The craft of writing in the computer age

Writing is a funny thing.  Not haha funny, although it can be.  Rather, curious and odd.  For one thing, you can break all sorts of rules (like I just did) and mostly get away with it these days if your message is crisp and clear.  On the other hand, writing can also be about as pure an art form as sculpting and painting.  It’s about stringing together disparate large and small ideas that float through your brain and transmitting them to “paper”.  It shouldn’t be a struggle but often is, especially if there are associated strong emotions.

Two things got me thinking about this. The first was a conversation I had with my wife the other evening about writers and whether I consider myself one (for the record, I said no because above all, I’ve never been really published).  The second was an article I read in The Atlantic called Composition 1.01: How Email can change the way professors teach . It’s a long, rambling piece but about halfway through, the author weaves the threads together to tell us of a professor named  John Whittier-Ferguson at the University of Michigan who uses Email in real-time to help his writing students write.  He tells them they should send him their writing as often as they want as they are writing their pieces.  So he ends up with snippets of drafts to which he applies his expertise so they can learn as they go how to construct proper sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and (ultimately) stories.  Sounds kind of strange, doesn’t it?  But smart too.  I mean, when I took writing at the University of Toronto, we had to do it the traditional multi-centuries-back, old-fashioned way… write your story, hand it in, wait a week, and then get raked over the coals for an hour in front of the class as your story is dissected line by line.  It was grueling but it worked.

I see the virtue and the value in the way Whittier-Ferguson does it too.  It likely doesn’t scale well (doing what he does leaves little time for him to do anything else) but from a student’s point of view, it would be like having an instant professor-check installed on your computer.  One so sophisticated that it could tear your work apart instantly as you write.  You wouldn’t have to wait a week or two for the humiliation.

About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

One Response to The craft of writing in the computer age

  1. Jeff Gendron says:

    Hi Peter,
    Good post. Actually that is how I wrote my thesis. Even though it is very short in comparison to other monster documents out there, I would send in one chapter at a time, and then make the corrections. It made for a great mentoring experience from my thesis director and made putting together the final draft much easier.

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