Writing - What Has Changed And What Has Not

I attended a friend’s birthday party last night and was talking to a person we know who deals in rare books and manuscripts and art. We got to talking about the old manuscripts he has represented for writers.

It was fascinating to hear about the handwritten manuscripts, often three, four, or five sequential versions with markups before the work was finished. Apparently collectors value the early versions more than the final versions because they can see how the work was shaped into the final product.

It was also interesting to hear about the transition from handwritten manuscripts to typewritten work in the early part of the 20th century and even more interesting to hear about the transition from typewritten work to digital work in the past 25 years.

Typewriters didn’t change much about the writing process apparently. Writers still prepared several versions of manuscripts which were hand marked. Collectors can still acquire versions of works in progress.

Of course the digital revolution has changed that. Now there are hundreds of versions, depending on how maniacal a writer is about saving various versions of their work. The person I was talking to told me how he had recently sold the entire digital work of a famous person to a university. He literally sold a hard drive.

I never considered myself a writer. I went to engineering school and hated writing. I think my dislike of writing came from my severe inability to write as a kid. I can’t hold a pen or pencil very well, I hold it way too tightly, my handwriting is terrible, hard to read, messy, and often illegible. Typewriters made life easier for me, but the big breakthrough came when I started writing on a computer. For years it was just memos, email, business stuff.

But blogging has changed all of that. Now I write every day. I feel incomplete until I write something. Often it’s  hardly worth hitting the "save" button. Sometimes it’s good. Once in a while it’s great. But it’s a routine and one I cherish.

Our conversation last night ended with a discussion of letters. How letters are a lost art. Hardly anyone writes letters anymore. The rare book dealer told me that emails between writers and famous people are rarely well written or as interesting as the letters he sells. I was thinking that it’s a shame that letter writing is done as an art form. But then I realized that it’s evolution at work. We lose something, letters, and gain something, blogging.

I hope blogging will inspire people to compose their thoughts as eloquently as letters have done over the years. It sure has inspired me.

Note: That photo is a letter that Chief Justice John Marshall’s letter to his wife Polly,
dated 8 August l800. I found it here.

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