does the typewriter when he declares, in passionate Heideggerian style:
The act of writing brings new objects into the world. However, written language does not begin as an 'object' for Discoverers. Texts are the 'embodiment' of thoughts and feelings. Words may spill out like lava, hot with the writer's own thoughts and feelings, only gradually 'cooling' and 'setting' into something more detached. Writers such as Ray Bradbury (Strickland, 1989) and Henry Miller (Plimpton, 1963) talk of letting their stories 'cool off'. The fondness which some writers have for the pen may perhaps be related to a peripheral awareness of the ink drying on paper, which may reflect a sense of their thoughts passing from wetness to setness, from being a dynamic part of themselves to being objects separate from them. For some writers (as for Hemingway, quoted earlier), the use of the typewriter (and for some, the word processor) may seem to make their writing cool off too fast compared with the pen: the shaping of the letters is immediately divorced from the writer.
Discoverers also need to manipulate their texts. However, whilst some word processor users find the fluidity of screen text attractively non-committal, Discoverers tend to find it ephemeral. Primo Levi (1989) felt that when he used a word processor 'the words... are shadows: they are immaterial, deprived of the reassuring support of the paper'. Tom Sharpe's first experiences with a new writing tool led him to observe that using the word processor his writing was 'Not even on a piece of paper. It's not an object, you see, it's simply an image... With a screen, you switch it off, it's all gone. I've still got my bits of paper until I get up to throw them away... A piece of paper is substantial. You can hold it, touch it, and when you've written a lot of words on paper you feel by God you've done something' (Hammond, 1984).
Note that to such writers, 'writing' is primarily associated with the process of writing - with generating words on the screen, rather than with the product - the delayed reproduction of which is achieved with the printer. This is a familiar Romantic theme: the process is at least as important as the product to the Discoverer. In writing by hand (and even with a typewriter), inscription is not delayed as it is with the word processor. This may lead some to feel a sense of loss.
The fixity of words in writing encourages us to regard our thoughts as more thing-like and manipulable. This sense of the fixity of the word in space is particularly strong with printed texts. The word processor generates a final text on paper which the most sophisticated technology renders indistinguishable from that of professionally printed books. It may thus seem to have the potential, for some writers, of extending the 'thingness' of thoughts. However, screen-based text has no such fixity when there are additions, deletions and changes of margins. Discoverers, for whom the process of writing has a special value (who as we have noted, are usually major revisers and who see the screen as the writing surface) may experience word processing as decreasing the thingness of thoughts compared with other writing tools. Referring to the difficulty of finding one's way about text on the screen, one academic writer's comment had a richer resonance: 'I am not sure where I am' (Teles and Ragsdale, 1989: 230).
Although Discoverers seem loathe to leave their texts alone, they must eventually reach a stage when a certain 'distance' from their texts can be an advantage. Writing in 1969, McLuhan felt that the typewriter provided a useful sense of 'distance' compared with handwriting:
Writing teachers have also argued that the word processor may increase a sense of separateness from one's text, and that this has special advantages (eg Madigan, 1984). However, the sense of distance facilitated by the typewriter and the word processor may also threaten the sense of intimacy with the text which, as we have seen, Discoverers associate with handwriting. Joyce Carol Oates retreated from her use of a typewriter for writing her novels, describing it as 'a thing of formality and impersonality' (Plimpton, 1981). And regarding the word processor one student writer reported: 'Maybe I'm too far away with the computer. I mean the screen is there, and I'm here. With a pencil and paper I'm touching the words. Also, they [handwritten words] look like you wrote them, not like the machine wrote them' (Selfe, 1985).
Iris Murdoch insisted that: 'The word processor is... a glass square which separates one from one's thoughts and gives them a premature air of completeness' (Hammond, 1984). Elsewhere she asked how one could possibly write with 'a machine between you and the page'. She preferred 'the particular closeness' of writing by hand (Hartill, 1989: 87). Given the reluctance to allow themselves to be distanced from their texts it is hardly surprising that many Discoverers say that their writing is never finished (the wonder is that their texts ever appear in print).
