Saturday, April 28, 2012

Miltidimensional rather than Non-linear

There is a lot of buzz about non-linear versus linear writing, where "linear writing," where linear writing is often blamed on a supposed "brainwashing job that years of MS Word have done" on someone. Applications like Scrivener are supposed to enable you to write in a "non-linear" way and that is praised as a superior way of writing. I have always thought that this is a crock. Writers have always written in non-linear ways by using notebooks in which they recorded different parts or aspects of what they were thinking about and then later synthesized in a coherent piece of writing. Even during the last stages of writing, people used a variety of strategies to break the "linearity," like outlining, starting a paragraph on a new piece of paper, making a mark to indicate that something needs to be filled in later, writing meta-notes in the margin, striking out things that were written earlier to add them to another paragraph, etc., etc. More recent applications just make it easier (provide more "affordances") to allow these things.

Furthermore, I believe it is probably better to think of writing not just as a non-linear but rather as a multidimensional process, that is, as a process during which many different things are going on at the same time. Thus writing involves (should involve) reading or re-reading what you have written, planning what will comes next, choosing appropriate words, thinking about how to make a paragraph better, relating what you write to other things you know or have written before, etc. etc.[1] A good application for writing should allow for all that, but one might think that perhaps the best one can hope for is that it does not "get into the way."[2]

I do think that there is at least one thing that any writing application designed to support multidimensional writing should support, and that is the integration of note-taking and writing. The more this is supported the better. Another thing that is required is that you should be able to view the text from many different perspectives. This is something that Scrivener does quite well, while Ulysses does not do it quite so well. But even Scrivener does not even come close to the kind of integration that a Wiki like ConnectedText provides—at least for me.[3]



1. Unless we are talking about "spontaneous" or stream of consciousness writing, which may have a use (even if I have never found it useful for myself).
2. Hence the over-abundance of "simple" writing applications. Whether "getting out of the way" is enough is, of course, another questions. I don't think it is.
3. See also this post which emphasizes the necessity of being able to view the written text from different perspectives.

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