Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Davies on Typewriting

Robertson Davies in an Interview with the Paris Review: "I type because writing by hand I find to be a very great betrayer. If you write carefully and try to write legibly, as I do, you finish a page and think, That’s a handsome page. This is absolutely wrong. Also, you can only write so long with a pen before your hand becomes tired, and then your invention begins to tire. If you type, which I do because I had my earliest training as a newspaperman and learned to use the typewriter readily, you have what you’ve written there before you cold and bare. Then you can go over it, and it is as though someone else had written it and you can edit it with great severity. I am a terrible fidget about form, and the first typed draft is often pitifully ragged and messy. But then after it goes to my secretary, who makes a clean copy, I revise extensively. The heavy work is done, but I like revising. As for editing, though I try to be stringent, you will recall that I resist your editorlike zeal for total clarity—all the lights blazing and not a dark corner to be found. I am a writer much given to light and shade, and I firmly believe that to know all is to despise all."

In another interview he revealed more about his note-taking or, perhaps better, note-making, and how it shades into writing: "I make a great many notes. I carry a notebook all the time, a book like this, and fill several of them with notes and then I transfer the notes into another book in form of a plan, and I make all kinds of extra notes as the plan develops and then from the plan I write the first draft. And then the first draft requires very, very extensive revision and after a great deal of revision, that's pretty much the book."

In the age of computerized note-taking, we have a tendency to neglect this aspect of note-taking, that is, the aspect of working through the notes, revising and rewriting them. This takes time.

I used to think that electronic note-taking is of great utility because it saves time and makes one more effective because this process of transferring, revising and cataloguing notes happens without the need for re-writing and copying. I am no longer sure this is a good thing.

1 comment:

Lucas said...

I'm fascinated to learn of what I take to be a bit of change of heart in regard to the relative merits of taking notes by hand and electronically. I similarly find myself revisiting the value of the manual method --- I look forward to any further thoughts you might share on this.