Unlike other writing tools, the 'glass square' of the word processor screen mediates the text through a 'window', through which only a limited number of lines (and characters per line) are immediately visible. Whilst modern software often allows the use of several independent windows, and for text to be 'paged' (as in turning the pages of a book), word processed text is frequently 'scrolled' through a single window which is framed by the screen. Both modes of review are in distinct contrast to the spreading out of pages (printed or not). Even where multiple windows exist on the word processor, some writers still find the screen much less supportive of browsing or comparison than with looseleaf sheets of paper. One user noted that 'with the computer, I have no sense of the whole text' (cited in Haas, 1989). And a British journalist commented: 'It's difficult to get a shape unless you see it in front of you. There isn't room on the screen for a beginning, a middle and an end' (cited in Berman, 1988: 25).
The word processor may interfere with Discoverers' temporal as well as spatial orientation. Time is important for Discoverers. Whilst not all of them like to write slowly, major revision does lead them to dwell on their texts over time. Most writers who can type can do so more rapidly than they can write by hand, and for many writers this is useful. But some experienced writers value the physical burden of writing. Those under the cultural influence of 'the work ethic' may even feel that writing ought to be hard work (hence Truman Capote's famous dismissal of Jack Kerouac's work: 'That's not writing, that's typing'). D H Lawrence wrote drafts of his stories in longhand almost without correction, and, if he wanted to change it, would write a completely new draft. Some writers may even enjoy the effort involved. Such writers may reject the use of tools which make it physically easier to write. For some experienced writers there is a special value in writing slowly or taking time over their texts. Christina Haas (1989) has suggested that 'writing and recopying done by hand may serve a rehearsal function, helping writers to "know" their own texts better'. Whilst many writers may well benefit from the speed of the word processor, some writers feel lured by it into writing too quickly. Some experience the flashing cursor on the screen as demanding a response. Tom Sharpe writes: 'That bloody cursor blinking at me on the word processor screen is awful. I mean, it's blink, blink, blink - well, screw this bastard, it's telling me to get on!' (Hammond, 1984). One writer felt that 'the quickness of editing... didn't allow enough time to "mull" things over' (Bridwell, Sirc & Brooke, 1985). Such a feeling of being 'pressured by' the tool into behaviour with which one is uncomfortable is certainly not the experience of all writers, but one must insist to those who dismiss it that it remains important for those who do experience it.
In Figure 3 I have attempted to map out what seem to me to be some of the underlying patterns of association for Discoverers in their experience of the use of the pen or pencil.
[Figure 3 : A Web of Associations for Discoverers in Writing by Hand]
In this paper I have referred to published self-reports. Reviewing many such reports shows that experiences in the use of the same tools vary greatly, and I have suggested that variations may show some association with my generalized descriptions of Planners and Discoverers. An attempt to relate such experiences to key features of the tools might involve trying to reduce such features to the smallest number which might account for the largest range of experiences. My own analysis suggests that these could be characterized in terms of the following five key features of the tools themselves:
Directness refers to suspension in time and indirection in space. Clearly the pen and the pencil involve the most direct inscription; the typewriter involves spatial indirection and the word processor involves both this and temporally suspended inscription (making it the least direct). Uniformity refers to whether letters are shaped by hand (as with the pen and pencil) or pre-formed (as with the typewriter and the word processor). Speed refers to the potential speed of transcription relative to other tools. Clearly the typewriter and the word processor are potentially faster than the pen and the pencil (at least for longhand). Linearity refers to the extent to which the tool allows one to 'jump around' in a text: here the word processor is far less linear than other media. By boundedness I refer to limits on the 'frame-size' of a particular writing and reading surface. In the case of the typewriter, such bounds include the carriage width and the visibility of text only above the typing line. In the case of the word processor this also includes the carriage width of the printer, but more importantly the number of lines and characters per line which can be displayed on the screen. Here the pen and the pencil are clearly less bounded.
