Recording the Novel, Word by Fricking Word

It is my Web 2.0 dream to cre­ate a real-time rep­res­ent­a­tion of writ­ing a nov­elWell, maybe Web 1.0. I’m not sure I’d like to crowd-source the thing. I’d like a video, per­haps, that shows the let­ters appear­ing and dis­ap­pear­ing. The tap of a stone mason’s ham­mer could accom­pany each new let­ter; a squeaky sound a dele­tion. Once the nov­el is rep­res­en­ted in this way, the film could be speeded up. Imagine a nov­el tak­ing form like a house, brick by brick.

Cory DoctorowIn October, 2005, I reviewed his book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. has been work­ing with Thomas Gideon to pro­duce a sys­tem in which all changes to arbit­rary text files are logged in a data­base. It builds upon the Unix ver­sion­ing tech­no­logy that pro­gram­mers often use to track source code.

I was promp­ted to do this after dis­cus­sions with sev­er­al digit­al arch­iv­ists who com­plained that, pri­or to the com­pu­ter­ized era, writers pro­duced a series com­plete drafts on the way to pub­lic­a­tions, com­plete with eras­ures, annota­tions, and so on. These are archiv­al gold, since they illu­min­ate the cre­at­ive pro­cess in a way that often reveals the hid­den stor­ies behind the books we care about. By con­trast, many writers pro­duce only a single (or a few) digit­al files that are mod­i­fied right up to pub­lic­a­tion time, without any real sys­tem­at­ic records of the inter­im states between the first bit of com­pos­i­tion and the final draft.

The util­ity is called Flashbake.

Enter Flashbake. Every 15 minutes, Flashbake looks at any files that you ask it to check (I have it look­ing at all my fic­tion-in-pro­gress, my todo list, my file of use­ful bits of inform­a­tion, and the com­pleted elec­tron­ic ver­sions of my recent books), and records any changes made since the last check

Right now, the Flashbake site appears to be down. This is pos­sibly because Doctorow spoke about it on last night’s TWIT pod­cast.

Is this the per­fect solu­tion to digit­al archives of word-based works in pro­gress? It’s a step in the right dir­ec­tion, for sure, but I’m wor­ried that it’s designed to work with plain text. If it kicks up a fuss with non-text files, such as Microsoft Word doc­u­ments, or Pages files, that’s not so good.

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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