Monday, January 08, 2007

Writing by Voice ... and by Mobile Phone!

Now this idea appeals. Richard Powers in the New York Times reveals that he never puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Instead, he snuggles up in bed:

... under the covers with my knees up, my head propped and my three-pound tablet PC — just a shade heavier than a hardcover — resting in my lap, almost forgettable. I speak untethered, without a headset, into the slate’s microphone array. The words appear as fast as I can speak, or they wait out my long pauses. I touch them up with a stylus, scribbling or re-speaking as needed. Whole phrases die and revive, as quickly as I could have hit the backspace. I hear every sentence as it’s made, testing what it will sound like, inside the mind’s ear.

Writing by voice has a long and distinguished past, says Powers:

Blind Milton chanted “Paradise Lost” to his daughters. Of his 159-line “Tintern Abbey,” Wordsworth said, “I began it upon leaving Tintern ... and concluded ... after a ramble of four or five days. ... Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol.” Wallace Stevens used to compose while walking to work, then dictate the results to his secretary, before proceeding to his official correspondence as vice president of the Hartford insurance company.

Even novelists, working in a form so very written, have needed to write by voice. Stendhal dictated “The Charterhouse of Parma” in seven weeks. An impoverished Dostoyevsky had just six weeks to deliver the manuscript of “The Gambler” or face complete ruin. He hired a stenographer, knocked the book out in four weeks, then married the girl. ...

Dickens reportedly acted out his characters while looking in a mirror. In the final hours of his life, Proust re-dictated the death of Bergotte, supposedly claiming that he now knew what he was talking about. Once, while dictating “Finnegans Wake” to Beckett, Joyce is said to have answered a knock on the door; Beckett dutifully jotted down his “Come in.” Surprised by the transcript, a delighted Joyce let it ride.

Meanwhile, Lisa Katayama reports in Wired (found via Complete Review) that a new thumb-centric generation of Japanese novelists are writing their novels on their mobile phones!

A mobile phone novel typically contains between 200 and 500 pages, with each page containing about 500 Japanese characters. The novels are read on a cell phone screen page by page, the way one would surf the web, and are downloadable for around $10 each. The first mobile phone novel was written six years ago by fiction writer Yoshi, but the trend picked up in the last couple years when high-school girls with no previous publishing experience started posting stories they wrote on community portals for others to download and read on their cell phones.
She profiles Chaco "a twenty-something Pisces from Osaka" who has written five novels in this way, including a best seller. She claims that she can type much faster on her mobile than on a conventional keyboard.

Now while I could see myself dictating my grand opus from my bed like Powers, my big clumsy thumbs make even replying to SMSes frustrating! I might manage a mobile haiku perhaps, but certainly not a novel!


FBT said...

that thing about the mobile phone novel is amazing - I love the youth of Japan. They're always at the forefront of what you can do with new technology. And they're soooo weird!

Madcap Machinist said...

hmm... how does 500 japanese characters translate to roman ones?

i bet a t9 dictionary helps! -- am hopeless with those.

fbt: weird how?

Alex Tang said...


I use a commercially available software Dragon Naturally Speaking which transcribe my spoken speech into words. It works fine with any word processing software and with windows xp.

The only difficulty I find is the initial learning curve when the software learns how we pronounce our words. After that it is easy to use.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks alex - i've yet to give voice recognition software a go ... but i do sometimes use a tape recorder when i'm "writing" - it helps with dialogue

*cosmic freak* said...

hurm ... can it help with all the typos? its killing me, those typos! then again, my tongue are just the same. okay, either way, I'll still make the same mistakes.

Burhan said...

there might be something about being blind that improves the literary work when it is dictated (it certainly affects the rhythm, flow and syntax of the sentences). maybe it gives you a certain richer access to art and to The Truth.

great blind writers: homer, milton, joyce, borges...

on another note, leonhard euler, arguably the greatest of mathematicians and certainly the most prolific, was blind for the most part of his working life. he dictated his theorems to his secretaries, and the strange thing is that he was most prolific when he was blind. when he lost the use of his right eye, euler was alleged to have said: "Now I will have less distraction."

bibliobibuli said...

that's interesting, burhan

didn't know joyce had eye problems so went here to read about it.

no-one actually knows who homer was so how can we prove that he or she or they (according to which theory you believe) was blind?

i think that dictating can free anyone up though - it is for sure something to try when the words don't flow with writing. i must get myself sorted out with this and maybe try alex's software

Burhan said...

homer can see, and he has yellow skin and four fingers.

bibliobibuli said...

yeah and he wrote the "odd! he see?"

Burhan said...

huh? i don't get it.

Madcap Machinist said...


More on txt novels:

A novel whose narrative consists entirely of mobile phone text messages has been published in Finland.
"The Last Messages" tells the story of a fictitious information-technology executive in Finland who resigns from his job and travels throughout Europe and India, keeping in touch with his friends and relatives only through text messages.

His messages, and the replies -- roughly 1,000 altogether -- are listed in chronological order in the 332-page novel written by Finnish author Hannu Luntiala.

The texts are rife with grammatical errors and abbreviations commonly used in regular SMS traffic.