Obviously, other factors come into play: such as mood, experience (both in writing and with the tool) and cultural associations (such as pencils with sketches, pens with belles lettres, typewriters with journalese, and word processors with computerese). However, the ways in which individual writers frame the five media features do seem to me to account for most of the reported experiences of writing with one tool rather than another. For Discoverers, handwriting 'wins' on a least three of these factors - directness, (non-)uniformity and (un-)boundedness, and (where applicable), speed (slowness). But the Discoverers' postponement of organization means that the non-linearity of the word processor is the great attraction which leads many to use it - either coping with what for them are its attendant disadvantages by reverting to handwriting at key stages of their writing, or simply feeling some vague kind of unease in its use.
The five features relate to the handling of space and time both by the tool and by the writer, and since, as phenomenologists argue, such relationships are fundamental to our structuring of experience, it is hardly surprising than they may be experienced as transforming influences. In their 'use' of space and time, Planners may be seen as parsimonious and Discoverers as profligate; but in their 'involvement' with these dimensions, Discoverers can be seen as more active. Planners tend to be concerned with efficiency, and their relatively limited revision and organized approach is faster and less paper-consuming, but also less 'open' to the 'extensional' nature of media. But space and time do not permit me to dwell on this issue more fully here!
As a media theorist I am interested in all aspects of the phenomenology of mediacy: in both physical media and the various social and psychological processes of mediation involved in the construction of human experiences. Here my concern with writing has been fairly narrowly focused on modes of engagement with the media involved. We might diagrammatically represent the experience and dominant metaphors of engagement with media as a continuum, as in Figure 4. The key metaphors of 'tool' and 'medium' reflect the extensional and reductive character of a medium - its 'usefulness'. At the extremes of this continuum, 'user' and 'used' change places.
[Figure 4: Key Metaphors of Engagement with Media]
Even in the case of language, pragmatic or rationalistic Planners tend to think of the medium instrumentally or technologically - as a tool which they use only as a means to an end. In this way of thinking the means is quite separable from the end, and it is the end which really matters. In writing, such a view may be reflected in a primary concern for the product rather than the process of production. Planners seem to feel little need to define themselves in relation to language. So too, with the writing tools they use.
Discoverers regard instrumental definitions of media as reductionist, thinking of language in particular as far more than a tool, and perhaps as inextricable from a sense of self. James Britton (1971) offered a useful continuum to describe the various functions of language: transactional - expressive - poetic. At the poles are: poetic language, in which words are to some extent an end in themselves; and transactional prose, where language tends to be treated primarily as a means to an end beyond the words. Discoverers may tend to stress the primacy of the poetic use of language (which may also lead them to insist that 'communication' is an inadequate description of its function). They may also see language (and sometimes other media) as an 'environment' in which they discover themselves (which seems a mystical notion to Planners).
With regard to language, as with other media, the stance of the Planners is classically Aristotelian and teleological, emphasizing conscious purpose; that of the Discoverers typically Heideggerian and existentialist, emphasizing an openness to experience. The spectrum of media metaphors in Figure 4 is perhaps useful in suggesting that to talk simply in terms of 'using' tools may be as extreme a position as to talk solely of 'being used' by them. If software designers and writing teachers are to cater as much for Discoverers as for Planners it may be productive to escape from the confines of 'using tools', and to explore more richly, and perhaps more poetically, our resonant engagement with media. Discoverers and Planners do not, of course, exist (which is why I have had to invent them). But they may prove themselves to be useful if they help to shed new light on problems we did not know existed.
25 May 1992
A printed version of this paper can be found in
Intelligent Tutoring Media
[May/August 1992]: 65-74
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